Of the dozens of changes to the city’s charter the Charter Review Committee has discussed, Chairwoman Gretchen Serrie told the City Commission there’s only one the committee recommended be placed on the March ballot.
Despite that strong advice, only one commissioner, Dick Clapp, wanted to support the move.
The Charter Review Committee was advocating the minimum-wage requirement in the charter be removed to help spur development in North Sarasota.
The minimum-wage requirement was placed in the charter through a citizen initiative and public referendum in 2007.
It was solely aimed at a Walmart store proposed for the Marion Anderson Brownfield, in Newtown. The company was also going to clean up the contamination.
A national anti-Walmart group began a petition drive. Newtown leaders said the group gave $2 to anyone who signed.
The charter measure required any company employing more than 50 people and receiving more than $100,000 in subsidies or tax abatements per year to pay their workers a minimum wage that worked out to $10.70 per hour. Florida’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Walmart was the only business that met those standards.
The retailer abandoned its plans, and Langston said several other businesses that would have considered building on the site were also turned away, because of the wage requirement.
“What a Walmart would have done in these economic times,” she said.
Now the Brownfield site still sits empty, and the city is on the hook to pay for the cleanup itself. The unemployment rate increased to more than 20% in north Sarasota, with the downturn in the economy.
And the community’s one grocery store, Winn-Dixie on North Tamiami Trail, announced that it was closing.
The Walmart Supercenter would have provided an alternative.
The Charter Review Committee heard from North Sarasota community leaders Oct. 26, who urged the board to recommend eliminating the mandate.
“(It) was devastating to us,” said Barbara Langston. “It will continue to stop economic development.”
City commissioners rejected Serrie’s suggestion that the city handle any similar wage requirements through an ordinance, which can easily be adjusted after two public hearings if need be, rather than through the charter, which has no flexibility.
“It always bothered me to put something to public referendum and then go back two or three years later and say, ‘Is that what you meant?’” said Mayor Kelly Kirschner.
And Vice Mayor Fredd Atkins referred to the Arkansas-based Walmart as “the gangsters of Arkansas.”
The next general election, at which voters could be asked if they want to reverse the original decision, is most likely in 2012.
The city’s general manager of North Sarasota Redevelopment supported the change.
“I can see it both ways, but it will definitely make it more difficult (to redevelop if the charter is not changed),” said Lorna Alston.
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].