A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tom Cross: A Region's Loss

Wednesday Dec. 31 2008 • Today's Herald Tribune has an obituary for my friend Tom Cross. Tom was not a close friend of mine, but he was a good friend and good ally. We got to know each other and work together on the Oaks and Midnight Pass. I think I was lumped in with Tom and Rob Patten (who who knows who else) as "the bearded boys and banjo players" that "criped the bejabbers" out of curmudgeonly elder environmentalist Jim Neville. Jim and Fred Duisberg were some of the early defenders the coast and didn't always see eye to eye with us upstart "young" allies. 

I knew Tom as a goldsmith from upstate New York who bonded with Sarasota and started a career in computer-assisted illustration. Tom was the first person I knew who could successfully blend photographs and illustration in Adobe Photoshop. He spent years, professionally and as a volunteer, using illustration (and video) to inform citizens about this region's barrier islands and bays. Tom and I collaborated on a user's map of Sarasota Bay. I got it started in Adobe Illustrator and Tom eventually rescued me and finished the project. We need more artists committed to illuminating our natural environment, people willing to write and illustrate works such as : A Field Guide to Trapped Magic: Water. 

My big regret is that he didn't live to see resolution of the Midnight Pass issue. Tom was centrally involved in the closing and (together with Dave Jemison) they documented the story of the ill-fated pass closure. 

His ability to communicate reformed itself in his half-decade long epic contest with lung cancer, his unearned nemesis. Rather than hiding, he approached it openly, with humor, and kept many people informed not only about his status, but the cruel realities of lung cancer unrelated to smoking. He will be missed. 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Midnight Pass: Post Election, Post Denial

Saturday Dec. 20 2008 • One the challenges of being a candidate is how to maintain honesty and integrity while avoiding situations and positions that needlessly alienate portions of the electorate. You don't tug on Superman's cape, but you have an obligation to let Superman know what you think, particularly if he asks you directly.

Another challenge is separating personal feelings and positions from one's appropriate for a commissioner. While it is appropriate to bring one's experiences to bear on issues facing the commission, there is a big difference between what might be best for the county as a whole and what an individual might feel best represents their pre-commission constituency.

So during the campaign I didn't feature Midnight Pass, but neither did I shy away from it. I went and spoke (when I didn't have to) at Pelican Cove, brought up the subject and stayed after to chat with people. The vast majority of Pelican Cove residents would prefer an open pass and I gave them the condensed version of my concerns about that. I wrote three blog entries that dealt directly or indirectly with Midnight Pass. One about Big Pass, one about coastal challenges in general and one about a canoe trip to Midnight Beach. And I responded to people who emailed me about my position. [Sample response provided below.]

And although I left the door open to ways I might support a new channel, the two leaders of the Midnight Pass Society circulated emails against me, which, in my opinion, violated the spirit, if not the letter of the law that restrains non-profits from political activity. That wasn't a big surprise because MPS has used questionable tactics in the past. 

Now, a month and a half later, two things have changed. The permitting agencies have said no to the County's proposal and I no longer have to think as if I were a commissioner. As a result, I have a new take on the matter, one you may be able to read about in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in the next few days. 


Dear .......

I spent plenty of time on North Creek and around the pass in the late 70's and early 80's and I worked (hard) to acquire the entire Midnight Pass area for public use (the failed Oaks referendum) and I also fought to keep Midnight Pass open. In late 1983 I testified at the Midnight Pass hearings against the doomed scheme to "relocate" the pass. Maybe you were there too. Many of us shook our heads in disbelief when the County and State approved permits to artificially close the pass. All of this took place before the Midnight Pass Society was formed.

Once the beachfront residents and their consultants closed the migrating pass and failed to create a new channel, the County relieved them of the requirement to re-establish a new pass. Letting them off the hook left us with no pass, but also suggested that the viability of a pass in that area was in question.

I was selected by the County Commission to serve (as a volunteer) on the Blue Ribbon Panel on Midnight Pass (1984) where I supported (and I may have helped draft) a plan sent to Tallahassee that called for a major one-time opening of the pass, followed by a hands-off, see-what-happens approach. Our premise was to "re-set" the system to see if a natural pass could sustain itself, if the natural ebb and flow of the tides could keep the pass open. If not, then it would be clear that attempts to maintain a pass would be working contrary to the natural hydrodynamics of the area. In other words, we wanted to see if a natural pass could persist without perpetual tinkering and management. We felt that Midnight Pass should be self-maintaining and not require a lot of ongoing management (and public dollars).

