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May 19, 2021, Charter Review Board gets an earful

Charter Review Board meeting May 19, 2021: More than 80% of speakers voice support for Single-Member Districts

Excerpts from the Sarasota News Leader, May 20, 2021, by Rachel Brown Hackney, Editor & Publisher

After he and his colleagues listened to approximately 90 minutes of comments from 45 speakers on the night of May 19, 2021, the chair of the Sarasota County Charter Review Board announced that the organization’s bylaws would prevent it from taking up the issue of Single-Member Districts until its next meeting.

Lourdes Ramirez commented on Commission Chair Maio’s assertion that citizens in 2018 were unaware of the facets of the county Charter amendment when they approved it. “It’s the County Commission that doesn’t get it,” Ramirez said. “I believe the voters are smart enough to understand what they voted for in 2018.”

Louise Machinist told the Charter Review Board members, “As a senior citizen, I find it particularly insulting that the commissioners claim we were too stupid, deluded, or confused to know what we were voting for. We know exactly what we voted for.”

Andrea Shlasko of Venice said that a person has to win as many as 120,000 votes [in a county-wide election]. “That’s hard to do.” The person needs “a huge army of volunteers or a huge amount of money. … The chances of a grassroots candidate winning in this environment are slim to none.”

“It seems to me to be great hubris now to flout the will of the voters and say I didn’t know what I was voting for. Well, I sure did,” Donna Cubit of Sarasota told the Charter Review Board.

“Our voters understood exactly what they wanted,” Richard Steckler of North Venice added, “and they know better than the politicians.”

Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE), which worked to get the Single-Member Districts initiative on the November 2018 ballot, countered speakers who said voters have less representation with the new system. “Instead of four-fifths of voters outside their districts choosing their representatives on the County Commission, citizens are able to elect the board members they want to represent them. Let the people keep the power,” Muntz urged.

“This is a simple issue,” Victor Rohe of Sarasota said. “This is the machine versus the grassroots people. That’s it; doesn’t get any more complicated than that. Single-Member Districts gives each party their best candidate, their strongest candidate.”

Valerie Buchand, a long-time activist in the traditionally African-American community of Newtown in Sarasota, told the Charter Review Board members, “It falls in your hands tonight to either stand for what you were put in office for or to go along with the special interest group.” She alluded to the political dividing lines between Black and white Americans, as well as those between “the rich and the poor.” “We have a right to the table,” Buchand continued. “And I hope and pray that you will adhere to our voices.” Whoops, cheers and applause resounded in the Commission Chambers as she concluded her remarks.

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