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Strong mayor supporters justify their stance

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 6, 2014
Ian Black
Ian Black
  • Sarasota
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Supporters of a recent push for a new city charter and an elected mayor position say a diverse group helped kickstart their efforts. Regardless of their background, they seem to have found common ground when it comes to articulating their support for the proposal.

It’s Time Sarasota, the political group attempting to put a new charter on the November ballot, recently published a list of 18 individuals who helped draft that charter. If voters approve the new charter, an elected mayor would oversee city staff and serve as the executive of the municipal government.

Although the members of the “Revised Charter Caucus” were not acting on behalf of any particular group, the list details their associations with a variety of organizations. Members of seven neighborhood associations and three downtown organizations contributed to the new charter, as did two county commissioners, two members of the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange and a former city auditor and clerk.

Linda Holland, chairwoman of It’s Time Sarasota and president of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, said the effort to institute a new charter is a diverse, grassroots effort — a characterization at which people outside of the group have bristled. Either way, the supporters of the new charter have hit on some commonalities to bridge whatever gap may exist between them.

“Dysfunctional” is a popular word, used almost universally to describe Sarasota’s council/manager form of government. “Vision” is another, which they argue the elected mayor would be in a better position to implement. St. Petersburg and Bradenton are commonly pointed to as cities in which the government is less cumbersome.

In their own words, here is why some of the individuals that helped draft the proposed city charter decided to support the cause:

Ian Black
Real estate broker, Ian Black Real Estate

On the advantages of an elected mayor: In most successful bureaucracies, there’s a go-to guy that you can pick up the phone and call somebody. If I want to do something in the city of Bradenton, I can get in touch with (Mayor) Wayne Poston and he’ll point me in the right direction and he’ll make sure things will happen. Here, you have somewhat of a bifurcated system where the city manager is being asked to be a leader. By sheer nature of the word manager, the manager is a manager.

On the concerns surrounding mayoral power: It’s a much healthier system they’ve come up with. The mayor doesn’t have a vote — he has to govern by consensus; he has to get buy-ins and support.

Peter Fanning
President Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association
On the current versus proposed government: I thought we could do better if we had an executive branch which functions in coordination with the legislative branch. I thought that would be a better situation than having an employee work for a legislative branch and carry out the orders of the legislative branch.

On the people behind the current proposal: I don’t see it as a developer or non-developer effort. I see it as another piece of government that serves as a check and balance. We really don’t have a checks and balances system right now — the legislative body has no check on it.

On how a mayor could benefit downtown: I believe the new charter will benefit every citizen in the city, not just downtown. It will help to have an avenue and an ear to bend regarding improving the quality of life and opportunities downtown.

Mary Dougherty-Slapp
Executive director, Gulf Coast Builders Exchange
On her organization’s support for an elected mayor: Obviously, a lot of our members build things in the city and the county. How the government functions is critically important to us, and we don’t feel that the city of Sarasota is functioning at its optimal level. When we look at St. Petersburg, how (former mayor) Rick Baker was in there and able to attract quality business and quality growth, we feel it’d be the best thing here in Sarasota, as well.

On competition with other municipalities: I think Sarasota is a really great place, but, if it’s not careful, the dysfunction that we see — if we don’t get a functioning government and an elected mayor, we could see things pass us by.

Chris Gallagher
Board member, Downtown Sarasota Alliance

On his support for the new charter: For me, the biggest thing is just effectiveness. I’ve been here 20 years, and I’ve been heavily involved in downtown for several years. I attend a ton of commission meetings; I’m on the planning board. There are incredible challenges to trying to make a decision with five people. You start to see the wisdom, on a state and federal level, of why we use an executive and legislature.
On how an elected mayor would affect downtown: Activity happens downtown, and you need someone who’s genuinely focused on carrying out the will of the voters to continue forging ahead with the visions we have.

Guilt by Association
When it comes to the recent push for an elected mayor, members of city neighborhood associations say their organizations are being inappropriately used for political purposes.

On the website for It’s Time Sarasota, seven city neighborhood associations are used to identify some of the 18 people who helped draft the new charter. On Saturday, the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations requested that the group remove the names of neighborhood associations that have not taken a position on the charter.

CCNA members said the use of neighborhood association names was misleading, even considering It’s Time Sarasota’s disclaimer that all participants were acting on their own behalf.

“It says they’re not representing organizations in an official capacity, but they’re giving the impression that the neighborhood is behind the idea,” said Jude Levy, a Laurel Park Neighborhood Association board member.

Levy argued that It’s Time Sarasota was using these neighborhood organizations to make the campaign for a new caucus seem like it had more widespread support than it actually did.

“What’s happening is they’re labeling this a grassroots movement because they’re naming your neighborhoods,” Levy said. “The board asked that our Laurel Park name be taken off the list, and it hasn’t.”

Linda Holland, chairwoman of It’s Time Sarasota and president of the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association, said she would take their concerns back to other members of It’s Time Sarasota. As of Wednesday, no references to neighborhood associations had been removed from the group’s website.

Contact David Conway at [email protected]



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