On its website, The Citizens Voice clearly states its main cause and the motivation behind it in three words, prominently displayed at the top of each page: “No Boss Mayor.”
The political committee re-launched earlier this year in response to another political group, It’s Time Sarasota, that is advocating for a new city charter. The Citizens Voice strongly opposes that charter; most notably, it believes a provision that would create a “strong” elected-mayor position would be bad for the city.
Eileen Normile, a lawyer and city resident, serves as chairwoman of the group. She said the group represents a variety of interested parties, including some who support the idea of an elected mayor but oppose the power delegated to the chief executive in this specific charter.
“I would describe it as extreme,” Normile said. “That’s what ties us all together and what makes us such an eclectic group.”
The group consists of 28 members, according to its website. Eleven of those members are former Sarasota mayors, and almost all of the others have played an active role in city neighborhood associations or advisory boards. Several members of the group expressed a concern that the voice of active citizens would be less influential under the proposed charter.
Although ballot initiatives to create an elected mayor have failed three times in the past 20 years, The Citizens Voice is already working on rallying support behind its cause. Following a $6,000 donation from the International City/County Manager Association, the group began its campaign against the proposed charter.
During a special election in March, the group handed out sheets that urged voters to be wary of signing the petition that would put the proposed charter on November’s ballot. The flier issued a stern warning at the bottom: “Don’t sign away our city!!”
The group also spent more than $2,000 on three rounds of robotic telephone calls to some of the city’s most active voters. Normile was unable to provide transcripts of the calls — the last of which former Mayor Kelly Kirschner recorded — but said the message encouraged increased awareness of the charter proposal.
“Don’t sign the petition until you read the charter,” Normile said. “Take the time to read the charter and then make up your mind.”
County Commissioner Nora Patterson is another former mayor and opponent of the proposed charter.
Although she doesn’t feel the current city government system is perfect — and she’s open to the idea of an elected mayor — she said she feels the proposed charter provides for fewer checks and balances than the status quo. Above all, she hoped for a reasoned debate between the opposing sides as the push for and against the proposed charter ramps intensifies.
“I think the people on both sides are passionate about this,” Patterson said. “I hope the conversation remains civil.”
In their own words
Opponents to the proposed city charter speak about their stance:
Chairwoman, The Citizens’ Voice
On the advantages of the current charter: The nicest thing about Sarasota is how involved all the citizens are. Through the advisory boards, there's tremendous citizen involvement here, which is very nice for a city of this size. It makes it a really interesting and eclectic place where everyone has a voice. The City Commission uses that advice for better or for worse, but there is tremendous citizen involvement.
On addressing issues with the government: If you don't like the way the government is working, then you might consider actually replacing the people who are working the government. There is a lot of chaos; there are problems currently. … That doesn't mean that that will go on forever. That's just what's going on right now. I understand that people are unhappy about it — I am as well — but that doesn't mean that you turn the government over to one person. Pick the commissioner you think is doing the worst job, and imagine that person as mayor.
District 3 representative, City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations
On why she supports The Citizens’ Voice: Because I believe in it very much. I believe that we do not need a boss mayor. I believe the city charter is set up the way it should be. I'm very involved with my neighborhood associations. The neighborhoods are not going to have a voice if we have a boss mayor. We want to be able to communicate and talk and have more choices. I don't think that will be able to happen with a boss mayor. I just feel that (the proposed charter is) going to make too many changes we're not ready for, and I respect the people who are against it.
Sarasota County commissioner; former city commissioner and mayor
On her opposition to the proposed charter: Although I could support an elected mayor with some additional powers, I think this one goes so far that it evokes danger signals for me. If you've got a really wonderful person in that role, it could be a really good thing. If you've got someone who's not so good or not responsive to the public or perhaps not fiscally responsible, it could be a disaster. You would have four years of that person, and it might put the city in some difficult positions. I'm a cautious person, and I like the checks and balances of the more usual arrangement.
Contact David Conway at [email protected]