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SRQ DAILY Jul 21, 2018

"People want to live in downtown and we have more coming because of this great transformation. The certainty was created to invest in downtown."

- Christine Robinson, The Argus Foundation
 

[The Detail]  Single Member Districts make Commissioners Accountable
Cathy Antunes, cathycantunes@gmail.com

Sarasota County voters this November will decide on whether or not to approve a charter amendment that will change our County Commission from at-large voting to single-member districts. What’s the difference?

The county is divided into five districts, with each district having one County Commissioner, and currently everyone in the County votes for all five Commissioners. Approving the single-member district amendment would mean that District One residents would be the only voters selecting the District One County Commissioner, District Two residents would vote on the District Two Commission race, and so on.

Opponents of single-member districts claim county voters are best served when they can choose all five commissioners. Problem is, at-large commission voting has created a nearly complete dilution of accountability to constituents. Simply put, county commissioners are flagrantly ignoring the wishes of their constituents. Single-member districts will restore accountability to Sarasota County government. The Celery Fields controversy is a great example of diminished County Commissioner accountability with at-large voting. County Commissioner Mike Moran represents District 1, home of the Celery Fields. The Celery Fields began as a storm water management project. Restoring those wetlands has led to an explosion in bird population and variety, with over 220 species. As a result, Sarasota is now on the map as an international birding destination.

When James Gabbert, a political insider, proposed building an industrial waste transfer facility (a.k.a. dump) next to this precious natural resource, District One voters came out in droves to oppose it. In spite of the united opposition of his District One constituents, Commissioner Moran supported Mr. Gabbert’s project (the plan was still denied by a 3-2 vote). If Mr. Moran were truly representing his district he would never have voted against their wishes, and if he were elected in a single-member district election, District 1 voters could remove him. The power to remove a commissioner who is not listening to his or her district is severely undermined with our current at-large voting system.

Siesta Key’s District 4 demonstrates more problems with accountability. Commissioner Al Maio recently paid no heed of the scores of Siesta Key residents who opposed the increased building height and reduced setback changes requested by Gary Kompothecras (founder of 1-800-ASK-GARY) for his new hotel. The complete disregard by their own commissioner stunned Siesta Key residents when Commissioner Maio voted to support Mr. Kompothecras’ request.

Commissioner Nancy Detert understood the evident cronyism when she said she was uncomfortable with a process in which the applicant (Kompothecras’ attorney) was writing the code as opposed to staff. “To me, that’s the tail wagging the dog,” Detert said. At-large voting has emboldened such cronyism, for Mr. Maio knows he won’t face the wrath of District 4 voters.
Opponents will make dire predictions of problems with single member districts, but our state legislators and Congressmen are elected this way, and plenty of other Florida counties do the same. It’s time for Sarasota County Commissioners to be held accountable via single member districts.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail on WSLR. 

[Argus]  Administrative Review Important to Vibrance of Sarasota
Christine Robinson, Christine@argusfoundation.org

Administrative Review has become a hot topic in today’s news. The history of how and why it came to the City of Sarasota has been rewritten in an attempt to fit a narrative of convenience for those who want to see Sarasota frozen in time. 

In 2001, I was working in downtown Sarasota and it was a ghost town. Yes, we had homeless even back then and many of those who I see today, I saw back then. There was little to no complaint about them because they took refuge in the vestibules of the empty storefronts on Main Street. Other than the homeless, Main Street was mostly a ghost town at 5pm. 

Downtown needed redevelopment and reinvestment very badly. Business men and women were reluctant to invest because of the bad business climate created by government. Investment was very uncertain.

City staff has put together a power point of the history of how administrative review unfolded. Using that and the approved Downtown Master Plan, it is important to understand that administrative review was a concept born from the Downtown Master Plan, not in a challenge to it.

The Downtown Master Plan 2020 was written by a consultant/planner named Andres Duany. This would serve as an update to the downtown CRA plan. He was also contracted to write a zoning code as well. 

Over the course of several months, Duany’s firm met with business and neighborhood groups and inventoried the study area. On top of that there were 15 design charettes; city staff reports 80-100 people at each charette. 

