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Debbie Trice discusses her first-year goals as a Sarasota city commissioner

Facilitating affordable and attainable housing, clearer communications with the public and learning the ropes are the primary ambitions of new Sarasota City Commissioner Debbie Trice in year one.

Debbie Trice (center) and Jen Ahearn-Koch being sworn in as city commissioners by City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs.
Debbie Trice (center) and Jen Ahearn-Koch being sworn in as city commissioners by City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs.
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Freshman Sarasota City Commissioner Debbie Trice is no newcomer to some of the key issues facing the city. The New York City native who first traveled to here on business in the 1980s campaigned largely on the issues of affordable and attainable housing, advancing from a six-candidate field in the primary and winning one of two at-large seats along with incumbent Jen Ahearn-Koch in the general election. 

Her feet now wet one month after wading into city government, she spoke with the Observer about her experience ad a campaigner and what she hopes to accomplish in her first year as a commissioner.

Was this your first foray into elections?

I ran for Sarasota County charter review board in 2006. I wanted to move to the city but because I was elected, I had to stay in the county while holding that district seat.

What prompted you to take the next step to City Commission?

As I said throughout my campaign, there's such a need for housing for low- and moderate-income families and longtime retirees. I had been making suggestions to city government for a couple of years and the solutions they were coming up with weren’t working, and I ended up meeting a few people in the process. 

Were those few people recruiting you to run?

I was approached, thought about it and decided not to run. Then a month or so later, I went to an event with a really inspirational speaker and a lot of my friends swarmed me and said, Debbie, you really ought to run.

Has anything surprised you about the job?

The thing that struck me the most, and I guess it shouldn't have surprised me, is there are lots of holes in the information that people have and they use their imaginations to fill in those holes. I  found myself having done the same thing and I said, “Oh, that was not done for any nefarious reasons." 

The public thinks that commissioners have a whole lot more to say in many matters than they do. We have been getting emails from people concerned about county issues, and although it was decided at a County Commission meeting they are emailing the city commissioners to complain about it. Fortunately, City Manager Marlon Brown emails them back saying no, this was not a City Commission decision.

How do you propose to further educate the public on matters pertaining to the city?

One of the inroads I hope to make while I'm in office is to get more information out to the public. At this point, there are things that I knew from my participation with CCNA that several of the other commissioners are not aware of, so I'm urging CCNA leadership to come during the 9 a.m. portion of public comment at commission meetings to let all of the commissioners know what some of the issues are.

You can't you can't force citizens to inform themselves, so do you have any thoughts on how the city might be able to provide new opportunities for public information? 

I'm looking into how we can do community workshops. I want to sit down with (Senior Communications Manager) Jan Thornburg and see what she has in mind and what we can do. I'm aware that Hagen Brody used to do a video I believe was called Commissioner’s Corner, and I'm looking at what the possibilities are.

How did you come to be in Sarasota?

I had a business trip here in the early 1980s, and that was my first exposure to Sarasota. My parents had just moved to St. Pete as snowbirds, and as soon as I got home I called them and told them I think you'd like Sarasota better. In 1997 I moved them full time and that was my opportunity to experience it personally.

You’ve seen a lot of changes here since that first visit. What are you thoughts about how Sarasota has grown?

I grew up in New York City, and one thing that you can say about New York City is it's constantly changing. That's what excites me most about Sarasota. What I said during my campaign is it has a small-town feel with big-city amenities, and as long as we continue to have that small town-feel I don't think that the growth here is a negative.

What are hoping to accomplish by the end of your first year on the City Commission?

I'm hoping to see some low- and moderate-income housing at least approved and moving forward. I recognize it's going to take a while to get these things approved and built, but we’ve got to start moving forward. While I was campaigning there were several developers who have track records of building low- and moderate-income housing saying they want to move forward.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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