What should be a routine appointment process for a city advisory board has evolved into a political fight.
“This stinks, politically,” said City Commissioner-elect Paul Caragiulo.
Two Sarasota Planning Board members, Susan Chapman and Chris Gallagher, have terms expiring at the end of May.
Three new city commissioners — a majority — will be sworn into office May 13.
The new commission was expected to decide whether Chapman and Gallagher would be reappointed, however, outgoing Commissioner Dick Clapp asked that the appointment process for the Planning Board, and all other boards with expiring terms, be moved to Monday, May 2 — the last regular commissioner meeting for himself, Mayor Kelly Kirschner and Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins.
Clapp said he wanted to make sure experienced members were reappointed and didn’t want to risk having the new commission place inexperienced members on the board.
“Planning Board members really benefit from a couple of years of experience,” he said. “We have a history of reappointing sitting members.”
But some are questioning the fairness of shifting the reappointment date, because it was not advertised publicly, possibly reducing the number of people who would apply for one of the spots.
Only one other person has applied for a seat on the board, former City Commission candidate Richard Dorfman.
“It was my understanding that this wasn’t going to be addressed until the new commission was seated,” Dorfman said. “I don’t think it’s fair. Outgoing commissioners should not be deciding this.”
“It’s an important board, and I would like to see a robust number of applications come in,” he said.
It appears city code may back up those complaints.
According to city attorney Bob Fournier, the code states that advisory-board terms that expire in May would need to be publicly advertised in February — 90 days before expiration.
“I can understand why someone would think it’s inappropriate (to move up the date),” said Fournier.
Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Terry Turner, who will both be part of the new commission, said they questioned the move and wanted to hear Fournier’s opinion at the May 2 meeting.
“I’m uncomfortable with a lame-duck commission trying to push an agenda through,” said Turner. “Unless there’s compelling testimony (to make the appointments May 2), I may ask that it be moved (to a later date).”
Not everyone is concerned, however.
Commissioner-elect Shannon Snyder, who is a former Planning Board member, said he didn’t have a problem with not being involved in the selection process.
“It’s politics, man. It’s just the way it is,” he said. “I don’t think the city lives and dies by the Planning Board.”
Chapman and Gallagher had different takes on the controversy.
Gallagher believes if the rule is for his seat to be advertised, then it should be advertised.
He wasn’t informed that his reappointment could be happening May 2.
Chapman said City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini had told her in March that the reappointment hearing would happen at the first commission meeting in May.
“I have no position on fairness, because Pam said it was happening in May,” Chapman said. “Planning staff had told me that reappointment was merely a formality, anyway.”
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