Meet the candidate.
Name: Donald (Don) Patterson
Family: A third-generation Floridian and proud father of one son, Taylor, who is a military veteran.
I am a third-generation Floridian and believe Sarasota is Florida’s most beautiful, vibrant and culturally rich city. I am proud to call Sarasota my home. I currently serve as the president and CEO of Ascend Wireless Networks, a company I co-founded and funded with my life savings. Ascend constructs the network for the country’s leading wireless carriers and operates throughout the Southeast U.S. Ascend is a Florida-based company and one of its most successful.
I grew up in the Tampa Bay area, raised by a single working mother. As a child, I benefited from the area’s generous philanthropy, including the Big Brothers and Sisters program. I found mentorship provided me with direction and determination. I will be forever grateful to the program, which is why I have supported the organization with great attention over the past decade. I now humbly serve as chairman of the board of the 10-county Sun Coast organization, serving approximately 2,000 of the area’s most socially and economically disadvantaged youths. I am dedicated to the organization’s mission to change the course and chart a positive direction for these young girls and boys. I have co-created and funded other community projects to address homelessness and the protection of women. I am committed to ending homelessness in Sarasota.
I love living in a city known as a “cultural jewel,” and I am an ardent supporter of the arts. I am also a boater, sailor and water sports enthusiast, which is why I support initiatives to preserve and protect Sarasota’s natural beauty, marine life and environment.
I have been blessed with an abundant life, and I am passionate about making a difference in my community. My future includes work with nonprofit organizations that serve disadvantaged, disenfranchised and victimized individuals.
Why are you running for office?
I believe the current city government is failing Sarasota citizens and businesses. They lack vision and are neither leading nor serving. The city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was another example of leadership failure and poor decisions that negatively impacted local businesses, creating a significant revenue shortfall. I was tired of witnessing waste and politicking and posturing, all of which doesn’t accomplish the commission’s purpose of serving Sarasota’s citizens. We are facing unprecedented times, and I feel the city is in over its head and capabilities. It is time for a new vision, innovation, leadership and execution. We need fresh faces and fresh ideas. I’m not going to attack any of my opponents; they are doing enough of that themselves. But I don’t see the wisdom in putting the same people in a position where they have previously failed.
I am not a politician. I am a concerned citizen, business and civic leader who wants to see Sarasota reach its potential, serve its citizens and preserve its culture. My campaign is intentionally self-funded, without donations of special interest groups, political action committees, or private contributions that could unduly influence future policy and decision making. I plan to serve Sarasota’s 57,000 citizens’ interests rather than special interests. I pledge to be a hands-on, full-time leader, and I am eager to tackle the city’s most pressing issues with citizen input. Sarasota deserves a smarter and more responsive city government.
If elected, what will be your top three priorities during your term?
- I envision a future where Sarasota is known for providing “Best in Class” customer service to its citizens and businesses. We need to create a culture of partnership with our constituents. We need to explore new innovations on how to run the city more efficiently. We need effective processes to get things done, and we need to “right size” the city government in the face of a new economic reality. Cost-effective innovations can decrease or control costs while maintaining service levels. It’s time to eliminate wasteful spending and get capital expenses related to expensive projects under control. Sarasota needs fiscal responsibility and accountability.
- Solve the homeless populations’ impact on the safety and sanitation of Sarasota streets that affect our residents, businesses, visitors and the Sarasota brand of philanthropy. I have been working with nonprofit organizations to address the problem at a systemic level — mental illness, alcohol and drug addiction, chronically unemployable — the causes that lead to homelessness. It is clearly not just a question of shelter. We must aggressively enforce programs that encourage people off the streets and into rehabilitation and recovery programs. I can be held accountable and will show results in the first 120 days with temporary solutions while we explore and fund longer-term solutions.
- Governance of the city needs addressing. I will lead by example, using my 35 years in business and many years in civic governance. Generative and respectful conversations between the commission members leads our community to believe in the governance process. Being clear and demonstrating that we are responsive to our citizens and in partnership with our businesses, the arts and our nonprofit community is required. We must insist on leadership and cooperation between staff and the commission. We need to work in collaboration to set policy and to make smart decisions that support local businesses, neighborhoods, residents and address major issues, such as the fiscal health of the city budget while addressing aging infrastructure, environmental issues and other challenges confronting the city.
How do you think the city is being managed and governed? What would you recommend be done differently?
If I believed the city was being managed and governed well, I wouldn’t have entered the race. It is not productive to criticize every past decision of the commission. We realize that they are not well equipped or experienced to get us through the city’s challenges. We understand cities across the country will never been the same; some will flourish, and some might not fully recover. We must be determined to be the Sarasota of our full potential. Going forward we need our communities best, brightest and accomplished to serve and contribute to our government. Going forward, these new leaders will emerge and bring fresh ideas and renewed energy to our government. We cannot risk this great city — our home — to old politics and politicians. This is not a career building step in my life; I feel compelled to serve the community with fresh ideas and renewed energy using my 35 years of leadership in business and the compassion of my past and present civic endeavors.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being excellent, how would you rate the performance of the city manager?
