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Our View: The county offices ...

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 18, 2012
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CORRECTION: On page 8 of the Oct. 18 Sarasota Observer, Longboat Observer, East County Observer and Pelican Press, an incorrect recommendation was listed for state constitutional amendment 8, freedom of religion. The Observer's and Pelican Press' correct recommendation for amendment 8 is vote yes. A recommendation for Amendment 6 was inadvertently omitted. The Observer/Pelican Press recommendation for Amendment 6 is vote no.

The political buzz today, of course, is all about the presidential debate. Rightfully so. The course of America, if not the world, is at stake.

And so is your individual liberty.

When you think through the existing conditions in America today and the consequences of this election, at the national level, it may indeed determine the outcome of what has been a long-running — but more intense over these past four years — War on Individual Liberty.

It’s simple: When the rulers burden you and your future generations with $16 trillion in national debt (and growing), this is a tightening noose around the neck of freedom. It cuts off the oxygen to your abilities to pursue your happiness. You (we) become slaves to the burdens sanctioned by government.

This War on Individual Liberty is not just at the national level. The roots of it begin here at home, in our neighborhoods, our schools, city and county commissions and at the state Capitol. We set and establish our values here at the local level.

And that’s why our votes in local elections are no less important than the ones we cast for president and vice president.

Over the past few weeks, we have interviewed and questioned local candidates, especially those we didn’t know, to learn more about their thinking, beliefs and goals for public office. Some we have watched and tracked over the years; we know their predilections. But just as you want to know what you’re buying at the supermarket, you also want to know what you’re choosing in the voting booth.

With virtually no exception, the candidates running for office in Manatee and Sarasota counties are good, earnest, civic-minded people. Almost to a person, they are running for office, not for a job, but because they are compelled by an inner drive to want to make a difference, to influence the direction of public policy to fit their vision of what would be better than exists today. Consider a few examples:

Some, such as Keith Fitzgerald, who is opposing Congressman Vern Buchanan, is running out of frustration with the way things are. To paraphrase Fitzgerald, everyone has a choice: He either can sit on the sidelines and bellyache about conditions, or he can try to do something about them. Fitzgerald chooses the latter.
Talk to Fitzgerald’s opponent, Buchanan. He is no less passionate about the quest to the culture in Congress to the parameters he lived by as entrepreneur — that you can’t spend more than you take in.

When we asked John Torraco, Democrat and first-time candidate for state attorney, what made him enter the race, he spoke of an inner burning, a voice that kept telling him what exists could be better. He talked about it with friends, and recognizing his inner passion, they encouraged him to run. “What is the best for people? That’s what I’m going to bring,” he said.

• When you meet Larry Bustle, running for re-election to the Manatee County Commission District 1 seat, talk about humble. This 77-year-old native of Samoset is a classic American hero.

Asked to share a “fun fact” about himself, Bustle told us: “In my career objectives, I never included politics.” But public service has been his life. You have to pry out of Bustle the fact he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy; earned a master’s degree in astronautical engineering; and flew 138 combat missions in Vietnam for the Air Force, the last 68 of them over North Vietnam. On his last flight, the enemy shot his jet down. He ejected into the sea, breaking both shoulders and knees on impact. Forty years later, Bustle still feels the calling for public service.

We’re lucky here to have candidates who appear to be motivated for the right reasons. What we all hope is that, like R.B. “Chips” Shore, Bustle and others, they remember this fundamental fact: They work for you.
To help you think about your choices in the upcoming election, we urge everyone to check out our Voter Guide in this week’s edition of the Sarasota Observer and Pelican Press. Or you can find the same content at

If you’re undecided about some of the candidates, perhaps their answers to the questions we posed will help. Or consider our observations and recommendations on a selection of races we perceive to be among the more competitive affecting Manatee and Sarasota counties:

Sarasota County Commission, District 3
When Christine Robinson introduced herself to the members of the Longboat Key Republican Club last week, they were awed.

She’s the mother of three children, all under the age of 10. She put herself through the University of Miami’s law school. She’s a former Sarasota County prosecutor. She started her own small-business family law practice. She is a former member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission and former trustee with what was then Manatee Community College. And after being appointed to the Sarasota County Commission, her fellow commissioners obviously respected her professionalism and smarts so much they named her commission chair.

But here’s the part we like best: As the daughter of a masonry construction company owner in Buffalo, Robinson has never forgotten what it took her father and uncle to operate their small business. She remembers how they didn’t pay themselves at times to be able to pay their employees. She remembers the hassles they endured from business-killing government regulations.

