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SRQ DAILY Apr 25, 2015

Saturday Perspectives Edition

Saturday Perspectives Edition

"We shouldn't be wondering who from out of state is pumping thousands of dollars into our school board races."

- Catherine Antunes, The Detail
 

[Chamber]  Counting Votes Illustrates That Votes Count
Kevin Cooper, Kcooper@sarasotachamber.com

Depending on whom one asks, the reasons why someone chooses to vote or not can vary greatly. In a 2008 United States Census Bureau report, the top reason registered voters gave for not voting was because they were “too busy.” Arguments in support of voting range from it being one’s civic duty to it actually validating one’s opinion (i.e., “you can’t complain unless you vote”). An oftentimes more challenging argument in support of voting is that one’s vote actually matters. That’s particularly true in the case of elections in the City of Sarasota.

To illustrate, one need look no further than the current City Commission and this year’s city elections. In 2009, Commissioner Suzanne Atwell was elected by a margin of 104 votes.  What’s particularly interesting about that isn’t that the race was close, but rather that the margin of victory literally equated to three-tenths of a percent of the overall registered voter count in an election that saw only 15.67 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Mayor Willie Shaw was elected in 2011 by a margin of 236 votes, which represented 2.8 percent of the eligible registered voter count in an election that saw only 14.81 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot.

Commissioner Susan Chapman was elected in 2013 by a margin of 447 votes, which represented 1.3 percent of the overall registered voter count in an election that saw a relatively strong 19.97 percent voter turnout. 

It’s important to note that Atwell and Chapman serve as at-large commissioners and thus competed for the votes of the entire City, as opposed to Shaw who represents District 1 and therefore only competed for the votes of that district.  Also of note is that Atwell and Chapman have been involved in races that saw voters have the option to select two out of three candidates. However, of the current City Commissioners who have been elected, the total margin of victory for their first elections was a combined total of 787 votes. 

Both Commissioners Normile and Zimmerman were appointed to the City Commission in November of 2014 when then-City Commissioners Caragiulo and Snyder stepped down to run for County Commission. Both Commissioners face a runoff election on May 12.  While the turnout for the 2015 General Election was higher than the aforementioned elections at 21.87 percent, Zimmerman, for example, may not even be participating in a runoff had 131 more voters from District 3 come out in support. To further illustrate the point, 131 is only 1.3 percent of the overall registered voter count in District 3.

Getting out the vote is no small task and the responsibility for such a task hardly lies solely with the candidates and/or elected officials. Moreover, there’s nothing to say that higher voter turnouts would have changed the composition of the Commission as we know it. However, the numbers do indicate the idea a vote doesn’t matter is perhaps nowhere more unfounded than in the City of Sarasota.

Early voting for the City of Sarasota runoff election begins on May 4 and extends through May 9.  Registered voters can cast a ballot between the hours of 8:30am and 4:30pm at the Supervisor of Elections office.  Polls will be open on 7am  on Tuesday, May 12th, and will remain so until 7 PM.  For more information on the election, visit www.sarasotavotes.com.     

SRQ Daily Columnist Kevin Cooper is the vice president for Public Policy and Sarasota Tomorrow Initiatives for The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce

[The Detail]  Prince of Dark Money
Cathy Antunes, cathycantunes@gmail.com

School Board Member Frank Kovach announced this week he will not run for reelection after 16 years of service. Kovach said the recent nonpartisan school board race was “corrupted by cash” and he expects the trend to continue. Former Sarasota GOP chair Eric Robinson is interested in running for the School Board.  Robinson expects to decide by June 1. 

When Kovach first ran for school board in 2000, $10,000 for a campaign would have been a lot. Last fall’s race between Bridget Zeigler and Ken March had each candidate raising over $51,000 and $72,000, respectively, with Zeigler getting support from a shadowy political action committee called Citizens Against Taxation. Eric Robinson was the PAC’s chair, treasurer and registered agent.

The Herald-Tribune reported last fall on difficulty tracing a major donor to the Citizens for Taxation PAC.  The donor in question, Phoenix Media, gave $45,000 to the PAC. Robinson refused to disclose who was behind Phoenix Media and the Zeigler PAC financed mailers, saying “donors don’t want to be identified.” Robinson refused to say where Phoenix Media was based (the company doesn’t do business in Florida) and told the newspaper “You’re not going to find it.”  Robinson would only affirm the company filed LLC paperwork in the United States.

My research turned up five Phoenix Media LLCs in the United States—they are in New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Oregon and Wyoming.  The NJ and NY Phoenix LLCs don’t list registered agents, but have been in existence since 1997 and 2002. The Oregon and South Carolina Phoenix LLCs seemed unremarkable, with registered agents who are actual people. Phoenix Media, LLC in Cheyenne, Wyoming is a different animal.  

