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“You need leadership and accountability, and under the existing system you have neither. It’s a tragedy.”
Robert Martineau

Author of proposed Sarasota City Charter; Distinguished Research Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Cincinnati; former secretary of the Maryland Constitutional Convention Commission; secretary of the 1967-68 Maryland Constitutional Convention

Yes, it is a tragedy.

And here is a mystery:

Where is the Argus Foundation? Where is the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce? Where is the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County?

Where is the Downtown Association? The Downtown Improvement District? The St. Armands Circle Association? The St. Armands Business Improvement District?

Where are the populists, the homeowner associations?

Where are the local Republican and Democratic parties?

Where are the leaders?

All of these organizations’ members lament the city’s dysfunctional government and governance, and yet nary a one has come forward to champion or support the effort to convert the city’s embarrassing, tragic, unaccountable, inoperable form of government to what would truly be a traditional, democratic, representative form of government. One with real checks and balances and accountability versus the one that has faux checks and balances and virtually no accountability.

That’s right. In spite of what the No Boss Mayor contingent contends — that the proposed charter contains no checks and balances on an elected mayor, Professor Robert Martineau’s charter document proposes to set up a classic, democratic, representative form of government that mirrors what our founders envisioned.

It’s so simple and easy to understand. As Martineau told us this week: “It’s a mystery” the citizens of Sarasota are not rushing to sign the petition to bring the proposed charter to a vote in November.

Alas, with only two weeks until the deadline to file, the proposed charter appears on the verge of dying and sentencing the city’s citizens and taxpayers to continued ineffective, dysfunctional governance.

Let’s spell it out:

Start with Martineau. He is a constitutional law expert, as imminently qualified as other constitutional experts to author the proposed charter. (Read his resume:

And when you talk to Martineau, he will tell you: “I’m a traditionalist. What I’ve proposed has all the checks and balances that you find at the state and federal level.”

Indeed. Martineau is proposing a government structure that mirrors the traditional democracy — the democracy that honors “the sovereignty of the people,” the government our founders constructed.

That means the people ultimately control the government. There is no buffer of a city commission separating voters from the executive administering the business of the town — as is the case now.

Put in simple, definitive terms, Martineau’s proposal sets up the following:

• An elected mayor whose powers mirror and are no different than those of the governor of Florida or the president of the United States. The mayor would head up the executive branch; be the chief executive and administrator of city business, obligated by the charter and law to carry out the laws adopted by the legislative branch; accountable directly to the people who elect him, just as is Rick Scott or Barack Obama.

• A legislative branch — an elected City Council — whose job would be to set policies and adopt laws, an annual budget and other appropriations for the governance and administration of the city.

Just as Florida’s governor must carry out the laws adopted by the Legislature, so would the mayor be required to enact the ordinances adopted by the City Council.

If voters disapproved of the laws and spending of the council, they would hold council members accountable at the polls.

If voters disapproved of the way the elected mayor ran the city, they could hold him accountable at the polls.

Now think about what exists today with Sarasota’s city manager. He is not required to express a platform or vision or leadership to the voters. Voters have no direct say in how the city manager operates. He is an employee of the city commissioners. Voters have no “check” on the city manager — except by way of a commissioner.

But with an elected mayor, voters would have direct control over the mayor.

Martineau tells the story of participating in a public forum with a former Sarasota County administrator, who shall remain nameless (it wasn’t Jim Ley).

“He was saying democracy is bad because elected officials only respond to money. He was saying all politics is corrupt and that the bureaucrats should be insulated from the system.

“Bureaucrats are the savior?” Martineau said rhetorically. “Look at the VA. That is the complete denial of the democratic form of government.

“The notion that having an effective government comes from insulating the administrators (from voters) is contrary to the notions of democratic government,” he says. “They want to insulate administrators from the people. That’s nonsense.”

Opponents of an elected mayor-council government also object to Martineau’s proposal to establish five council members, each elected from and representing a single district.

At present, the city has five council members, three elected from districts and two elected by the city’s entire electorate.

“That makes absolutely no sense — some with legislative districts and some not,” Martineau says.

“Districts create the closest relationship between the voters and the elected person.” Direct accountability — no different than the state legislators who represent the voters in their districts.

Take a step back from other objections to an elected mayor, such as: too much power with vetoes; the ability to fire city-government department heads; and operating out of the sunshine. All of these are fallacious distortions.

Martineau’s proposal would give an elected mayor the same powers as a governor or the president. Yes, he can veto legislation, but council members can overrride him. Yes, he can fire department heads (just as Obama can fire cabinet members), but he would need council members’ approval to hire new ones (an impenetrable obstacle to blatant cronyism). Yes, he can speak privately to individual council members, but, duh, so does the city manager, so does the governor with lawmakers, so does the president with congressional members.

Altogether, there are absolutely no reasons whatsoever to stick with the status quo weak commission-city manager form of government in Sarasota. No one can make the case that it has made the city of Sarasota a model of municipal governance and success. Quite the contrary.

So this is the opportunity and time for Sarasota’s leaders to step up. Be bold. Help get the elected mayor charter proposal on the ballot. And then let the debates begin.

It’s now or more of the pathetic same.

(Sign the petition:

It’s easy to crystallize why the U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals and the VA in general are such disasters:

The people who run them have no ownership stake. There are no owners’ incentives to influence behavior.

Think of your home. When you own it, you care for it more and better than when you rented. You have economic incentives to keep it up.

VA bureaucrats don’t have those incentives. No one will ever shut down the VA for bad behavior or mediocrity. Likewise, there are no incentives to be great; the VA is a sanctioned monopoly; it has no competition for its customers.

Consider this: How and why can McDonald’s have 35,000 restaurants worldwide, employ more than 1.7 million people (three times as many as the VA) and consistently put properly cooked hamburgers and fries in bags in less than five minutes for 68 million customers a day?

Here’s why: Each restaurant has an owner who is competing with other restaurants every day. His selfish interests (to feed his family) motivate and incentivize him to serve the needs of his customers. If he fails at this, he won’t be able to feed his family.

VA hospitals are yet another example of the results of socialism and centralized, ownerless government.

— MW



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