STOP! Hits The Brakes

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING MONDAY SEP 16, 2019

Leaders for STOP!, a civic group in Sarasota, will dissolve the nonprofit organization. 

Steering committee members informed supporters of the move on Friday, noting limits on political activity for 501(c)(4) organizations and suggesting a desire to support the ouster of two incumbents in net year’s City Commission elections. “The STOP! Steering Committee has concluded that city voters must replace the non-supportive commissioners with new citizen-friendly candidates,” the email reads.

Members themselves said there are also various obligations pulling their own time. Eileen Normile, a steering committee member, serves as chair of the city Planning Board and has limited participation in STOP! for fear of conflict of interests. Founding members Kate Lowman and Bob Hendel recently retired from the group. Gretchen Serrie, another steering board member, has faced competing family obligations.

“We realized a lot of successes, accomplished a lot of our goals and especially feel good about educating the public as to importance of an improved zoning code and public involvement,” said Mollie Cardamone, a steering committee member and former Mayor.

“Actually, I believe the hallmark of a good organization is knowing when to close shop.”

The email noted a June 17 City Commission split vote nixing a proposal to hold public hearings for major downtown buildings. Commissioners Liz Alpert, Hagan Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie voted against the plan, a signature issue of STOP!

Alpert and Eddie are up for re-election in 2020, though neither has yet filed. Brody’s first term on the commission ends in 2022.

But it’s unclear if any political organization will take up where STOP! left off, or if members will wage challenges on members themselves. “Really and truly I know of no plans to form a PAC or continue our work,” Cardamone said. “I believe our 'leadership' is not planning any further engagement but you never know what might spur interest on the part of any individual.”

Beyond legal constraints on nonprofit organizations, STOP! leaders acknowledged not all supporters of the group would back any entry into political activity. The group noted 18 civic groups, mostly neighborhood associations, had endorsed its mission. That support came, though, while STOP! served as a technical and research organization largely compiling information for advocacy on zoning and transportation issues.

Should leaders begin to take stances for or against political candidates, many associations behind STOP! may withdraw support.

“If STOP! were to become actively engaged in the political arena, it is clear to us that this coalition would disintegrate,” the email reads. “Even if people agreed on the technical goals, endorsement of candidates would be divisive, especially considering the likely hyper-partisan nature of the next election, taking place at the same time as the presidential election.”

The 2020 election marks the first since approval of the “Change The Date” amendment, which moves elections from spring in odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years.

STOP! leaders listed accomplishments since its formation in 2016, including  pushing for collection of all fees associated with new buildings, approval of wider sidewalks in the Rosemary District with groundwork laid for similar planning in other areas, pressing the city to reestablish a separate planning department and lobbying Florida transportation officials to reevaluate traffic formulas around resorts.

Remaining assets will be donated to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

“We regret taking this step, as we have greatly enjoyed working with one another and with all of you, but we feel it is the most practical solution to the situation,” the email reads.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan: STOP! founding members Eileen Normile, Mollie Cardamone and Kate Lowman participate in the SRQ Rumble!

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