ILLUSTRATION BY WOODY WOODMAN.

Hurricane Irma may not have delivered a direct hit to the Gulf Coast, but the residual effects of the September storm struck the entire state and left hundreds of thousands without power in Sarasota and Manatee counties, some for weeks. In fact, Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo ended up being one of the last to get electricity restored at his home, nearly two weeks after the storm made landfall. So how did communications shape up in the region? Manatee County officials kept the public apprised with regular web releases while Sarasota County officials primarily communicated through TV sets via live press conferences. Schools sent out emails informing parents when a full week of school got cancelled after the hurricane passed through, while Gov. Rick Scott traveled Florida giving routine updates. The most embarrassing communication snafu, though, happened when Manatee officials decided that rather than calling a trained sign language interpreter to a last-minute press conference, to have a lifeguard with a deaf brother fill in. But Marshall Greene struggled to keep up with the live communication, and made signs warning of a “bear monster.” Greene declined to speak with press after clips went viral.

 

A ballot measure to legalizemedical marijuana in Florida won greater support in the City of Sarasota than any other municipality on the Gulf Coast, but, so far, officials there have struggled to find a zoning situation for dispensaries that can mellow nerves at City Hall. While the city this summer was set to put in place rules that would allow shops to open, City Attorney Robert Fournier got blindsided by state rules that said the jurisdictions allowing dispensaries would only allow them in places where pharmacies could operate, thwarting Sarasota’s plans to require distances from schools and rehab facilities. Now, Fournier says, the city plans to redraw its rules for pharmacies, allowing them to operate in fewer parts of the city except as secondary uses inside groceries and drug stores.  “Could you conceivably get a marijuana prescription filled at a Publix pharmacy someday? It won’t happen overnight,” Fournier says. City Commissioners plan to vote on new zoning rules in January. Meanwhile, Bradenton just saw a Trulieve dispensary open in town in September.

 

The bikes are back—well, sorta. Thunder by the Bay, which has always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the City of Sarasota over its annual attraction of motorcycles into the city core, decided in 2017 to take its $8.8-million economic impact elsewhere and host its 19th annual festival in Lakewood Ranch. But this February, organizers say they will come back to the Bayfront city, even if they don’t deliver the same presence as before. Festival director Lucy Nicandri announced the event will take place primarily at the Sarasota Agricultural Fairgrounds, and host a single Bikes on Main event on Friday night, Feb. 16. Vice Mayor Liz Alpert, who says her office has been flooded in the past two years first by people complaining about the noise and then about having the festival go quiet, says it's nice to bring the Harleys back. “It was disappointing to see the Festival leave for a year, knowing that many downtown businesses and residents enjoy this event,” she says. ““I plan to work closely with Festival organizers to reach out to the younger population living here in the City to become involved.”

 

A roster of candidates started to form for a special election for state House district 72, with Republican James Buchanan facing Libertarian Alison Foxall, as well as either Margaret Good or Ruta Louniari, whoever wins a Democratic primary in December. All parties prepare for the February election confident they can pull off a win, largely because of the anything-can-happen nature of a low turnout election being held independent of any other ballot measures. But as the campaigns look to save every dollar possible, they also dealt with an unusual storm consequence. In order to qualify for the ballot by petition, instead of paying a $1,782 filing fee, candidates had to submit valid signatures by the end of the day on September 27—and no extensions were granted because of the storm, which made the opportunity to walk neighborhoods knocking door-to-door nearly physically impossible and certainly in bad taste. Libertarians held a party in last September to swamp areas together, hoping to get double the needed number of signatures, and James Buchanan, despite s $165,000-plus warchest also pushed to qualify with signatures. Good managed to qualify that way as well, though with fewer petitions than even the Libertarian candidate, while Jouniari decided to forgo that process and just pay the fee. Republican Alex Coe pushed hard with petitions as well, she said, but failed to meet the threshold. A few days later, she decided the money wasn’t worth it and aborted her bid.