I’m hesitant to judge the city manager without understanding if his performance and decisions are a result of a lack of leadership and direction from the commission or if he, too, simply lacks vision and experience needed for the job. My question is, if Tom Barwin is such a problem, why hasn’t the city commission addressed it? As a leader and CEO, I believe you can’t make those types of decisions without understanding the causes of any performance issues. If anyone in that position isn’t serving the best interests of the city and its citizens, then swift action is needed, and I would not hesitate to take it. If more cuts are necessary to get a more responsive government, we’ll make them.
What should be done to address the supply of workforce housing?
Sarasota’s workforce housing issue is not unique to our city. There are existing, successful models that we can replicate. I will explore workforce housing models to identify the one that will work best for Sarasota. I would also review excess city properties as possible locations for new workforce housing.
Do you support creating a special tax-increment financing district near the Bay Park to help finance the $200 million project? If not, how do you think the park renovation should be funded?
I support the Bay Project and all other waterfront preservation. On the Bay Project, I need to understand how well our dollars are being spent on the development’s projects. Are we on budget, if not then address performance before we move further? Second, review the list of projects, priorities and costs to determine if it continues to align with the city. The Bay Park should be funded by private donations, TIF, visitor occupancy and sales taxes in partnership with the county.
The Van Wezel Foundation is supporting the development of a new performing arts center at the Bay Park. What’s your view of that, and how do you think a center should be financed?
The Van Wezel is considered the “Jewel in Sarasota's Arts Crown,” strengthening our city’s national and international reputation as the cultural capital of Florida. More than 1,300 visiting artists come to Sarasota each year, supporting local hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. The Van Wezel should be funded by private donations, visitor occupancy and sales taxes in partnership with the county. We need to attract more visitors to our city by supporting our cultural and arts venues and by adding more events that draw more tourism dollars into our local economy.
Bobby Jones Golf Club: Do you agree with the commission’s most recent decision to downsize to 27 holes of golf and a 130-acre park? If not, what would you propose differently?
I think it’s irresponsible to even consider this project at this time given the COVID-19 challenges that are causing severe revenue shortfalls.
At the right time, I believe that we should have a world-class 18-hole golf course, managed and maintained by a private subcontractor with the experience needed.
Environmentally valuable and attractive parts of the course should be designated to create a large connected experience, adding additional canopy and vegetation for watershed and wildlife.
Nonstrategic parcels of Bobby Jones present an opportunity for the city and the Bobby Jones neighborhood. The city would identify nonstrategic or excess land parcels, rezone them to match the adjacent parcel and exchange them for strategic green spaces around the city that lack parks and adequate green spaces. This adds economic activity and new families to the Bobby Jones neighborhood. With open discussion, I feel all can agree that this is a win for municipal golf, increased park space, revitalization and an expansion of our green space in needed locations, such as the Rosemary District, North Trail and other underserved neighborhoods.
Where do you stand on the roundabout at Gulfstream and U.S. 41?
The roundabout is already in motion, so the only thing to do now is to wait and see if it improves traffic congestion or adds to it. If it is determined to be a problem, then we’ll need to course correct. I will certainly be moving the city and county to improve Fruitville Road from 41 all the way out to Interstate 75.
The STOP group wanted the city to require public review hearings for large development projects in the city instead of administrative reviews by the city staff. What’s your position on that?
I am strongly opposed to administrative review and feel that public input is needed on any project of any size.
Many people have complained about all the condos and apartments being developed with little setbacks. If elected, will you initiate a change to the city’s zoning?
If elected, I will absolutely initiate change to city zoning. Some of the development that lack setbacks would never have occurred if we had public input. These developments prevent road expansion in our busiest traffic corridors and detract from the charm and safety of our neighborhoods.
The transportation concerns of the city’s barrier islands don’t always mesh with those of downtown and other portions of the city. What’s the best way to align those competing concerns?
I feel strongly that Fruitville is a valuable corridor for the downtown and Keys traffic flow and emergency evacuation. We want to encourage residents of the Keys to visit the city, so we need to address their valid congestion concerns. I will work with the Transportation Department to find solutions to improve the traffic congestion for the Keys.
What are your suggestions on a new home for the orchestra?
I met with the president and CEO of the Sarasota Orchestra to discuss ideas and options for keeping the orchestra downtown. We have to support our arts and collaborate with them to maintain our cultural and city brand integrity. I’m in favor of identifying possible locations west of 301 to relocate the orchestra in walkable distance to existing downtown restaurants, parking and retail. I would like to see the city look at surplus land that we could potentially trade in exchange for a new home for the orchestra.
If proposed by a commissioner, would you vote in favor of putting a referendum on the ballot to create an elected mayor form of government? If not, why not?
I am not in favor of creating an elected mayor form or government. I believe in fixing the city commission structure by ridding the city government of developer-owned city officials and bureaucrats who don’t get things done. It’s time for fresh faces and ideas that serve the citizens of our great city.
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.