Seven of the eight people running for City Commission shared their thoughts on Sarasota’s future and youth outreach at a candidate forum Wednesday.
Even among a diverse eight-person field running for two open seats on the City Commission, there’s consensus on at least one subject: The city should be doing more to attract and retain young people.
Seven of the commission candidates appeared at Wednesday’s Sarasota Underground town hall to discuss that topic and other city issues in advance of the March 14 election. The event, held at the Municipal Auditorium, was designed to engage younger people and other residents who don’t typically participate in local government.
Moderator Kevin Cooper, the president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, asked the candidates a series of forward-looking questions. The panel encouraged young people to take a more active role to get the attention of the city’s decision-makers.
“Young folks: These old folks aren’t going to give you a thing,” former City Commissioner Fredd Atkins said. “You’re going to have to demand it.”
Cooper asked the candidates why they thought the city hasn’t done a better job of connecting with young people in the past. Commissioner Susan Chapman and attorney Hagan Brody both agreed the city needs to do a better job of creating jobs that makes it easier for people to live and work within the city limits.
Neighborhood leaders Patrick Gannon and Jennifer Ahearn-Koch said the city should work to make information more easily accessible to young people, so getting involve isn’t such a daunting challenge. Mikael Sandstrom and small business owner Martin Hyde encouraged the city to hold more special events that cater to youth.
A question about affordable housing provided some of the most specific answers of the night. Chapman suggested the city should be willing to experiment with its housing regulations until it hits on something that works. Brody said density increases would help create a better mix of housing types and help cut down on traffic caused by workers commuting into and out of the city.
Hyde encouraged the city to eliminate impact fees on developers, and Ahearn-Koch said the city should require developers to provide affordable housing in exchange for density or height bonuses.
Before the candidates’ closing statements, the final segment of the event was a series of rapid-fire yes/no questions. Here’s how the candidates answers broke down:
Is the city growing too fast?
Yes: Gannon, Chapman, Hyde
No: Ahearn-Koch, Atkins, Sandstrom, Brody
Is the city doing enough for young people?
No: All candidates
Do you support the return of parking meters?
Yes: Gannon, Atkins, Chapman
No: Ahearn-Koch, Sandstrom, Hyde, Brody
Do you support a referendum on moving city elections to November?
Yes: Gannon, Atkins, Sandstrom, Hyde, Brody
No: Ahearn-Koch, Chapman
Would you support changes to the downtown noise ordinance?
Yes: Gannon, Ahearn-Koch, Atkins, Sandstrom, Hyde, Brody
Is $26,000 an adequate annual salary for city commissioners?
Yes: Gannon, Hyde, Brody
No: Ahearn-Koch, Atkins, Chapman, Sandstrom
Is the city currently acting as a good financial steward of taxpayers’ money?
Yes: Gannon, Ahearn-Koch, Atkins, Chapman
No: Sandstrom, Hyde, Brody
Has our region failed young people?
Yes: Gannon, Ahearn-Koch, Atkins, Sandstrom, Hyde
No: Chapman, Brody
The eighth candidate in the race, Matt Sperling, was not invited to participate in the candidate forum following a dispute with Sarasota Underground founder Raymmar Tirado.
Tirado said his goal is for Sarasota Underground to keep making it easier for people to get involved with local politics, critiquing the low voter turnout city elections have seen in the past.
“The place you make your peace is not on Facebook, it’s not on Instagram, it’s not by showing up to City Hall and talking about a single issue,” Tirado said. ”It’s showing up to vote.”