On Friday, Sarasota Mayor Shannon Snyder maintained that he hadn’t changed his initial opposition to the Sarasota Police Foundation over the past month. By Monday night’s City Commission meeting, however, something sparked a change of heart.
Snyder had been a vocal opponent of the revival of the foundation, formed in 2008 to help fund the Sarasota Police Department but dormant since then. He said he thought the city and SPD had been too active in the reactivizaiton of the charitable organization, and he didn’t trust that it could be run properly or out of the sunshine.
At Monday’s meeting, the group’s founding director and attorney asked the commission to publically take a stance on the foundation, fearing donors would be reluctant to support the foundation without the commisson's support. The response was unanimous: all five commissioners were in favor of the foundation moving forward, including the mayor.
Snyder credited the persuasive ability of Larry Twill, the organization’s founder, for changing his mind. After SPD Chief Bernadette DiPino announced the foundation’s relaunch in November — with Valerie Pober, who the chief recruited, at the helm — Snyder said he was worried the group would become a personal fund for DiPino.
Twill, along with attorney Dan Bailey, spoke to the commission about how the foundation was designed to maintain a separation from public entities. The police chief is allowed to serve as a non-voting member of the board, but beyond that, SPD would not delegate any governmental functions to the foundation, and the foundation would not seek to influence the operations of the SPD.
Despite taking a staunch stance against the group three days earlier, Snyder was persuaded.
“I was impressed with Mr. Twill's ability to articulate how independent this organization was going to be,” Snyder said. “I think we avoided some of the issues we could have stumbled into there without having sunshine.”
The rest of the commission also offered their full support for the organization as it seeks to establish a new board of directors and eventually solicit funding.
“Seeing us go forward with this broadens the horizons for community policing activities and much more creativity in the future,” Vice Mayor Willie Shaw said.
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• City staff discussed the process of evaluating the charter officials, including City Manager Tom Barwin, whose contract stipulates that a third-party consultant should conduct his review. A main source of debate for commissioners centered on whether to formally incorporate public input into the process.
“I'm not as comfortable with public comments to this process for the simple reason that under the charter, the accountability for the charter officials lies on the elected officials,” Shaw said. “If we start to open up Pandora's Box, we start to get an erosion of what the charter's intent may have been when it was put together.”
Discussion was suspended until next month when City Attorney Robert Fournier said he wanted to take time to review the proposed evaluation process for Sunshine Law concerns.
• Snyder voiced concern about the state of the city’s Community Development Block Grant funding heading into fiscal year 2014-15, in the wake of a criminal case relating to the misappropriation of grant funds. The city has roughly $400,000 in CDBG funding in this year’s budget, and has had as much as $500,000 tied to those funds in the past. While Snyder was worried that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development would cut off the city’s grant funding, city staff said such a move would be unprecedented for a municipality, and that HUD representatives said no consideration was being given to such a notion.
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