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Sarasota Thursday, May. 16, 2013 4 years ago

Our View: Let's hope it's not status quo


The word on the street among Sarasota city business people well before the election was the two Sues — Suzanne Atwell and Susan Chapman — would take it.

They hoped for Richard Dorfman.

But the happy-with-the-way-things-are, don’t-bring-growth traditionalists won. Indeed, Susan Chapman’s 20-year roots and neighborhood activism mean something.

Take Al Abrams of Amaryllis Park. He and Chapman worked together in the Council of City Neighborhoods Associations. A few years later, Chapman represented Abrams pro bono in court. She won. He’ll never forget it. They saw each other at one of the polls Tuesday.

It’s difficult to beat those ties.

What’s more, Sarasotans, we know, don’t cotton well to political newcomers. You need to have been here — learn and earn your place. Four years is not enough.

That’s how it works.

And that’s why Sarasota is what it is. It’s extraordinarily accepting of newcomers who want to get involved and give to charitable and cultural not-for-profit causes. But when it comes to an economic vision that rises above three stories in height or more people per square foot or mile, well, that’s another story. There’s a reason the city of Sarasota’s population has hovered at 50,000 population (plus or minus 2,000) since 1980. If you glance at the “Demographics Is Destiny” table, you can see the city of Sarasota ranks near the top in terms of population density per square mile.

For some, that might be evidence for not wanting more population. Many Sarasota transplants came here to escape the high-density cities of the Northeast and like it here just the way it is, thank you.

But if you study the table, you’ll also notice the cities that are growing have room to grow. North Port is the most explicit case in point. Twenty years ago, North Port was a twig on a map. It’s now Sarasota County’s biggest city. With three times the square miles of the city of Sarasota, in the next 10 to 20 years North Port is going to dwarf Sarasota in population and economic activity.

This may be just fine for those who supported Chapman in Tuesday’s run-off elections. But if that’s the destiny you want, you should understand what that means going forward. It reminds us of a passage from Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek in his 1988 book, “The Fatal Conceit”:

“We have become civilized by the increase of our numbers just as civilization made that increase possible: We can be few and savage, or many and civilized.”

In other words, if you want higher standards of living, more and better choices of goods and services, those things will only occur with an increase in population.

Sure, unincorporated Sarasota County and east Manatee County may be growing, but their growth does little to help the taxpayers of the city of Sarasota meet their city’s unfunded pension liabilities and other obligations. Without population growth and a growing business tax base in the city limits, the only answer for the city of Sarasota is to increase residential property taxes. It’s inevitable.

Newly elected Commissioner Chapman may be forced to rethink things.

Altogether, little changed between Monday and Wednesday. We heard several Sarasota residents say Tuesday’s election results essentially maintained the status quo — outgoing Commissioner Terry Turner and Susan Chapman were an even trade in terms of policy preferences. Don’t expect any dramatic change in direction with the City Commission.

The issues remain: how to fund unfunded pension liabilities; how to deal with vagrants and noise downtown; how to keep downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle competitive with the Benderson retail world at Interstate 75 and University Parkway; and how to spawn redevelopment of North Trail, the Quay and the Rosemary-to-10th Street corridor.

For the sake of the city and the city’s taxpayers, let’s hope and proceed with optimism that Susan Chapman’s election Tuesday was more than keeping the status quo.

+ Take responsibility
When businesses stumble or make embarrassing mistakes, their top-level executives are held accountable. The world knows their names and how they screwed up.

J.C. Penney’s board fired CEO Ron Johnson after his 17-month strategy of replacing sales and coupons with everyday low pricing flopped.

Avon Corp.’s board publicly dumped its longtime CEO Andrea Jung after its stock price went on a 45% decline.

Now contrast that with what’s happening in Washington. The public still doesn’t know the names of the decision makers in the Benghazi and IRS scandals. And to no surprise, the people most responsible haven’t lived up to one of the most important rules of being a leader: taking responsibility for what happened.
Americans want to know:

• Who denied proper protection for the U.S. embassy in Benghazi?
• Who ordered our armed forces not to attempt a rescue of our fellow Americans?
• Who approved Susan Rice’s delivery of false “talking points”?
• Who in the IRS sanctioned the targeting of conservative political organizations?

All of these responsible people work for us — American taxpayers and citizens. We have a right to know their names, and they have a moral duty to come forward.

+ Deja vu
“The intent wasn’t to stop growth or be a barrier to growth. It was to do it smartly.”
Commissioner Christine Robinson, commenting on the county’s 2050 plan

As we never learn, government intent always mushrooms into deleterious, unintended consequences. Sarasota County’s infamous 2050 plan is prima facie evidence.

It has been an unmitigated disaster, that is, if you believe, as we do, that population growth is good. From the perspectives of lawyer Dan Lobeck and Council of Neighborhood Associations President Lourdes Ramirez, 2050 has been a resounding success. It has halted growth in northeastern Sarasota County.

County commissioners know it hasn’t lived up to intent whatsoever and are now hoping to adjust it. While we urge them on, early signs are those of deja vu: Same arguments, same cast of characters.

Prediction: Tweaks that won’t change a thing. Rather than take bold action, it’s always safer for politicians to operate in the margins. That assures re-election.

If they had the courage, commissioners would pitch the whole plan and start over.




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