In short, 38-year-old Robinson gets it — every bit of it. Her primary goal: To make Sarasota so attractive economically and in quality of life that “I will be surrounded by my grandchildren” who live and work here. Robinson is destined to be a Sarasota force for good.

Recommendation: Robinson.

Sarasota Hospital Board
This is a contest between a career nurse, incumbent Teresa Carafelli, and a business owner, Alex Miller, CEO of Sarasota-based Mercedes Medical.

It doesn’t really matter their political parties. The hospital board essentially is a non-partisan place.
What matters is what skills and talents board members possess.

In her tenure as a board member, Carafelli has absorbed the issues and challenges well. She knows what’s ahead for the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System, and she brings the nurse’s perspective — an employee’s perspective — to the board discussion.

That’s OK. Indeed, over the years, we’ve often heard the argument that nurses need an advocate on the board. In truth, they don’t. They have a built-in advocate in CEO Gwen MacKenzie, a former nurse herself.

Instead, in a billion-dollar enterprise, taxpayers should have all of the business expertise at the board table they can get. What’s more, it always helps to have the eyes, ears and experiences of an outsider; someone who can think and look at hospital issues from a different and non-self-interest vantage point and who has had the pressures of meeting a payroll.

Read Alex Miller’s responses in our Voter Guide. She would make a solid addition to the hospital board.


Sarasota County Charter Review Board
It seems like every two to four years, there are efforts by various groups to infiltrate the Sarasota County Charter Review Board with new elected members who either have a legislative agenda or who want to convert the elected board to an appointed board.

In this year’s crop of candidates, two candidates best understand the role of the board.

Donna Barcomb and John Fellin.

Sarasota City Charter Amendments
Amendment: Require a super majority vote of the City Commission to approve a franchise, contract or lease of more than 10 years; to approve any changes to city’s pension plan which increase the actuarially accrued liability of the plan; exempting contracts which can be terminated at will with no cost to the city.

Here’s one way to look at this: If commissioners are compelled to commit the city to long-term obligations like cable TV or electric power contracts or higher city pensions, so the thinking goes, these should require more than a simple majority. Such contracts should be difficult to approve.

That sounds sensible — that big decisions should require overwhelming approval.

Flip the coin, though. A lot changes in five years, not to mention 10. If, because of technology or big recessions or other compelling reasons, a contract needs to be amended, would a supermajority be required?

When James Madison helped craft the U.S. Constitution, he worried about “the tyranny of the majority over the minority,” whereby simple majority votes could run roughshod over minorities. But he also recognized the opposite was disconcerting. In the Federalist Papers, he said with supermajorities “power would be transferred to the minority … An interested minority might take advantage of it to screen himself from equitable sacrifices to the general weal, or, in particular emergencies, to extort unreasonable indulgences.”

In other words, with a supermajority required, you could end up with a commissioner in the minority trading his vote for future favors.

This amendment sounds like a good idea, but supermajority votes typically are reserved for super occasions. While the items listed in this amendment can be big, in our view, they are not so compelling to require supermajorities.

Recommendation: No

Amendment: Derivatives prohibition. The city shall not enter into any derivatives (including but not limited to options, forward contracts, futures, stripped mortgage-backed securities, structured notes and swaps) in connection with bonds issued by the city.

Government investment and pension funds lost a lot of money in the financial meltdown because they invested in sophisticated derivatives they didn’t understand. In typical fashion, groups reacted the way they do with any calamity — by creating more laws and regulations to prevent similar losses in the future.
That’s not the answer — banning derivatives. The answer is hiring investment managers who know what they’re doing.


Amendment: Citizens’ initiative petition to provide that signatures affixed to a citizens’ initiative petition to amend the City Charter must be affixed within a period of 180 days prior to the date such petition is submitted to the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk for presentation to the City Commission; lengthening such time period to obtain signatures from 90 days to 180 days.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he said citizens have the right to alter or abolish their government. Increasing from 90 to 180 days to gather petition signatures is fortifies that right.


Amendment: Amendment to delete alternative minimum-wage provision which requires employers receiving a subsidy from the city of more than $100,000 per fiscal year and having 50 or more employees to pay covered employees an alternate minimum wage exceeding the minimum wage required by federal and state law.

Duped by anti-Walmart activists, Sarasota voters erred when they adopted this amendment. Now they need to kill it — the way this amendment killed Walmart when it wanted to build one of its stores near Newtown.