Unfortunately, that bold consensus initiative was rejected by the state.

In 1995 I once again participated in a series of professionally facilitated meetings (the Little Sarasota Bay Forums) with the goal of reaching another community consensus. At that time many of us demonstrated a willingness to put community consensus above entrenched positions. All participating stakeholders, including the Sierra Club (which I represented), Audubon Society and Midnight Pass Society agreed to a Policy Goal and Implementation Recommendations that were later adopted by the Sarasota County Commission. I've never "worked for" the county on the pass issue as a paid employee or contractor.

While it was not the preferred outcome for any group, it did represent community consensus and I believe the stakeholders who agreed to it have an obligation to support it.

Consequently, I stand by the County's adopted 1995 position. Soon we should know if state permits can be issued and (if it can be permitted) many of us will be looking closely to see if the plans are consistent with the goals and implementation recommendations adopted by the stakeholders and the County.

In addition to determining if the proposed project meets its adopted goals, the County Commission also has an obligation to carefully consider the costs associated with re-opening and maintaining a pass. I'm confident that, if it wanted to, the county commission could find the money for the initial project. But, in addition to the challenge of identifying a revenue source, the County Commission will need assess opportunity costs for other now crucial coastal management objectives, including waterway access, red tide, and bacterial contamination of our beaches. These concerns were much lower profile years ago and fiscal responsibility dictates consideration of how we will (or won't) fund all needed coastal management projects.

I've been working on the opportunities and challenges of the Midnight Pass areas in various ways since the pass was open. Since then I've been willing to listen and work with people from all parts of the community to try to reach consensus on this contentious issue. There is no reason to believe that will change once I am elected.

Sincerely, Jono Miller

P.S. This is difficult community issue that should have been resolved years ago. Some may question my analysis and some my question my judgment. But let no one question my commitment to Sarasota's coastal resources. Whether as a member of the National Estuary Program's Citizen's Advisory Committee, walking and documenting all our beaches with students, using a NOAA grant to study neighborhood stormwater impacts, working to find alternatives to the City of Sarasota's Whitaker effluent discharge, meeting for years to secure funds needed to increase public access to our waterways, studying spoil islands with a National Science Foundation grant, documenting recreational use of Sarasota Bay or teaching about our environment, I have spent nearly forty years working on behalf of our coastal resources because, as I have been known to say, our coastal resources are what makes Sarasota County different from DeSoto County. Since it is clear that coastal resource issues are of major importance to you, I would encourage you to look closely at the records of all three of us District One candidates before casting your vote. There is more at stake here than just Midnight Pass.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Setting the Record Straight: "Facts" in a Funhouse Mirror

Even though my Republican opponent signed a pledge not to base messages on "lies or subtle deceptions or half truths", she apparently approved three negative attack ads (two mailers and a TV spot) that contained a total of five separate lies, deceptions and/or half truths about me. Had I responded during the campaign I would merely have been repeating the distortions, but now I can reveal how distorted or spun these accusations were.

Each accusation starts with a smidgen of "truthiness" and goes on an excursion that ventures into the "lies, deceptions and half truths" territory. 

MAJOR CONTRIBUTORS ARE FROM OUTSIDE SARASOTA COUNTY. This appeared three times in slightly different forms. I guess we need to define "major". My major contributor was a Sarasota environmentalist -- myself-- I poured close to $25,000 of my own money into the campaign account (as well as foregoing a half year's salary). All my other contributions came in amounts of $200 or less, which can't be said for the money that poured into the local Republican Party to defeat me. 

My sincere effort to reach out the the business/development community was distorted into the haunting spectre of "major contributors are big developers from outside our county". Yeah, I had two helpful contributors who live outside the county, but happen to control land in Sarasota county. By my count about 15% of my contributions came from development-related sources. I think the comparable figure for my Republican opponent was roughly twice that. So it might be more accurate to say the campaign with the greatest percentage of developer support was my opponents.  It seems both ironic and sad to me that developers are willing to fund campaigns based on labeling environmentalists as the developer's candidates.

BELIEVES FLORIDIANS DO NOT PAY ENOUGH IN INSURANCE PREMIUMS This charge also appeared three times in different forms. Although this was touted as being "on the record" it was surreptitiously recorded at a meeting with High School students that my Republican opponent chose not to attend. Instead the head of the local Republican party stood in the back of the room with a recording device. My well intentioned (and informal) effort to explain hurricane risk exposure to high school students became an "on the record" statement "that Floridians don't pay enough insurance premiums". The implication in that statement is that people should be paying more. I never said, or even implied, that.

