Although Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson Dec. 13 questioned the value of the “wiki” process used to craft a revised ordinance on water-efficient landscaping, most of her fellow commissioners voiced approval of the new means of gaining public participation.
According to a report prepared for the commission, 264 people visited the wiki between July 25 and Sept. 6. Those people offered a total of 400 changes or recommendations for the ordinance language. The majority of the visitors — 377 — were from the United States, 11 were from Canada, seven were from Brazil, two were from Germany and one each was from the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Austria.
Modeled after Wikipedia, the county wiki allowed members of the public to suggest changes to the county code, with the County Commission having final authority on the language.
“I think the wiki is proving to be a positive tool for the county,” Commissioner Jon Thaxton said, adding that staff gained a lot of information it otherwise would not have had.
A staff memo notes the wiki “was introduced by email to various engineering groups, consultants, environmental groups, community groups, homeowners associations and contractors.”
However, Patterson said, “I’m not too sure one can actually write an ordinance with a wiki. … You get (comments) that are not ordinance-like, because the people are putting in what ideally they think should be in (the ordinance).”
Commissioner Christine Robinson voiced a number of concerns about language in the draft ordinance. For example, she questioned whether homeowners would be confused by a section regarding regular testing of sprinkler systems, when that part of the ordinance was aimed at new construction.
Commissioner Carolyn Mason concurred with Thaxton, though, saying, “I think it’s a great beginning to get more folks involved.”
Chuck Henry, the Sarasota County health administrator, who had worked with the wiki before he was appointed to his current position, told the commissioners, “The real value of the wiki is to open up public comment 24/7.”
He agreed staff needed to assemble the comments into language suited for an ordinance.
After Jack Merriam, county environmental manager, presented the results of the wiki process, the board voted unanimously to direct staff to proceed with finalizing the ordinance to encompass state-mandated requirements for water-efficient landscaping.
“I think we should be doing what’s mandatory according to state guidelines,” Commissioner Joe Barbetta said in making the motion.