Cathy Antunes is quick to point out she is a baseball fan.
In 2008, the Golden Gate Point resident formed an organization called Citizens for Responsible Government to fight a County Commission decision to place a ball field on the Sarasota County Fairgrounds for the Boston Red Sox, if the deal would lure the team to the city. That was well before anyone mentioned the Baltimore Orioles as a spring-training prospect for the community.
“Some people around town say I’m the lady that hates baseball, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Antunes said. “What I’m not a fan of is government making the wrong decision based on baseless information.”
A single mother at the time, Antunes said she was upset the county was considering such usage for the fairgrounds, where her two sons and hundreds of other kids played baseball.
She first responded to the issue by sending a letter to the editor, which was published in the Pelican Press. That sparked more letters as well as phone calls, resulting in a citizens organization with more than 150 members.
She and others realized the necessity of the group after discovering that data the commissioners had used in approving the ball-field concept, which never materialized, was what she called “baseless.”
“I came from an industry where data matters,” Antunes said. “The data generated for that field was absolute garbage used to justify a field there at any cost.”
She added, “You trust the people on the local level are looking out for you, and I found out that’s not always the case.”
Antunes remembers thinking that most of the commissioners already had made up their minds about the project before public comments were aired.
“Citizens need to be heard by their constituents,” she said.
Looking back at her first foray into participatory government, she laughs.
“Back then, I had to look up the county’s website and find out who the commissioners were and how to contact them,” Antunes said.
Three years later, she has county officials on speed dial, and she even ran against Commissioner Joe Barbetta last year.
The baseball action was also just the first step for the citizens group. Since then, it has pursued legal action against the county over commissioner term limits and fought what Antunes characterizes as lax guidelines for awarding economic development grants to companies such as Sanborn Studios.
However, the first time she knew the group had made a difference was when Antunes announced it would mount a legal challenge if the City Commission agreed to issue bonds to fund a ball field.
“The city then declined to bond for the county,” Antunes said. “Our goal is to find ways to really look at how we can effect change and hold public officials accountable.”
Antunes also won’t rule out a future run for a county or city commission seat.
Every citizen, Antunes said, should set the goal of doing their best for their community.
“We all have our own opinions on how to make our community better,” Antunes said. “If people don’t like my message, that’s OK, because we all have a voice, and that’s what makes this country great.”
AT A GLANCE
Hometown: Westchester County, N.Y.
Birthplace: Queens, N.Y.
Family: husband, Jose; and two sons.
Former occupation: Medical sales professional
Hobbies: Decorating, reading and gardening
Passion: Public advocacy
Interesting facts: A former Army wife, Antunes lived all over the country, including Hawaii, before settling down in Sarasota in December 1999. “When you finally get to put down roots and participate in a community, you appreciate it more,” Antunes said.