Phoenix Media in Cheyenne was formed in July 2014. The $45,000 in donations to Robinson’s Citizens Against Taxation PAC from the unidentified Phoenix Media began in August 2014 and ended in October 2014.  

The Wyoming Phoenix Media’s business principal, mailing and registered agent are all listed as Wyomingregisteredagent.com, Inc.  It seems in Wyoming, the level of anonymity and untraceability for LLCs is such that you don’t even have to identify an actual human being with a company—you can use a website.

Phoenix Media LLC in Wyoming shares its address, 1621 Central Avenue, with 249 other LLCs.  Another 250 LLCs are listed next door, at 1620 Central Avenue in Cheyenne. Scores of these firms also list Wyomingregisteredagent.com, Inc. as their registered agent, just as Phoenix Media does. I wondered if I had found a cottage industry of untraceable LLCs—are these other companies donating to PACs as well?

Maybe the Wyoming Phoenix is the one who donated to Robinson’s PAC, maybe it isn’t. The point is, we shouldn’t be wondering who from out of state is pumping thousands of dollars into our school board races. With numerous PACs supervised by Robinson, continuously being created and disbanded, and hundreds of thousands of dollars passing through these entities, it’s too late for Robinson to don the cloak of transparency as a candidate—that ship has sailed. The corruption of nonpartisan school board races by Robinson-assisted dark money ought to disqualify him as a candidate for school board. 

SRQ Daily Columnist Cathy Antunes serves on the boards of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations and Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government. She blogs on local politics at www.thedetail.net

[From Dennis Adams]  City Election Hits New Low
Dennis Adams

The Sarasota County Democratic Party has downgraded the City Commission runoff election to a new low with a recent attack ad on Eileen Normile. I received the oversized mailer yesterday. It alleges Normile is misleading voters with a dirty campaign of lies and hidden agendas.  There is a picture of a mud-covered Sarasota skyline and the typical good picture horrible picture lineup of the candidates. The problem is the ad does not provide a single fact or shred of evidence for its claims. It is a complete fiction.

The Democratic Party is doing a disservice to voters with these distortions in this important election. Critical decisions will be made during the next two years on homelessness, development, the bay front and fiscal policies that will have long lasting affects on our city. The focus of the campaign should be on competence and leadership not smears and distortions. 

I typically vote Democratic but I am embarrassed by the Democratic Party's antics and its candidate. 

Dennis Adams, Sarasota

[From Kelly Franklin]  An Ugly Pall on City Race
Kelly Franklin

The recent spate of personal attacks against Liz Alpert (attack mailings and a challenge by Ms. Normile at a community forum for voters to search for information about Ms. Alpert online) has cast an ugly pall over the campaign for City Commissioner.  

I took Ms. Normile up on her invitation to “Google" Liz.   I can't know what Ms. Normile took from that exercise, but what emerged for me was a portrait of a woman who faced financial hardship and personal adversity in her life and turned those experiences into opportunities to grow, expand and serve others.    

Given the ever-increasing polarization in American politics, it takes tremendous courage and conviction to run for electoral office these days. Liz has shown that courage multiple times, and I applaud her efforts and tenaciousness in the face of the long odds (given gerrymandering) she faced in prior campaigns. 

The city of Sarasota, while skewing Democratic in its registration, has previously elected several Republicans to office—which means to me a deserving candidate from either party can prevail here. 

I know a lot of my neighbors here in Laurel Park have supported Ms. Normile. I met her briefly at a recent community event, and left that brief encounter with a favorable impression.  After watching the video from the CONA forum and receiving a mailer with irrelevant and highly personal attacks against Liz, that impression has completely dissipated.  My change of opinion was even further reinforced by a recent robocall from Ms. Normile in which she ironically accuses Liz of receiving support from outside of Sarasota.  In fact, the converse is true (there is a PAC in Tampa which funded some of the recent attacks against Liz).

I wonder how my neighbors (many of whom are Democrats who supported Ms. Normile on the strength of a neighborhood leader's endorsement during the first round of voting) will feel in light of the harsh personal turn Ms. Normile's campaign has taken in the runoff?  I have to believe these mean-spirited tactics will backfire.

I truly am sorry it seems impossible for decent people to run for office these days without compromising their integrity by stooping to the level of personally denigrating others who seek to serve. David Brooks, a right-leaning pundit I am not usually inclined to quote, published a thoughtful editorial recently on the difference between seeking resume achievements and eulogy accomplishments.  I fear Ms. Normile has traded some of the latter in her quest to retain the former.  I don't think it will work. 

