It was standing room only, and the questions kept coming during the first session of the Longboat Key’s Citizens Academy of Government, a semi-regular program last held in 2011.
The program’s goal is to educate Key residents – and snowbirds – about the town and who is the right town official to go to if a question comes up.
“It’s a chance for you to take a deeper dive into the town,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said during his opening remarks.
The town had initially planned for 25 people, but 32 showed up and no one was turned away.
The mix of permanent and seasonal residents who came to the Jan. 9 session, the first of six that will take place every Wednesday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. through Feb. 13, said they signed up because they wanted to learn more about their community.
“I need to be involved and understand what is happening,” said Ellen Parker, a member of the Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums. Parker also asked Harmer about coyotes, first spotted on the island last summer.
Harmer said the town is monitoring the situation and continuing its efforts to educate residents about the animal, two of which could be on the island. He said there have been no reports of a coyote acting aggressively and as of now there are no plans to trap the animal because it would have to be euthanized.
“The FWC said the animal has to be released in the county where it was captured,” Harmer said. “There is no place in Sarasota County to release it.”
Steve Jackson, also a member Federation of Longboat Key Condominiums, said he too came because he wants to understand what is going on in his community.
“I love the place,” said Jackson, who attended the first-ever Citizens Academy of Governments when it was first held in 2003. “I think this is a great idea.”
Harmer also gave a brief history of Longboat and explained who’s who in town government and the community’s quirks, such as the town's requirement to put questions of residential density to the voters instead of dealing with it at the Commission level.
Red tide, first spotted around Longboat more than a century ago, is still hanging around.
“We are hopeful colder weather will make it dormant,” he said. “We are encouraging the state to take a leadership role."
Maggie Mooney, the town attorney, explained the town charter, state open-government laws and what constitutes a public meeting.
“The Sunshine law says you have to have a meeting in public, notice of the meeting must be given and minutes taken,” she said. Still, two people who serve on the same board can meet – if public business is not discussed.
Town Clerk Trish Shinkle was scheduled to speak on elections, official records and meetings. Because of time constraints, her talk was rescheduled for Jan. 16. The Longboat’s Finance and Informational Technology department will also discuss IT and how tax dollars are spent.
“I came today out of curiosity,” said Tammy Sachs, who along with her husband, Chris, moved to Longboat in July 2017 from Connecticut.
Becky Parrish, a Longboat resident since 1984, said: “I learned a lot about what is going on in the town.”
Dee Harmer, Tom’s wife, said she thought she might learn something at the Citizens Academy.
“I think it’s a good thing, besides Tom signed me up,” she joked.