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The Bayfront 20:20 Steering Committee membership was announced this week. The seven members of the group are all accomplished fellas, and those on the committee I know are very nice fellas. But they are all fellas, and yes, they are all white fellas, God bless them every one. When this announcement went out, and in the formation of this group, it seems it didn’t occur to anyone involved in the selection process that putting together a group which represents our community would mean including women and minority leaders. That blind spot is the definition of bias, for those with bias are unaware of their bias. It’s 2017 and I can’t believe this column is necessary, but here we are.

What is Bayfront 20:20? Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 is group engaged in gathering community input and communication with the public regarding redeveloping the City’s 42 public acres along the bay (including the Van Wezel performing arts hall). The organization has conducted over 145 meetings, six community forums, with over 2,700 participants and solicited over 200 pages of comments and 170 ideas about the future of Sarasota’s bayfront. Bayfront 20:20 has launched a website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

At first, I didn’t read through their whole steering committee announcement. Then comments from friends started coming in, which ranged from “Can you believe this?” “Is this 1956?” and “Notice anything missing?” to “The Chamber is a civic group?” People in Sarasota are noticing that the organization that has taken the lead role in articulating how the future of our City will look has chosen to be led by a steering committee that does not represent the community’s diversity. Take note: our five-member City Commission is comprised of three women and two men, two African-Americans and three Caucasians.

The Steering Committee was gathered with an eye toward representing cultural and educational organizations, neighborhood associations and civic groups, however a Chamber of Commerce official fills one “civic group” slot. The neighborhood associations category fails to include a representative from the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, the most established, active (and I’d say effective) neighborhood association group in the City. Is this the best we can do?

Sarasota Bayfront 20:20 has done an excellent job of gathering community input, and it appeared last fall that the next phase of planning would be taken over by the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization, or SBPO. The Herald-Tribune reported last October that this new 501c3 would operate under the state Sunshine Law and “succeed” Bayfront 20:20 in leading a “community-centered effort to create a master plan” for the city’s public bayfront acreage.

The SBPO’s nine-member board is, thankfully, a diverse group. But why is Bayfront 20:20 announcing a steering committee if SBPO is succeeding them?

It can be a challenge for any group to take a step back and pass the baton. Much great work has been done here, but public confidence and support for bayfront redevelopment requires inclusion, transparency, diversity and clarity. How about it fellas?

Cathy Antunes serves on the board of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and hosts a radio show on WSRQ. Listen to Antunes Fridays at 2pm on The Detail, WSRQ Radio, 106.9-FM, 98.3-FM or 1220-AM.


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