The fact is there are plenty of articles documenting the fact that there has not been enough money paid into the system to cover the costs of a bad hurricane year. I'd recommend The Natural-Catastrophe Crisis by Michael Lewis that appeared in the August 26, 3007 New York Times Magazine Section. Here's a quote from that article:

The companies’ models disagreed here and there, but on one point they spoke with a single voice: four natural perils had outgrown the insurers’ ability to insure them — U.S. hurricane, California earthquake, European winter storm and Japanese earthquake. The insurance industry was prepared to lose $30 billion in a single event, once every 10 years. The models showed that a sole hurricane in Florida wouldn’t have to work too hard to create $100 billion in losses. There were concentrations of wealth in the world that defied the logic of insurance. And most of them were in America.

Here's another quote that deals specifically with the situation in Florida: The single biggest issue in Florida’s 2006 governor’s race, for instance, was the price of insurance. The Republican, Charlie Crist, got himself elected on the strength of his promise to reduce Floridians’ home-insurance rates by creating a state-subsidized pool of $28 billion in catastrophe insurance coverage. “Florida took this notion of spreading this risk and turned it on its head,” says one former state insurance commissioner. “They said, ‘We’re going to take all this risk ourselves.’ ” The state sold its citizens catastrophe insurance at roughly one-sixth the market rates, thus encouraging them to live in riskier places than they would if they had to pay what the market charged (and in the bargain, the state subsidized the well-to-do who live near the beach at the expense of the less-well-to-do who don’t). But if all the models are correct, $28 billion might not cover even one serious storm. The disaster waiting to happen in Florida grows bigger by the day, but for a man running for governor of Florida, ignoring it is a political no-brainer. If he’s lucky — if no big storms hit in his term — he looks like the genius who saved Floridians billions in catastrophic-risk premiums. If he’s unlucky, he bankrupts Florida and all hell breaks loose, but he can shake down the federal government to cover some of the losses.

So yeah, Floridians have not paid enough in insurance premiums to cover potential storm damage. That's what I was trying to explain the students. So much for telling the truth.

HAS A PLAN FOR PAID BEACH PARKING, BUT OPPOSES BEACH CONSERVATION/NOURISHMENT My conciliatory and speculative exploration of how free and paid beach parking might exist simultaneously became "has a plan for paid parking at the beach, but opposes beach conservation/nourishment." No mention of the fact that the concept was premised on maintaining free parking. If you want to know where they got this, see my blog on the subject of beach parking. Its pretty clear that I was trying to suggest a consensus position, not advocate all-paid parking at the beach. 

I'm not really sure where the "opposes beach conservation/nourishment" came from. Maybe my position that we can't afford to nourish all 35 miles of Gulf shoreline?

LEAD THE EFFORT TO INCREASE OVER $250,000,000 IN ADDITIONAL TAXES. Guilty as charged, I guess, except the figures are wrong and the accusation fails to mention that "the effort" was repeatedly approved by (Republican) commissioners and the voting public. So sixteen years spent on behalf of the public to conceive and implement a popular environmentally sensitive lands program repeatedly endorsed by the county commission and resoundingly by the electorate became "championed the effort that led to $250,000,000 taxpayer dollars being spent to purchase land at the peak of the market." As you might imagine the total isn't $250,000,000 and very little land was purchased at the peak of the market. 

More no good deed goes unpunished.

HAS NEVER CREATED A JOB OR MADE A PAYROLL and NO EXPERIENCE BRINGING JOBS TO OUR COMMUNITY This one has a definite kernel of truth, but it is implicitly based on the premise that people running for local office have to have had experience creating jobs. That's news to me. It is true that I have not held a position that had as a primary goal of job creation. [Had my opponent?] Instead I had a job instructing students about the local environment and many have stayed in the area after graduation and got or created local jobs. I believe 10% of all New College graduates live and work between Tampa and Naples. Surely my participation over a 30 year period has contributed to local employment.

But beyond preparing students to find work locally, the fact is I have created jobs here. Not a lot, but I have; both directly and indirectly. It started back in 1975 when my future wife and I created a small environmental consulting business. And yes, we did hire people on occasion to work for us.

But more importantly, I was a leader in creating the County's Environmental Lands Program, (which I was also pilloried for, see the prior accusation) a program that created the need for local acquisition agents as well as land managers. We'll work on a total.