A plan was unveiled and the public meetings continued to ensue. The Downtown Master Plan 2020 was finally adopted by the City Commission on January 22, 2001 with the concepts of administrative review contained within the actual premises of the plan:

  • The process of redevelopment should be made predictable, as much as possible, so that it consumes less of the public discussion and so that the investment of the private sector serves as the engine to build out the intentions of the plan.
  • Developers have certain vested rights according to existing codes and these rights, while not withdrawn, must be strictly enforced and shorn of bonuses.

The Plan also stated, “Future development is accurately envisioned by the Master Plan that, when coded, creates a predictable environment. Within it, developers who follow the rules can be guaranteed time-certain approvals, while residents can live in a city where surprises are minimized. A public discussion and assessment by elected officials need only occur in the event a variance is required.”

This was a plan that was interwoven with give and take and each part was dependent upon another part.

Nine days after the Master Plan adoption, the zoning code, which implemented the agreed principles within the Master Plan, was unveiled. But first, the Comprehensive Plan had to be changed before the code could be adopted. It was here where the City Commission decided to treat the agreed upon and heavily publicly vetted Downtown Plan like a cafeteria plan and things fell apart. The City Commission was abandoning the Master Plan principles of Administrative Review after adopting them.

A coalition of groups and property owners, including The Argus Foundation, administratively challenged the Comp Plan changes for a variety of reasons. A settlement was reached adding Administrative Review back. 

Today, as a result of that intentional certainty created, we have a beautiful and vibrant downtown. Empty storefronts are now not the norm and parking can, thankfully, be hard to find at times.

People want to live in downtown and we have more coming because of this great transformation. The certainty was created to invest in downtown.

We must not take our downtown resurgence for granted and completely abandon the principles of Administrative Review, which revived downtown Sarasota when it was on life support. 

Christine Robinson is executive director for The Argus Foundation. 

[Gulf Coast]  Here Comes The Sun
Mark Pritchett, mpritchett@gulfcoastcf.org

I love hearing success stories—especially those that involve our Gulf Coast region. I thought I would illuminate your morning with a story that shines a light on solar energy and the power of neighborhoods.

A couple of years ago, the League of Women Voters of Florida brought a troubling picture to our attention. Florida—the Sunshine State, mind you—lagged at number 17 in the U.S. for solar-energy installations. Experts said we should be in the top three. By comparison, New Jersey, with less than half of our population, had about five(!) times as many solar rooftop systems. Florida did rank high in another measure, though: We were sixth among states for polluting emissions.

The League wanted to help more homeowners across Florida go solar by propagating the promising model of “solar co-ops.” These neighborhood-based cooperatives enable communities to affordably go solar by leveraging volume purchasing and competitive bidding. They also build passionate solar advocates in the process.

To do this, the League partnered with a national group—Solar United Neighbors—that successfully coordinated co-op networks in several other states. While Florida already had a couple of fledgling co-ops supported by the group, the new partners shared a bold vision to go bigger: create a statewide nonprofit program that could scale the co-op model, starting on the Gulf Coast. We saw the potential, and Gulf Coast Community Foundation was in for $30,000 in seed money. The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy also committed start-up support.

Solar United Neighbors of Florida launched in the summer of 2016 with the hiring of a state program director. Its Sarasota Solar Co-op followed in January 2017. In Sarasota alone, about 70 homeowners have gone solar so far, together investing nearly $1.3 million into solar energy and accounting for an expected carbon offset of 25 million pounds. Each household, by the way, should save about $44,000 on energy bills over the lifetime of their systems. Another 130 households that joined our local co-op could go solar in the future.

By all accounts, Sarasota’s was the most successful co-op in the state last year. But it’s certainly not the only one. The network now has 35 co-ops in markets from Pensacola to the Upper Keys. That far exceeds the initial goal of six when we were first approached for start-up help! These co-ops accounted for 10 percent of the new residential solar in Florida last year. And the original staff member that our grant helped hire has grown into four full-time positions assisting communities around the state. This progress is fantastic, and it will only continue.

From a funder’s standpoint, here’s what made this grant so successful:

A strong partnership. The League of Women Voters wanted to tackle an issue but couldn’t do it alone. Solar United Neighbors wanted to expand its model but required local support and outreach. Regional funders saw a creative, free-market approach to put power in the hands of our citizens. Everyone committed to working together.

Regional impact. This project directly addressed regional priorities identified in the research scan that Gulf Coast commissions every few years and makes available to grant applicants and our entire community. It offered environmental and economic benefits while incentivizing innovation in our region.

