+ Senate committee reviews outdoor smoking ban
The Florida Senate Committee on Regulated Industries Feb. 21, will consider a bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley that would allow Sarasota County to ban smoking on publicly owned properties.
Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Mason will sign a letter dated Feb. 12, urging support for the bill from local representative Sen. Nancy Detert, who serves on the committee. Sen. Bill Galvano, who represents Manatee County, serves on the same committee.
Sarasota County banned smoking in parks and public beaches in 2007, but in late 2012, a local judge found the ordinance inconsistent with the Florida Indoor Clean Air Act.
“The county smoking restriction on its public beaches was a critical component to Steve Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, naming Siesta Key beach No. 1 in the nation in 2011, according to the Feb. 12 letter.
State Rep. Bill Hager has sponsored a similar bill in the Florida House of Representatives, which is currently in the Health Quality Subcommittee.
+ Voters can track absentee ballots
Voters in the city of Sarasota and town of Longboat Key elections March 12 can track their ballots online after they are requested, according to a news release from the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Residents can visit the Supervisor of Elections website, sarasotavotes.com, and select “Vote by Mail” at the top of the page. They can then track their ballot by clicking “Track Your Absentee Ballot.”
The Supervisor of Elections must receive requests for absentee ballots by 5 p.m. March 6, and the votes no later than 7 p.m. Election Day.
+ Parking Operations Division returns to City Hall
Sarasota’s Parking Operations Division (POD) will move Wednesday, Feb. 20, from the Sarasota Police headquarters to its previous location in the lobby of City Hall, 1565 First St. The current location will close at noon Tuesday, Feb. 19, to begin the move.
City officials say the move will make it more convenient for people to pay tickets and take care of other public-parking business.
“People are accustomed to doing business at City Hall,” said Parking Division Manager Mark Lyons.
Residents or tourists who would like to pay a parking citation or take care of other public parking matters may do so at the new location from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
As City Manager Tom Barwin settles into his fifth month on the job, he is assessing the location of some key functions and staff members, according to a press release.
For more information, contact the Parking Operations Division at 954-7057 or follow the POD on Twitter @SRQParking.
+ Former employee steals $234,470 from business
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has arrested Diana Urban, 42, of North Port, for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her employer in the past year.
The owner of Precision Fabrication, in Nokomis, fired Urban in December for claiming vacation time to which she was not entitled, according to a Sheriff’s Office report. At that time a review of the company records revealed Urban had written checks to herself and forged the company ledger to show they were written to company vendors.
Detectives found that Urban had written and cashed 119 checks, totaling $234,470, between November 2011 and December 2012. Urban was arrested Feb. 12 and charged with First Degree Felony Scheme to Defraud. She is being held on $50,000 bond.
+ Gov. Scott appoints Wish to airport authority board
Last week Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment of Dr. Peter A. Wish to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.
Wish, 67, of Sarasota, is the president of Gulf Coast Healthstyle Corporation. He succeeds Robert Waechter and is appointed for a term beginning Feb. 7, and ending Nov. 17, 2016.
+ City agrees to stop panhandling enforcement
The city of Sarasota agreed Wednesday, Feb. 13, to a judicial order stopping Sarasota police from “interfering with the exercise of First Amendment Rights” in dealing with the homeless, according to a press release from the ACLU.
Circuit Court Judge Rick DeFuria said prohibiting panhandlers from holding signs that solicit money from passing motorists violated federal free-speech protections.
The consent decree comes as the result of a Sarasota Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida’s legal challenge on behalf of two homeless men; Jon Hill, who had been arrested under the ordinance, and Seann Manning, who had been threatened with arrest.
In the decree issued Wednesday, the city agrees to abide by an updated 60-day injunction stopping the city of Sarasota, its city manager and police chief from relying on a repealed solicitation ordinance to target homeless citizens on city sidewalks and streets.
“The court’s ruling vindicates the right of all citizens to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment, particularly those who are the least able to seek protection,” said Michael Barfield, chairman of the legal panel of the Sarasota chapter of the ACLU.
“We will continue to monitor the city’s response to the crisis of the mistreatment of people who are homeless,” said Barfield.
On Jan. 7, the City Commission suspended enforcement of the city’s sign-holding law, also known as ordinance 23-1, after the city attorney told them the law was unconstitutional.
Feb. 1, a judge ordered a temporary injunction forbidding police officers from telling homeless people holding signs to move elsewhere.
The injunction came after the (ACLU) had filed the lawsuit to prevent the police department from enacting ordinance 23-1.
MEETING WRAP UP
The Siesta Key Association held its second meeting of the year Feb. 7.
• The Siesta Key Association-Siesta Key Village Association Adopt-a-Road Cleanup is scheduled for March 16.
• There are eight non-operational streetlights on what SKA board member Michael Shay calls “the loop”: Beach Road, Midnight Pass Road, Higel Avenue and Ocean Boulevard.
• Joyce Kouba filled in for the absent SKA Secretary Beverley Arias to record meeting minutes.
• SKA Vice President Peter van Roekens said the constantly blinking pedestrian intersections on Beach Road are due to resident requests to the Florida Department of Transportation.
• SKA members Bob Luckner and Allan Worms outlined a plan to distribute a mixture of ant bait near the dunes at Siesta Key Beach Access 8. They will be asking property owners for permission to do so before snowy plover nesting season begins this spring.
Meetings & Agendas
• Sarasota Community Organizations Active in Disaster Committee — 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, Sarasota County Health and Human Services, 2200 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota
• Sarasota Tree Advisory Council Meeting — 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, Administration Building, A/B Conference Room, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.
• Sarasota Regular City Commission Meeting — 2:30 and 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19, City Commission Chambers, 1565 First St., Sarasota.
• Sarasota County Charter Review Committee — 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, Landings Administrative Complex, Room 315, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota
• Sarasota County Planning Commission meeting — 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, Administration Building, Commission Chambers, 1660 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota
• Siesta Isles Association meeting — 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, 5394 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key
• Sarasota Wildlife Art Festival & Symposium — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 2 and Sunday, March 3, Ken Thompson Park, 1500 Ken Thompson Parkway.