With a few testy exchanges, four of five County Commission candidates faced each other during a debate at the July 15 Sarasota Tiger Bay Club luncheon.
Incumbent District 2 candidate Joe Barbetta criticized his challenger, Independent Cathy Antunes, for spreading misinformation, when she stated that the county didn’t properly inform residents and groups affected by development plans.
Attorney and anti-urban-sprawl activist Dan Lobeck backed up Antunes during a question-and-answer session and appeared to be trying to debate Barbetta, when the incumbent Republican told Lobeck to sit down.
“You asked your question,” he said. “This isn’t a debate (with citizens).”
All the candidates were asked what the county’s biggest challenges are. Each named the economy and jobs.
District 4 incumbent Nora Patterson also added that government bureaucracy is a problem.
“It takes so long to get things done in government,” she said.
That was a constant theme for Patterson’s challenger, Republican Mark Smith. The Siesta Key architect said as a small-business owner he sees firsthand how bureaucratic delays and added costs are hurting the local economy.
“It takes 10 months, a year or more to get things approved,” said Smith.
Barbetta said the failure to retain the young population and a lack of a “viable transportation system” are also some of the weaknesses affecting Sarasota County.
Some of the luncheon’s attendees appeared to be perturbed at Antunes during a question about Amendment 4, which would require voter approval for all comprehensive land-use changes.
Patterson, Smith and Barbetta all said they opposed the measure, but when Antunes said she hadn’t made up her mind, there was a loud murmur throughout the room. One audience member said, “Oh, come on.”
Antunes said she was just being honest that she hadn’t yet made up her mind.
The fifth candidate, District 4 challenger Mark Hawkins, declined to appear at the debate, citing his policy of waiting until the winner of the District 4 primary is decided before he begins debating.
Hawkins, a Democrat, is unopposed in the Aug. 24 primary. In the November general election, he’ll face the winner of the Republican primary race between Patterson and Smith.
Incumbent District 2 County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said if the county were to make budget cuts, it could look at selling some of its excess land and reducing the information-technology department.
Independent District 2 County Commission challenger Cathy Antunes believes the county should promote its health care assets. “We need to market that (Sarasota Memorial Hospital) is the only top-50 hospital on the west coast of Florida,” she said.
After her opponent told people to vote for incumbent District 4 County Commissioner Nora Patterson if they’re better off than they were four years ago, she elicited a laugh from the crowd when she responded that if he can improve the national economy and create jobs, then she would vote for him.
Several times County Commission District 4 challenger Mark Smith hit on two themes: that there must be cuts to Sarasota County’s $1 billion budget and that as a small businessman, he wants to cut bureaucratic delays in the county-approval process.