The Tiger Bay Club’s candidate forum for the District 2 Sarasota County Commission seat started out with a few icebreaker questions for the candidates: City Commissioner Shannon Snyder, City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, Steve McAllister, Alexandra Coe and Alta Vista Neighborhood Association President Pete Theisen. Tom Tryon served as forum moderator.
Asked a metaphor that described his thoughts on serving on the City Commission, Snyder’s reply was “like herding cats.” McAllister said it was “like staging a Broadway production with a ukulele and a pair of tap shoes.”
After a few laughs and lighthearted jokes, though, the candidates settled in for hot-topic questions addressed to a full banquet room of club members.
The following are paraphrases of some of the questions and the candidates’ replies.
Do you support a Come As You Are homeless shelter and what should the next steps be?
Coe said she wasn’t against the shelter, but she was against spending a lot of money on it. There are facilities we already have we can use for that, she said. The problem of homelessness also did not just fall onto the city’s responsibility.
“Homelessness is a multidimensional issue,” Coe said. “We’re not talking about what the real issues are.”
McAllister agreed with Coe, saying the county and city needed to look at existing resources.
“A ‘Come As You Are’ is good … we should have that catch-all,” he said, but thought the county should be looking at other resources.
He also said individual homeless people have different needs.
“Let’s find out what these people need, and put them in environments where they prosper,” McAllister said.
Snyder said he was having second thoughts about a Come As You Are shelter open to anyone because he was concerned about the potential problem it could pose for law enforcement. He is supportive of a jail diversion program in the shelter.
“At the county level … do we have enough mental health facilities?” Snyder said.
Those facilities are needed to help these people stabilize and get back on their feet, he said.
Caragiulo said, “We need to get down to the business of just doing it.”
Every component of the plan is important, and the whole plan needed to be adopted for it to function, he said.
“It comes with a tremendous amount of liabilities,” he said, but did not expand on what he meant.
The city is standing in the way of private interests and organizations that want to help, Theisen said.
“There is an amazing groundswell of private volunteerism,” he said. “Many people want to help.”
What is your opinion about the Sarasota 2050 plan for city and urban areas?
Caragiulo said the plan could be good, but it is currently not functioning “as desired” for Sarasota and it is contributing to urban sprawl.
“It’s hard to figure out where the city begins and where it ends,” Caragiulo said. "Many citizens themselves sometimes can’t understand if they’re within city limits or not."
Snyder said the city is continuing to grow and that the county’s cities are paying the price for uncontrolled growth.
“If you look at the traffic downtown, that growth isn’t from the city of Sarasota growth, it’s coming from the region,” he said.
What is your view on the county’s policy on economic development?
“I think one thing the County Commission needs to be commended for is that their actions follow their philosophy, which is to welcome investment,” Caragiulo said. “I don’t see how from a philosophical standpoint you could fault the County Commission for anything with economic development.”
He said the vision the board agreed on should be worked on in terms of follow through and execution, though.
Coe said the county should be looking at ways to support local businesses already here instead of thinking there will be a “knight in shining armor company” coming in to save them economically.
Agriculture and local food systems are two areas that could have big economic drive, she said. The county should revisit their potential — especially food systems.
“It’s not even something we’re talking about,” she said.
Sarasota is set in a pattern, McAllister said, looking at development within tourism and building. Sarasota has not tapped into the potential of agriculture, food and the arts, he said.
Synder’s opinion was the county needs to look more into industry and manufacturing.
“We need to stop grabbing on to whatever the trend of the month is,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity in this area to get into manufacturing”
Theisen said that big businesses are starting to expect money from the government and that when government invests in private business, it distorts the market. There is no benefit for the taxpayer, he said.
“When you talk about economic development, you need to make sure it’s not turning into welfare for the rich,” Theisen said.
After the forum
Cathy Antunes, vice president of CONA, said she was disappointed in the lack of specifics in the candidates’ answers. There were a lot of vague answers, she said.
“That’s concerning,” Antunes said.
Candy Roberts is the owner of a hair salon on Webber and Beneva and lives near University Parkway; she is concerned with the development happening near her home.
“(The county) gave too much power to Benderson without making the infrastructure,” she said. “More development is great” but taxpayers should see a return from it.
Mark Kowalski, a member of Tiger Bay, also said he was concerned about the lack of specifics in the candidates’ answers.
“They need more conviction in their responses,” Kowalski said. “I’m not walking away convinced that the issues will be resolved.”
The primary election will be held Aug. 26. Visit the Sarasota County supervisor of elections website for election information.