In November, voters could have the opportunity to change the way County Commission candidates are elected.
Another referendum could reverse a 2016 decision to vacate the county’s control of a 224-foot segment of Beach Road on Siesta Key. A third could prohibit the county from selling or vacating any other piece of property adjacent to beaches or bodies of water.
In June, Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner sent a letter to County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Detert informing her that three citizen-initiated charter amendment initiatives had collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum. Those initiatives are required to gather signatures from five percent of registered voters to earn ballot access.
One charter amendment is backed by the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections. The proposal would change commission elections so each board member is elected solely by voters residing in their district. Currently, although there are commissioners representing five individual districts, all of the commissioners are elected by voters countywide.
The group Reopen Beach Road is behind the other two charter amendments. For two years, Siesta Key resident Mike Cosentino has advocated against the county’s decision to permanently relinquish its control of a segment of Beach Road near Columbus Boulevard. The road segment has been closed to through traffic since 1993. As part of the street vacation, the county secured a perpetual easement to allow public pedestrian access across the right of way.
Reopen Beach Road’s first proposed amendment would require that the county reacquire the segment of Beach Road and “provide maximum right of way use of Beach Road for public access,” including the restoration of vehicular access. The county would not be allowed to vacate or sell the roadway segment again. The county would need to make the road accessible to individuals with impaired mobility.
The second proposed amendment would prohibit the county from vacating any county-owned rights of way “along or abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vistas.” It also calls for the county to encourage public access along those rights of way.
The Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections gathered 15,330 verified signatures for its proposed amendment. The Reopen Beach Road campaign collected 14,727 and 14,862 signatures for its two proposed amendments.
The county is preparing to potentially place the items on the Nov. 6 ballot. The County Commission will hold public hearings discussing the ballot placement and referendum language during the afternoon session of an Aug. 29 meeting. The meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the County Administration Center, 1660 Ringling Blvd.