+ Citizens group offers fuller explanation of efforts
Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government appreciates The Observer’s coverage of its initiatives but wishes to add clarification and relevant context regarding the Jan. 19 article, “Citizens group says it can’t pay costs,” which focused on the $19,611.74 judgment against SCRG and Citizens for Sunshine.
Citizen oversight is a necessary and often missing element in government. SCRG’s local-government oversight has saved Sarasota County taxpayers millions of dollars.
In 2009, SCRG led the fight against the city of Sarasota issuing $30 million to $40 million in bonds for Ed Smith Stadium, which were to be financed with county revenue — an avenue pursued by the county to avoid the required voter approval on bond issues higher than $20 million. Responding to SCRG member lobbying and the intent to litigate, the city of Sarasota bowed out of the risky bonding scheme, and the County Commission was forced to play by the Sarasota County Charter rules. Knowing a higher bond issue would be defeated at the polls, the County Commission bonded the $20 million, and the price of the stadium renovations was reduced to $31 million.
That resulted in tens of millions in savings — pretty good return of interest for effective citizen oversight.
SCRG’s Government in Sunshine Laws case uncovered significant problems with county procurement, which were downplayed by the clerk of court’s July 2010 procurement audit and the County Commission. County businesses and taxpayers lose when cronyism is rampant in county procurement.
SCRG compiled evidence of procurement policy problems and sent the findings to the National Institute of Government Procurement during its May 2011 audit of the Sarasota County Procurement Department. The NIGP found 151 problems with county procurement practices; its recommendations regarding ethics and proper bidding protocols are consistent with the concerns documented by SCRG.
The NIGP findings led to the beginning of an overhaul of county government that continues to this day.
SCRG members actively have opposed ill-conceived economic development initiatives lacking sound data and accountability — among them the recruiting of Jackson Labs and funds given to Sanborn Studios.
In November 2011, after the 4th District Court of Appeal had ruled term limits were constitutional for the Broward County Commission, SCRG members sued Sarasota County, to have the 2005 injunction against the 1998 voter-approved Sarasota County Commission term limits removed. We also asked the court to throw out the County Commission’s term-limits charter amendment, which was slated to appear on the Jan. 31 Republican Presidential Primary ballot.
The commission’s proposed amendment would have extended the board members’ term limits from two, as specified in the county charter, to three (not including time already in office). The self-serving amendment would have allowed sitting commissioners four to seven terms in office, did not make it clear to voters that we already have term limits that have yet to be enforced, and would have cost the taxpayers $120,000 for the supervisor of elections to get extra ballots out to non-Republicans.
The judge in this case threw out the deceptive ballot amendment (saving taxpayers the $120,000), and last week, we learned that our suit to enforce the 1998 two-term limit was sent to the Florida Supreme Court, because of its “great public importance.”
It’s important to point out that, as president of SCRG, I speak only for SCRG, not Citizens for Sunshine, the other citizens group among the Government in Sunshine Laws plaintiffs. Furthermore, the State Attorney’s Office joined SCRG as a defendant in the stadium bond-validation litigation brought by the county. If the county’s pursuit of reimbursement for costs is genuine, the county is seeking reimbursement from the State Attorney’s Office as well; yet, the State Attorney’s Office is conspicuously absent from the County Commission’s efforts.
The County Commission’s public discussions indicate that SCRG is the target of a commission that clearly bridles under criticism or scrutiny.
Millions of tax dollars saved and a commission that is looking for ways to intimidate and silence us: Hmm; we must be doing a good job.
Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government
+ Parking meters should be bagged immediately
* This letter was originally sent to the City Commision
I have had it with the meters! Perhaps more than any other Main Street merchant I have tried working with the public to help them. I gave it my very best shot, trying to make lemonade from lemons but am simply overwhelmed with — no kidding — dozens and dozens of utterly confused, perplexed and angry individuals on a daily basis. Today was the absolute tipping point. I need to be running my business, not running your defective meters!
Today (Saturday, Jan. 28) was one of the highest foot-traffic days of the season so far. Our store was jammed. The machine nearest my store was not accepting credit cards, and I literally had people coming in shouting, “I can’t pay for my parking!” Imagine the disruption as I am in the middle of talking to two potential clients about a $35,000 private tour in Italy.
I tried all three of my Visa cards and my two MasterCards to absolutely no avail, and I know how to work these complicated meters! Customers were fuming. I told several, “If you get a ticket, bring it to me and I will deal with it.”
This is utterly ridiculous, and the meters should be bagged immediately. This program is killing our ability to recover from a serious economic downturn, road construction and more.
I tried to call the parking office, and all I got was the voicemail run around; I was not able to leave a message.
(I invite you to try if you get this message today.) So, therefore, I could offer customers little more than quarters and an apology.
Option 8 to “leave a message,” ha ha, does not work and just routes you right back to the voicemail menu.
I am sick and tired of apologizing for this screw-up.
European Focus, Sarasota