Next Tuesday will mark a historic end and a hopeful beginning in Sarasota County.
Sarasota County Commissioners Nora Patterson and Joe Barbetta will complete their terms on the commission. And with that, Patterson and Barbetta will cap two remarkable contributions and careers in public service.
Patterson will have served 24 consecutive years as an elected official — eight as a Sarasota city commissioner and mayor and 16 as a county commissioner representing District 4, central Sarasota County and Siesta Key.
Barbetta is not far behind, albeit pursuing a somewhat different path. When he relinquishes his commission seat Tuesday, he will have served 14 years as an appointed member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission and eight years as the elected county commissioner representing District 2, one of the northern districts.
Each of their tenures unequivocally places them in a class rarely seen in Sarasota County politics, public office and public service. It’s true that virtually all politicians have a certain amount of ego driving them, but in the cases of Patterson and Barbetta, it’s also true they have stayed in the public arena because of a sincere drive and affection for the county they call home. They are driven to make it better.
Throughout her terms in the city and county, Patterson remained consistent — some might say center-left, some might say center-right. A moderate, to be sure, albeit one who leaned toward tightly controlled growth. But she was unwavering advocating fiscal conservatism for taxpayers.
Patterson was constituent centric. She attended what must have seemed like every event in the county. This was her way of staying close to neighborhoods and accessible to taxpayers’ concerns.
That Patterson was elected six times is a testament to how voters trusted her and judged her performance. She had her disagreements and policy differences with constituents, but it is also accurate to say Sarasota County taxpayers viewed Patterson as a public official who worked for their good — and did so with integrity.
Her successor, Alan Maio, should aspire to and work for the same level of trust. For better or worse, Patterson has set the level of expectation in District 4.
For two-thirds of his public service, Barbetta participated in county government where it often is closest to taxpayers — on the planning board. This is where neighbors and neighborhoods often meet face to face with developers and where planning board members greatly influence the look, feel and direction of the county’s economy and future.
During his time on the planning commission, Barbetta certainly was no shill for developers. Like Patterson, he advocated controlled growth, to the point many developers sometimes viewed him as anti-growth. Indeed, the development community shuddered when Barbetta declared his candidacy for the County Commission, fearing he would worsen Sarasota County’s reputation as anti-business, anti-growth, anti-everything.
But Barbetta seemed to undergo a metamorphosis as a county commissioner. He recognized and embraced the importance of economic growth on the county’s quality of life. And he recognized how government regulations sorely affect the county’s business climate and, ultimately, its job and economic growth. It’s not inaccurate to say Barbetta became the most pro-business, pro-economic growth commissioner on the county dais. He championed efforts to keep a Major League team here for spring training and to upgrade Ed Smith Stadium. And he constantly pushed for county government to pare back its business-choking regulatory schemes.
We hope his successor, Sarasota City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, carries on and builds on Barbetta’s legacy as a county commissioner.
Final thought: When the masters of ceremony introduce every elected official in the audience at local events, the very people who vote these officials into office and who pay their salaries — that would be taxpayers — are expected to applaud as an acknowledgement of their service.
We often think it should be the other way around — their thanking us.
But in the cases of Patterson and Barbetta, we would gladly stand and applaud. They did their jobs. They kept taxes low and worked for taxpayers. For all of that and their years of service: Thank you. Nice job.
CITY COMMISSION: DON’T BLOW IT
As Sarasota County taxpayers and voters watch the departure of Commissioners Nora Patterson and Joe Barbetta and welcome Commissioners Alan Maio and Paul Caragiulo, the Sarasota City Commission will undergo a similarly important change.
Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw and Commissioners Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman will select next week replacements for Caragiulo and Commissioner Shannon Snyder, both of whom resigned to run for the County Commission. The commissioners are appointing replacements until candidates run for those seats in next spring’s elections.
We’re not optimistic. But we also believe in miracles.
For District 2 (downtown, the bayfront to the Asolo and Bird, Lido, St. Armands keys), the three sitting commissioners are considering 10 finalists. Among them are many strong candidates, as well as three well-known Sarasotans — former City Commissioner Ken Shelin; longtime architect Frank Folsom Smith; and Mr. Downtown, Paul Thorpe Jr.
Shelin would seem an obvious replacement/placeholder. He has great knowledge of the commission and of city politics, and he performed respectably in office. But in general, we favor going forward rather than back.
Smith is like Shelin, except he knows even more about the city and its history better than all of the candidates combined. And then there’s Thorpe.
What a refreshing and strong dose of common sense he would bring to the commission. If you go down the list of candidates, no one has contributed more time and effort for the betterment of Sarasota than Thorpe.
Our guess is, however, the sitting commissioners are looking for candidates who: 1) would embrace their low-ambition, low-growth agenda and not challenge them; and 2) could be viable candidates to run for a four-year term in the spring. Build for the future.
On both counts, Thorpe is a long shot.
But as we said, we believe in miracles.
If not Thorpe, we would urge the selection of either Vald Svekis, who has been an effective president of the Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores Neighborhood Association; or Eilene Walsh Normile, a former New Jersey prosecutor and an effective former president of the Bird Key Homeowner’s Association and chair of the Police Advisory Panel. Although often viewed as an ally of Chapman, Normile nonetheless would bring fresh leadership to the commission, now and in the future.
For District 3, journalist Stan Zimmerman is the rumored front runner. Commissioners would serve taxpayers better to bring in a younger, fresher perspective — Shelli Freeland Eddie. The Sarasota City Commission and city needs “new” and “different.”
• Liz Alpert
• David Coe
• Barbara Delgato
• Anthony Garrabrant
• Arthur Levin
• Eileen Walsh Normile
• Ken Shelin
• Frank Folsom Smith
• Vald Svekis
• Paul N. Thorpe Jr.
• Shelli Freeland Eddie
• Maryellin Kirkwood
• Charles K. Senf
• Stan Zimmerman