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Legislative politics fells Siesta incorporation

To all those people who worked so earnestly on the Siesta Key incorporation efforts: Good try.

  • Sarasota
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To all those people who worked so earnestly on the Siesta Key incorporation efforts: Good try.

An extra shout-out goes to Harry Anand, a Siesta Key resident, entrepreneur and former 12-year mayor of Laurel Hollow, N.Y.

Anand volunteered to advise the incorporation proponents, ultimately leading the efforts that brought the idea closer to success than ever before.

But unfortunately, welcome to the world of Florida legislative politics. A lot of times, it really stinks.

For decades we have watched how issues that seem logical, reasonable, rational and good nevertheless are often not the right ingredients for a bill to make it through the Legislature. It’s the politics that count.

It is a frustrating process, to be sure, and one that often doesn’t make sense.

In the wake of the local legislative delegation’s 3-3 vote last week rejecting bills that would allow for an incorporation referendum, many Siesta incorporation supporters asked how and why state representatives whose districts have no connection to Siesta Key can have a say in whether a bill affecting Siesta Key is filed?

Why, for instance, should Reps. Will Robinson of Bradenton and Tommy Gregory of East Manatee County have a say in whether Rep. Fiona McFarland, who represents Siesta Key, files a bill dealing with her district?

On the surface, that doesn’t make sense. But it’s one of those long-standing, quirky policies of the Legislature.

There were other Tallahassee political realities at play as well.

Rare is the proposed legislation that is passed in the House and Senate and signed into law the first time it is proposed. That typically only happens when the legislation is a priority or has the strong backing of the governor, Senate president and/or House speaker. Or when the proposed legislation is an emergency.

Fact is, if you want something passed into law, having leadership support is crucial.

Otherwise, expect to have a bill filed multiple years before it finally passes. And all through the process, the legislation needs persistent champions in the House and Senate and effective lobbying from the affected constituents.

Another unspoken rule of Tallahassee: If you want legislation passed, have the language written and key supporters signed on in the summer prior to the next session. That’s when the deal-making is done.

Finally, as the Siesta incorporation supporters learned, the local delegation should be locked in for certain before the issue reaches a public vote.

Yes, being rejected hurts and sometimes stirs up anger. But for those Siesta residents who still believe incorporation is what’s best for Siesta Key’s future, consider this defeat a learning moment and part of what typically is a long process.

Indeed, if the incorporation supporters are still determined, Reps. Gregory gave them the criteria necessary for the local delegation’s support:

  • Persuade the city of Sarasota to de-annex the northern tip of Siesta Key so the proposed town of Siesta Key would include the entire barrier island. That will always be a hard sell. Cities rarely go along with giving up territory and property-tax revenue. But you can see Gregory’s reasoning: future complications between the city of Sarasota and town of Siesta Key.
  • Conduct a non-binding referendum of Siesta Key voters using the exact language that would be posed to voters in a binding referendum. The local legislative delegation wants convincing proof the majority of Siesta residents and voters support incorporation.
  • Revise the budget. While incorporation supporters strongly defend their projections of the town government initially costing $3.6 million, or 0.24 mills, Gregory, Robinson and Rep. James Buchanan — the three who voted not to support legislation — are not convinced that rate is realistic.

All three of these criteria would require persistent efforts, with no guarantee the 2023 Legislature would support a binding referendum on incorporation. But that’s what it would take at least to get the matter up to Tallahassee.

There is another way, albeit one in which Siesta residents have little confidence: Put aside the arduous challenge of incorporation. Instead, emphatically and persistently convince Sarasota County commissioners that Siesta Key deserves better, and persuade commissioners to be more responsive to Siesta.

Three ways to assure that: a Siesta resident representing the island’s interests on the county commission; a Siesta resident on the planning commission; and constant, vocal vigilance on the part of Siesta residents.

It’s politics.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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