North Port has Always Been Transparent


Photo courtesy North Port Police Facebook page.

“Transparency” is government’s obligation to share information with citizens that is needed to make informed decisions and hold officials accountable for the conduct of the people’s business.

In the spirit of transparency, let’s make sure we give the readers of SRQ Daily the full truth and not just the version that fits a selective narrative. Claiming a government lacks transparency is an easy opportunity to build on people’s fear and mistrust. But just because you write it doesn’t make it true. 

In two separate guest columns in this publication, North Port has come under criticism from a member of the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors who is the executive director of a local nonprofit. In my 25 years of government experience, it’s highly unusual to be attacked online by a member of such groups, which we typically communicate with regularly to answer questions and share various partnerships.

North Port has been overly transparent the last few years. We hold multiple town halls during the budget process to share information and gain public feedback while creating our budget submissions to the City Commission. We travel the city on our North Port United Tour events, held in partnership with North Port Forward, which shares the same vision and purpose of ensuring government is communicating accurate information and holding itself accountable to residents. We don’t shy away from making ourselves available and accessible to anyone who seeks information from us or who wants to share ideas and feedback with us.

The latest accusation is that we are not being transparent about construction cost for a new North Port police station and how to pay for it. That’s simply not true. This project has been on our Capital Improvement Projects list for years and evolved over time. At one point, the CIP included a $50-million expansion of the existing station. However, last year a study by a firm that specializes in police headquarters advised it would be more cost effective to build a new station that will meet the future needs of the department and the city as we grow. The Commission agreed, and design planning began on a $100-million project that was included in this year’s budget as unfunded.

We are now in the process of trying to identify funding sources. Everything is on the table, including some combination of surtax dollars, selling City land, a millage increase and possible state and federal assistance through grants and appropriations.

That brings us to the writer’s criticism regarding surtax, or penny sales tax, funds. The Surtax IV extension approved by Sarasota County voters in 2022 includes certain parameters for how funds can be used; construction of a police headquarters certainly qualifies. My staff and I proposed we use $74 million of surtax funds ($50 million principal, $24 million interest) toward the police headquarters, even though it was not on the City’s original list of surtax projects, so we can lessen the potential increase needed to our millage rate.

We suggested the Commission move Phase 2 of the Price Boulevard Widening Project from the end of Surtax IV (in the years 2034-39) to the beginning of Surtax V in 2040 to free up available funds. It is true Surtax V has not yet been approved. But surtax extensions have been overwhelmingly supported by county voters since first approved 35 years ago. The extension in 2022 received 78% of the vote, the highest level for any tax measure in the state. There is no reason to believe 14 years from now it won’t be supported again.

Let’s be clear: We are talking about Phase 2 of Price widening, a long-term project not expected to begin for another decade. This is NOT Phase I, widening the stretch of Price between Sumter and Toledo Blade boulevards, which we all agree is much needed and has been delayed far too long. That project is now underway, with construction expected to begin this year. Unfortunately, the writer’s accusations misled many community members into thinking this critical project is being delayed.

Every municipality in Sarasota County has its own policy for rearranging, adding and subtracting projects from its surtax project list. I am certain this same process was followed when our critic was a county commissioner, yet she now finds it to be unacceptable. This is not anything new or unique to North Port. A City resolution states our commissioners “may alter or amend the project list in the event that the City Commission finds that such a change is in the public interest.”

We have an obligation to solve the problems of our residents and business community, and that is what we are attempting to do. We provide real information in real time before decisions are made – the very definition of transparency in government. In the true spirit of transparency, anyone can reach me at or on my cell phone at (941) 224-5402. In two-and-a-half years in this position, not once has this individual called me or attended public meetings on these or other topics. 

If you disagree with the decisions we make or don’t like the information you receive, that does not mean transparency doesn’t exist.

Jerome Fletcher is the North Port City Manager.

Photo courtesy North Port Police Facebook page.

Fletcher is responding to a Mar. 16 column by Christine Robinson.

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