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Board Sets Hearing to Repeal Single Member Districts

On December 7, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners will designate a special election to repeal Single Member District voting.

They're back . . .

Sarasota’s highest elected officials intend to undo a Charter Amendment that the electorate approved just three years ago.

What’s going on? Why does the Board want us to re-vote on an amendment we approved by 60 percent across all five districts in 2018?

Fueled by hollow rhetoric, reasons offered by the Commissioners have been shifting:

We the People were “confused” when we voted for Single Member Districts, according to Commissioner Al Maio.

After the public explained -- in person on three occasions and through a professional County poll -- that it was not confused, Commissioner Mike Moran offered another story: “Sly Democrat operatives” have fooled a gullible electorate into voting for Single Member Districts, he said.

When the non-partisan Citizens for District Power noted that the 2018 vote passed by a strong majority in all five Republican districts, Moran switched to “sly political operatives,” or just “sly operatives.”

Instead of describing voters as confused or hoodwinked, Commissioner Nancy Detert said, "I've never liked Single Member Districts, but I'm getting tired of trying to save people from themselves.”

Board of Sarasota County

Why are our elected Commissioners bound and determined to reverse this citizens’ amendment to Sarasota County’s Home Rule Charter?

In a word, fear.

The Board has a critical task: to evaluate and approve large-scale developer plans for housing projects, commercial centers, apartments and roads. What can happen to their political careers if each Commissioner had to answer to citizens impacted by their rapid-fire blanket developer approvals in his or her district?

Take for example the highly controversial “mega-hotels” recently approved on Siesta Key.

Residents there from some 70 HOAs hired lawyers and professional planners, and came out in force, presenting strong, cogent arguments why these hotels would be disastrous to the local character of Siesta Key. To no avail - the Board approved both hotels that have come before it (two more are in the pipeline). Under Single Member Districts, the Board members would be answerable to their district voters on Siesta Key. In a re-election, they’d face intense public scrutiny of their voting record.

When these same politicians are elected by all the voters of the County, they can avoid addressing issues of concern in their District. They’ll drown the mailboxes of North Port, Northeast Sarasota or Englewood with their mailers, knowing full well that many voters in other districts neither know about nor care what the Board allows developers to do to Siesta Key.

In the current economic environment, County-wide voting allows candidates to ignore everything that urgently matters to residents of their district. In recent years, incumbents have refused to participate in public forums or debates, to hold town hall meetings, even to be interviewed by the press.

That allows politicians running for our Board, which dedicates a great deal of time on growth in an overheated developer frenzy, to evade the people who want to preserve our Siesta Key and oppose mega hotels, or who fight the transformation of vast ranchlands into suburban gated communities, or who worry about an intersection that can’t handle oversized developments -- like Siesta Promenade at Stickney Point and US 41.

Single Member District voting requires each Commissioner to face the people who feel their neighborhoods, roads and environment are imperiled by their Board votes. And SMD candidates can reach their district voters without needing developer dollars or Dark Money, while Countywide campaigns cost at least $100,000.

Over time, special interests have made it clear that to even hope for their support, you have to publicly demonstrate your pro-growth credentials -- by serving on the Planning Commission, for example. Planning “commissioners” are not elected, but are appointed by County Commissioners -- Maio, Moran and Cutsinger are all alumni of that self-fulfilling loop.

Voters worked hard to adopt Single Member Districts from a shared sense that growth here has gotten out of hand. Those who remember Sarasota as a place of taste, charm, and intelligence do not need to be saved from themselves. Rather, they need a level of political accountability that could save Sarasota from its at-large-elected officials.

Come to the Board Hearing on December 7 and speak, or simply pack the room. The latest information will be posted to the home page of the Citizens for District Power site.

The Board discussion described above took place on Nov. 16, 2021, beginning at the 2 hour, 50-minute mark.

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