It must be “season.” The city is alive again with its winter-time residents. But more important, new, good ideas for the improved prosperity of the city have begun percolating, gaining momentum and producing positive steam.
It’s nice to hear conversations take place on topics other than parking meters and homelessness. Here are three that bring hope:
To start, take the downtown golf-cart idea that Peter Fanning and John Moran are pursuing. Fanning is a director of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, and Moran is operations manager for the Downtown Improvement District.
They’re trying to bring to reality a smart, simple downtown transportation system — six-seat golf carts that could shuttle passengers around the city center, say, from hotels to downtown and back or from parking garages to downtown destinations.
And the great thing: They’re trying to figure out how to make it work with private funding — no government money.
It makes so much more sense than trying to finagle a multimillion-dollar rail-based trolley trudging up and down Main Street.
Fanning is right. “People say, ‘I park my car downtown. I go see something. I don’t want to drive another mile somewhere else and look for parking again.’”
He’s so right.
Wish him and Moran the best. The golf carts would be a great, unique and useful addition.
Another good idea: relocating the downtown county bus transfer station away from one of the city center’s core retail areas — at Lemon Avenue and First Street.
It never should have been placed there to begin with. But let’s not go back to that dog of a decision.
Ernie Ritz, chair of the Downtown Improvement Distrtict, is right. That location is prime real estate for downtown mid-rise or high-rise housing and more retail. As is, it’s a bad, unproductive use of land. For a city that desparately needs tax revenue and wants to create a vibrant alternative to the upcoming University Town Center Mall, Ritz’s idea makes a lot of economic and aesthetic sense.
Predictably, one of the possible sites Ritz and county commissioners suggested for relocating the bus station — near Ringling Boulevard and School Avenue — has opposition. Sarasota attorney Chris Jaensch advises against the station being so close to Payne Park, the surrounding single-family-home neighborhoods and the vacant Ringling Shopping Center.
Writes Jaensch: “It will discourage the redevelopment of the surrounding area for mixed use on currently vacant or unused sites on School Avenue.”
Ritz and some county officials think the transfer station makes sense close to the Sarasota County Health Department. But Jaensch is right. Why not closer to, say, the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center on 17th Street?
The key point is: Move it off of its prime downtown development property.
The best idea and the one that can have the most lasting, positive effect is the It’s Time Sarasota charter revision campaign.
As a way of labeling and overly simplifying it, the proposal’s detractors call it yet another proposal for a strong, elected mayor, noting the idea has failed three previous times.
This time, it is time, and it’s different. It’s much more than just an elected mayor measure.
For one, the people who crafted this revised city charter proposal brought together for the first time a cross section of people and groups — some who rarely would sit in the same room together (see the list above). What’s more, they enlisted the help of Robert Martineau, of Nokomis, distinguished research professor of law emeritus, University of Cincinnati. If you read his resume and see the depth and breadth of his knowledge and involvement in drafting constitutional amendments, statutes, ordinances and court rules for federal courts of appeals, state supreme courts, legislatures, judicial advisory bodies, the American Bar Association, and state bar associations, you can be assured that a man of his stature would not involve himself with delusional, wackadoo gadflies.
Linda Holland, who is leading the effort to educate voters on the proposed charter, can’t praise Martineau enough for what he brought to the drafting of the proposal.
“He was marvelous,” she said.
The final product, which can be found at itstimesarasota.com, is far more than electing a mayor to be the chief executive officer of the city. The proposed revised charter also would create a deputy mayor position that would serve as the day-to-day chief operating officer of city operations; it would increase from three to five City Council districts; and it would change the responsibilities of the council members.
They would act much like a legislature and governor. The council would pass ordinances, approve budgets, issue bonds, audit the city finances and evaluate the city administration. It would have the power to override a mayor’s veto.
There would be checks and balances.
And here is another big part: It would move the election of council members and the mayor to November general elections. This is huge. As the system works now, with city elections held in March of odd years, voter turnout has been abysmal. November elections would boost voter participation in city affairs.
But, the biggest benefit to the city and taxpayers would be the elected mayor/CEO. For too long, the city of Sarasota has been devoid of vision and focused leadership at City Hall. As a result of the weak-mayor, city manager government, there is no one at City Hall to set a course and an agenda to make something positive happen.
Police pension liabilities are choking the city’s finances. City population growth is non-existent. New affordable housing downtown is nowhere to be found. North Trail has hardly changed (except for what Ringling College of Art and Design has built). The commercial tax base has been stagnant. Try naming a major, new employer that has moved downtown.
These conditions are not necessarily the fault of the City Commission. But here’s the point: As the city government stands today, there is no one to lead a charge on the issues above. There is no one serving as the champion, top salesman and economic development leader for the city of Sarasota.
In contrast, look at Florida Gov. Rick Scott. He devotes every day to improving the economic and business climates in Florida and selling the state to create jobs for Floridians. And it’s working.
In Sarasota, the City Commission is too mired in and divided over trying to figure out how to conduct a performance evaluation of the city manager.
We should stop here. Writing about the Sarasota City Commission gets depressing.
Instead, we want to remain optimistic, optimistic that the three good ideas we’ve discussed here will come to fruition.
REVISED CHARTER CAUCUS MEMBERS
The following participated in the drafting of a proposed revised city charter. The first eight participated in the final drafting committee meeting.
Michael Barfield — Vice President, ACLU of Florida
Diana Hamilton — Laurel Park Neighborhood Association
Linda Holland — Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association
Professor Robert Martineau — Revised Charter Principal Drafter
Carolyn Mason — Sarasota Board of County Commissioners
Billy Robinson — Retired City Auditor & Clerk
Mary Dougherty Slapp — Executive Director, Gulf Coast Builders Exchange
Chris Gallagher — Downtown Sarasota Alliance
Jon Susce — Park East Neighborhood Association
Joe Barbetta — Sarasota Board of County Commissioners
Andy Dorr — McClellan Park Neighborhood Association
David Morriss — President, Indian Beach — Sapphire Shores Neighborhood Association
John Moran — Downtown Roundtable
Ian Black — Ian Black Real Estate
Drayton Saunders — Harbor Acres Neighborhood Association
Jason Swift — Chairman, Gulf Coast Builders Exchange
Dr. Peter Wish — Commissioner, Sarasota Bradenton Airport Authority
Peter Fanning — Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association