Recommendation: Yes

AMENDMENT: To create an Elections Canvassing Board; require candidates to hand-deliver campaign treasurer’s report on sixth day prior to election rather than on fourth day; revise and clarify powers and duties of City Auditor and Clerk; to allow insurance as an alternative to surety bond for city officials; delete verbiage in “Bonding” article covered by state law; delete requirement for mayor to deliver annual state of the city address; make other “housekeeping” type amendments.

The crafters of this amendment forgot one thing: the kitchen sink. This amendment has too many items — some good, some bad, some neutral — but too many for sure.

Recommendation: No

Amendment: To provide that certificates of participation of the city shall not be issued for any purpose until the question of issuing such certificates of participation shall have been decided in favor thereof by a majority vote of the electors at a referendum held for that purpose in the manner provided by Florida law and by ordinance or resolution of the City Commission.

Come on. Voters elect commissioners to make decisions for the public welfare. Government by referendum is no way to run a government. This is unnecessary.

Recommendation: No

Amendment: Splits the office of “City Auditor and Clerk” into a city auditor, who remains a charter official appointed by the City Commission, and a separate office of city clerk under the city manager. The city auditor retains and is limited to audit and investigatory duties.Existing duties of the “City Auditor and Clerk” unrelated to auditing are transferred to the city clerk, except that administration of city pension plans is transferred to the city manager.

We have advocated many times, and will continue to do so, that the city of Sarasota desperately needs an elected, CEO mayor who has a vision, can set the city’s agenda and lead.

But alas, that amendment is not on the ballot. Instead, we have the Commissioner Terry Turner amendment. And it makes sense.

Let’s try to simplify this: The operations of a municipal government can indeed be run like a business. And most of us know that for a business to succeed, it needs one leader directing operations and with the sign on his desk that says: “The buck stops here.”

This amendment would bring an end to the incessant power struggles that have existed because of the bifurcated responsibilities assigned to the city manager and city auditor/clerk. The auditor should audit, that’s it.

City Hall has been broken for years, in part because of its organizational structure. Quit the insanity of doing the same thing over and over with lousy results.

Recommendation: Yes


The following recommendations are for offices affecting Manatee and Sarasota counties. (Next week: Narratives on the federal and state recommendations.)

• U.S. SENATE: Connie Mack
• U.S. HOUSE, District 16: Vern Buchanan
• FLORIDA SENATE, District 26: Bill Galvano
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 71: Jim Boyd
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 72: Ray Pilon
• FLORIDA HOUSE, District 73: Greg Steube

• CLERK OF THE COURT: Karen Rushing
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 3: Christine Robinson
• COUNTY COMMISSION, District 5: Charles Hines
• COUNTY CHARTER REVIEW BOARD, District 2: Donna Barcomb
• COUNTY CHARTER REVIEW BOARD, District 5: John Fellin
• SARASOTA HOSPITAL BOARD, Central Seat 1: Alex Miller

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS (Correct version as of 10.18)
• Amendment 1: Health Care Services. Yes.
• Amendment 2: Veterans disabled due to combat injury; homestead property-tax discount. Yes
• Amendment 3: State government revenue limitation. Yes
• Amendment 4: Property-tax limitations; property value decline; reduction for non-homestead assessment increases; delay of scheduled repeal. Yes
• Amendment 5: State courts. Yes
• Amendment 6: Prohibition of public funding of abortions; construction of abortion rights. No
• Amendment 8: Religious freedom. Yes
• Amendment 9: Homestead property-tax exemption for suriviving spouse of military veteran or first responder. Yes
• Amendment 10: Tangible personal property-tax exemption. Yes
• Amendment 11: Additional homestead exemption; low-income seniors who maintain long-term residency on property; equal to assessed value. Yes
• Amendment 12: Appoint of student body president to board of governors of the state university system. Yes

• Amendment: Providing timetable for proposed charter amendment referendum; effective date of voter-approved amendments. Yes

• Amendment: Super majority vote for certain franchises,contracts, leases and pension plan changes. No
• Amendment: Derivatives prohibition. No
• Amendment: Citizens’ initiative petition to amend charter, extension of time to obtain signatures. Yes
• Amendment: Charter Review Committee general recommendations. No
• Amendment: No Certificates of Participation to be issued unless approved at referendum. No
Amendment: Split office of “City Auditor and Clerk” into city auditor and a new city clerk. Yes


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