Is The City Being Served?

Guest Correspondence

BY SUSAN NILON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAY 9, 2015

In just three days will be the election for the City of Sarasota.  In what feels like an eternity, we will finally see who has risen above the mud and muck to claim the win for both city commission seats.  For those of you who have not cast your vote yet, I would like to ask you to consider a few things before you go into the voting booth.

Sarasota is caught in a “Jekyll and Hyde” identity crisis when it comes not only to how the world sees us but also how we see ourselves. We are seen as an affluent tourist town who can brag about our restaurants, theaters and beautiful beaches, but also a place that is indifferent to its working class, ignorant of its poor and angry towards its homeless. Divided between those who work for the benefit of the downtrodden versus those who fear that if we provide for the needs of the unfortunate we invite more to come, we find ourselves still trying to shake off being labeled as “The Meanest City.”

While it appears to be an equal divide among our people, it is wrong to assume that it is.  Far more people work to help the poor and homeless in this town than there are people who just want the problem to go away.  But we are not judged for the people doing the work; we are judged by what is reflected at City Hall. 

What the world sees is that in the past six years, City Hall has fought the issues of homelessness by removing park benches and picnic tables, making it illegal to panhandle, feed the poor in public, sleep on the streets or loiter too long in one place. We create barriers that force the homeless from one part of the city to another and offer them bus tickets to anywhere else but Sarasota. And the loudest message sent out is that we will not build a shelter to house the homeless. A public relations nightmare, but also the truth. No matter how many people we actually have in the community working to help the poor, our city commission defines who we are. We do have real problems and helping the homeless is not easy to do. But when you pull back and skim the horizon, you see why we deserve that label.

In addition, we have done even worse in preventing more people from becoming homeless. With no opportunity to affordably live in this city, workers at minimum wage are forced to live elsewhere. They clog the roads with long drives as we force them to spend hours in their cars and large portions of their small paychecks to have the opportunity to feed their family and put a roof over their head. City Hall allows our unforgiving codes to prevent investors to provide housing that would let our service industry live within reasonable distance of their place of work. They lack the vision of infill by not changing the codes that allow blighted commercial districts to become new neighborhoods with multipurpose dwellings. Yet they complain about endless traffic and pat themselves on the back for being a commission of neighborhoods.

When you go to the polls Tuesday, consider this: Good governance is equitable and inclusive. All groups, particularly the most vulnerable, should have opportunities to participate in a process not limited to those who can afford the time to show up at City Hall. For government is not the gathering of resumes and the process is actually having equal opportunity to call Sarasota your home. 

SRQ Daily Columnist Susan Nilon is the president of Florida Talk Radio and owner of WSRQ Radio. She hosts The Nilon Report on WSRQ Sarasota 1220AM/106.9FM weekdays 4pm-6pm. Email her at susan@sarasotatalkradio.com.

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