Kelly Franklin, Sarasota



[Scoop]  Designing Daughters New Leadership Slate

Designing Daughters of Sarasota new leadership slate rolls out July 1. Designing Daughters was founded in 2009 by then-Designing Women Boutique Board member Shelley Lister as a committee to attract younger supporters and to help the organization with their fundraising efforts. Along with Founding President Nikki Taylor, Past President Jane Thompson and current Presidenyt Montana Taplinger, the committee grew far beyond expectations. As of January, the Designing Daughters of Sarasota branched out to allow for continuous and organic growth. Designing Daughters’ goal is to give grants to many local charities each year and with almost no overhead, the majority of fundraising going directly to a variety of community nonprofit groups. Designing Daughters is made up of an impressive list of local, young and influential women. Members are well connected in the community and have been very successful in forming strategic alliances and getting underwriters to cover the expenses for events.  For membership information, please contact Nikki Taylor at Nikki-taylor@smh.com

[Scoop]  All Faiths Food Bank: Peanut Butter Wins!

All Faiths Food Bank is the beneficiary of the 2015 Peanut Butter and Jelly Competition held by students at the Out-of-Door Academy on Siesta Key. The food drive is part of the school’s participation in All Faiths Food Bank’s Campaign Against Summer Hunger and one of many annual Spirit Day activities of games and competition at its Lakewood Ranch campus. Last year, the Blue Team (jelly) beat the White Team (peanut butter) by a close five jars. This year, the odds were jelly would remain the winning team, but in a shocking upset, the peanut butter team surpassed jelly in a very close race. More than 1,000 jars were collected for All Faiths Food Bank. “We are so fortunate to have the Academy support us year round,” said Food Bank CEO Sandra Frank. 

[Scoop]  Cat Depot Honors Volunteers With 18 Service Awards

Cat Depot honored its volunteers April 18 with a Volunteer Appreciation Night party at Cat Depot. Staff ‘worked’ the event by serving dinner to thank the volunteers for countless hours of dedication to the animals. Volunteers mingled and enjoyed a Mexican-themed dinner along with door prizes and gifts. In 2014, Cat Depot volunteers contributed over 18,900 hours of service and averaged 176 active monthly volunteers. From small to tall, young and old, permanent or visiting residents, volunteers help Cat Depot with cleaning, laundry, dishes, animal transport, off-site events, fundraising, clinic assistants, medical data entry, reception, retail sales, cat socialization, adoption assistants, foster families, food bank, coin bank, photography, food prep and education/lectures. Anyone interested in volunteering or seeking more information should call Cat Depot at 941-366-2404 or go to www.catdepot.org

[Scoop]  Sarasota Youth Opera Enrolling for 2015 Summer Camp

Enrollment is now open for young people ages 8-18 for Sarasota Youth Opera’s 2015 Summer Camp, to be held June 8–26. The annual three-week program will run Monday through Friday 9am–12:30pm for campers ages 8–10, and 10am–4pm for campers ages 11–18. No audition is required. All activities are at the Sarasota Opera House. Opportunities are also provided for campers to experience the magic of opera outside the Opera House through field trips and arts group collaborations. The final day will showcase the participants’ work during the program in an on-stage demonstration featuring all campers. All sessions are led by Sarasota Opera artists, directors, instrumentalists, and stage crew. On the final day of camp, families are invited to join the fun and participate alongside their camper in class and attend a final demonstration on the Sarasota Opera House stage. Musically, this year’s camp will focus on the upcoming Sarasota Youth Opera fall production of Hans Krása’s opera Brundibár as well as choral highlights from the upcoming 2015/16 Sarasota Opera season. Tuition for the program is $200 for half day campers and $330 for full day campers. Scholarships are available. The deadline for registration is May 16. 

[Scoop]  Gecko's Honored with Prestigious National Restaurant Association Award

Gecko’s Grill and Pub proudly announced the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation has honored the restaurant group by again selecting it as a Florida Restaurant Neighbor Award winner.  Additionally, the Florida Cornerstone Humanitarian Award will again be presented to the GHG’s Michael Quillen. The awards honor restaurants that go above and beyond in community service and aim to inspire other restaurateurs to get or stay involved in their local communities.  These award selections mark the third consecutive year that Gecko’s owners Michael Quillen and Mike Gowan earned these distinctions. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association will host a combined Marketing and Operations Summit in July in Tampa, Florida, where the award recipients will be recognized for their achievements. Each year, the Gecko’s charitable giving program grows, with the compass tilted in the direction of being good neighbors, dependable business partners and restaurateurs who contribute to the well-being of our community and to helping others. This year alone, more than 15,000 elementary students received Gecko’s and S’macks Super Student award cards to encourage good grades, citizenry, school attendance or other exemplary performance. Contact 941-921-3924 or email office@geckoshospitality.com

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine. Note: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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