- November 25, 2022
Longboat Key elections have an long history of being rendered unnecessary as they have been largely uncontested for the last decade. In hopes of enticing a change, commissioners discussed the potential for compensation and attendance rule changes at their Oct. 17 meeting but ultimately decided to stay with the rules in place.
Currently, the town charter does not allow for compensation of commissioners or for absence of four or more consecutive regular meetings. Following discussion, commissioners opted to not move further with any changes.
“We do this because it’s public service,” Commissioner Debra Williams said. “I don’t think that $10,000 is going to do much to entice someone to say they’ve got to get their name on the ballot.”
Mayor Ken Schneier presented the idea of compensating commissioners no more than $10,000 a year and relaxing rules on attending meetings through Zoom.
Commissioners ultimately decided to not make any changes with concern of enticing people to run for the seats for the wrong reasons. Commissioner BJ Bishop cited that the commissioners are made aware of the dates of meetings a year in advance, eliminating the excuse of missing outside of extenuating circumstances.
“The ones who served for a paycheck were always the ones that never read the packet and never came prepared for the meeting,” she said.
As it stands, if a commissioner is absent from all meetings and workshops for two consecutive months, the commissioner must vacate their seat.
“In looking at it again, I don’t see any reason why we need to change anything about the commission,” Schneier said.
Although the commission opted not to change its own rules, it decided to ask Town Attorney Maggie Mooney to draft something that would allow for the same extenuating circumstance absence excuse to be extended to the Planning and Zoning Board.
Even if changes were desired, any alterations to the town charter would first need to go through voters for approval, regardless of the commission’s favorable vote.
Discussion around changes to the town charter, specifically around the opportunity for compensation, is not a new concept.
Compensation was discussed by commissioners in 1998, 2002 and 2008.
The question was brought before the voters in both 1998 and 2002.
In 1998, voters were asked to approve compensating commissioners $2,000 annually. In 2002, the question of whether to pay commissioners $4,800 annually was brought to voters. Both referendums failed.
In 2008, Town Commissioners discussed the option again, but opted to not move forward with placing it as a question on the ballot.
Elections have been decided without the need for a ballot in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 elections.
The 2023 elections, which will add at least two new faces to the commission, may lead to a contested election for the first time in the last four years.
As of Nov. 1, no one has completed qualification for any of the seats up for election. The deadline is Nov. 21 by noon.
Four individuals have picked up qualifying paperwork, signaling at least an interest in running for office.
For District 1, Gary Coffin and Jeffrey Lenobel have picked up the packets.
For District 5, Deborah Murphy has started the process.
Mayor Schneier, who also represents District 3, will be running for reelection. He will be submitting his paperwork this week.
"I have really enjoyed my time on the commission and time as mayor," he said. "I have enjoyed every bit of it."
He said as Town Manager Harmer exits his office and Howard Tipton takes over that he feels it is his duty to stay involved and offer up his experience with the town.
District 1 Commission Sherry Dominick and District 5 Commissioner and Vice Mayor Maureen Merrigan have both announced they will not be seeking re-election after only a single term in their respective seats.
In the March 2022 elections, incumbents Mike Haycock, BJ Bishop and Maureen Merrigan were declared commissioners-elect when no one else opted to file before the Nov. 15, 2021 deadline.
The last time an election was contested was in 2018. Since that March over four years ago, when Ed Zunz, Ken Schneier and Irwin Pastor won contested Town Commission races, no one else has had to exert the effort or money needed to run a campaign.
If there is an election, whether contested or only a referendum question, the costs run between $10,000 to $20,000 to the town, according to the town.
Merrigan and Dominick both stated that even if changes were sought out for the pay and attendance requirements, their decisions to not seek the seat again would not have changed.
“A lack of compensation had nothing to do with my decision,” Dominick said. “It had to do with competing personal obligations.”
Much like she did when she announced she would be vacating the seat, she cited family obligations, time spent volunteering at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and her real estate career with Michael Saunders as a few of her reasons.
“Serving on the commission is a serious commitment,” she said. “To serve on the commission you have to be willing to spend a large part of the year here, and many people don’t do that. It is a big commitment, especially if you take it seriously.”
Merrigan had similar obligations as her family and current job often takes her out-of-state, causing the cost of traveling to and from the barrier island to attend commission meetings to add up quickly.
“Compensation wouldn’t have changed my personal decisions,” she said.
When making her decision to end her time on the commission at the close of her term, she spoke with individuals that she believed would be good candidates to replace her.
“The ideal people are usually already busy people,” she said.
The majority of people she talked to cited the time commitment needed to serve on the commission as the primary factor in them turning down her suggestion. Only one person said compensation would make a difference in whether or not they sought office, she said.