Systemic change. At Gulf Coast, our Board believes the best returns on our community investments come from targeting systems rather than addressing symptoms. Solar United Neighbors of Florida presented a low-cost opportunity to promote sustainable energy and give residents more choices. It was a solution that could be implemented locally and replicated broadly. We’ll take that every time.

Exceptional execution. Put simply, the partners in this project have put in the work—passionately—that it takes to be successful. They’re producing steady growth, engaging an army of volunteers, and providing results that can be measured. They should be commended.

Before writing this column, I looked back at a copy of the cover letter we sent with our original grant award two years ago. Next to my signature, I wrote “Congratulations! We are expecting great results!” To the good fortune of our region and state, this bright idea is exceeding everyone’s expectations. Shine on.

Dr. Mark S. Pritchett is president/CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. 



[SCOOP]  Music Compound

Music Compound provides an environment to inspire, collaborate and educate children and adults in pursuit of their love of music. Members of Music Compound have access to a wide array of learning opportunities intended to not only build music skills but also enhance confidence, communication and social interaction abilities. Their goal is to transform dreams into reality by providing a contemporary and influential environment for musicians. Adult music programs are comprised of 1-2 energetic and skilled instructors, a 50-minute lesson, theory, instrument exploration, a variety of genres and approaches and an instrument during class. Classes begin Sept. 19 and include keyboard and theory refresher, guitar and vocal basics, and guitar and theory. 

Music Compound

[KUDOS]  JFCS and Sarasota Memorial Hospital celebrate Cancer Support Anniversary

Marking a new milestone for cancer support and hope, a partnership between JFCS of the Suncoast and Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) that started one year ago has now brought hope and relief to more than 158 people and their families. A recent JFCS and SMH Cancer Wellness Celebration event held at HealthFit, powered by Sarasota Memorial Hospital, showcased the program and benefits to the general public.  More than 40 people dealing with cancer and their family members attended, providing them with a dose of hope, aid and support that others have found through the JFCS and SMH classes. Services include a variety of gentle exercise, wellness classes and cancer support groups. Workshops are also offered on nutrition, cancer and genetics, lymphedema and other topics relevant to cancer patients. All services are offered at no cost to adult patients, caregivers and families affected by a cancer diagnosis. ­ 

JCFS of the Suncoast

[KUDOS]  SMH Emergency Care Team Earns Prestigious Lantern Award

Sarasota Memorial Hospital's Emergency Care Center is one of just 19 emergency departments across the nation and the only one in Florida to earn the prestigious Emergency Nurses Association Lantern Award in 2018. This award recognizes emergency departments that demonstrate excellent practice and innovative performance in leadership, education, advocacy and research. SMH's Emergency team shared the outcomes of several quality initiatives, including the reduction of door-to-treatment times and length of patients’ stay in the ECC, and the establishment of a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program to provide supportive, compassionate care to assault victims. The award also recognized the department's excellent nurse retention and turnover rates, as well as staff's commitment to professionalism and education. 

Sarasota Memorial Hospital

[SCOOP]  Shark Days at Mote

Sharks are awesome and so is the science that helps us to understand them. Join Mote Marine for the fourth annual Shark Days at Mote: Real Sharks, Real science. From July 25-28, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium will feature an array of family events and activities centered around the amazing creatures, including a Vineyard Vines’ Shop and Support event, Shark Days livestream with Mote and OCEARCH, Sharks and Crafts, Sharks, Tales and Ales and Fins and Fun Family Festival. 

Mote Marine

[SCOOP]  38th Annual Juried Photographic Exhibition Entries Due August 31

Entries for Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ 38th Annual Juried Photographic Exhibition are being accepted through August 31. Images can be submitted in five distinctly Selby Gardens categories favorite selby scene, plant life at Selby, Selby Gardens’ Geometry, Selby’s Birds, Bugs & Critters and Selby in Black & White and selected works will be on display in the Museum of Botany & the Arts September 9-30. Cash prizes will be awarded, plus an overall Best in Show winner will be named. 

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

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.In the CocoTele department, SRQ DAILY is providing excerpts from news releases as a public service. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by SRQ DAILY. The views expressed by individuals are their own and their appearance in this section does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. 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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