I had hoped the campaign would be about issues and where the county needed to head, instead my Republican opponent descended into a litany of distorted attack ads that lacked any way for voters to independently research the truth. According to definitions provided by the Sarasota County Civic League, this appears to have been dishonest, irresponsible and disrespectful. For more on this see an earlier blog.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

If you Love Your Cabbage Palms

I attended (and spoke briefly) at Palm Disease Update presented by Dr. Monica Elliot, Professor of Plant Pathology and Associate Center Director of the Ft. Lauderdale Research & Education Center of the University of Florida. While Dr. Elliot covered several topics, I was most interested in Texas Phoenix Palm Disease, which is killing Cabbage Palms in Manatee County (ironically around Palmetto). For more on this phenomenon, see an earlier blog. But I ended up with new insights about why pruning cabbage palms is ill advised. 

Here's my take: In my opinion, the only fronds one should remove are ones that are completely dead, the color of a manila envelope. And I'm not even sure why anyone would spend time and energy doing that.But removing green or yellow fronds has several negative effects. 

1) The palm tree is able to remove nutrients from the aging frond. Removal before they are completely dead deprives the palm of these nutrients. 

2) The dying fronds can serve as barometers that let plant specialists interpret nutritional deficiencies or disease. Removing these fronds can complicate diagnosis. 

3) In addition, taking fronds with still-living tissue wounds the plant. Any wound is a potential entry point for insects or disease. This problem is magnified in palms, which lack the wound healing capacity of dicots.

4) Removing green fronds reduces the photosynthetic capacity of the plant. Few people would contemplate taking a third of the photosynthetic surfaces (leaves) from something like an oak, but many don't bat an eye about taking ten green fronds from a cabbage palm. This reduced capacity weakens the palm and can cause pencil-neck, a narrowing of the trunk. 

These first four points all contribute to weakening the tree, the opposite effect most people want in a home landscape. 

5) Some overprune to what has been called the "hurricane cut". There is no rational reason for this. If you had a hundred species of trees on your property, the last tree that might need pruning to survive a hurricane is the cabbage palm. And Dr. Elliot suggested there may be evidence that "hurricane cut" actually makes palms more vulnerable. That make some sense because the growing tip "sword frond" is more vulnerable after severe pruning.

6) Finally, it takes only seconds to pick a fallen frond off the ground. Just about anyone can do it. Removing live fronds requires far more time, the use of sharp instruments and frequently, ladders. All this increases costs and risks. Landscapers must be laughing all the way to the bank, because they are charging top dollar for dangerous work that is completely unnecessary. Cabbage palms are self pruning. The fronds fall off when they fall off and in the meantime contribute to the full spherical head that typifies the species. And who wants to be calling an insurance agent or making a trip to the emergency room to solve a problem that could have been avoided with the simple application of patience and gravity? 

The photo on the right shows a young over-pruned palm.  (My version shows the image with strange color.)The circles identify 21 fronds with some green left in them. Let's assume there are only 4 comparable cut fronds on the other side that we cant see, for a total of 25 missing leaves. At the top we see only a few left, maybe five. That means 5/6  (83%) of all the leaves have been removed -- a devastating loss for just about any plant. 

Check out some of these other sources.

If you don't love your cabbage palms, keep pruning. Eventually they will grow to reflect your antipathy.

Lies, inuendo, dirty tricks do the job for county GOP

That's not a Jono Miller blog title. [I prefer innuendo with three 'n's. ] No, that's the headline on a story on the front page of the November 12 edition of the Pelican Press. Reporter Rick Barry provides an introduction to the shameful behavior of the local Republican leadership in the most recent election. The article is backed up with an editorial with an equally damning title: LIES, SLEAZE DEMEAN SARASOTA, THE PROCESS & GOP.

Let me be clear -- I made a lot of mistakes in my first run for office. Some were mistakes in etiquette, some in strategy and tactics. I should have worked harder and earlier on increasing name recognition. I formatted my donor envelope poorly. I have trouble remembering names. I never scheduled an interview on WENG. Etcetera. On and on.

But I campaigned hard for three hundred days, gave up half a year's salary and sunk over $20,000 of my own money into the campaign because I knew it was not a position I was entitled to, but rather something I would have to work for.

And I get it that Carolyn won. I'm not contesting, challenging or otherwise protesting that reality. Within hours of her victory I posted a blog acknowledging her win, noting its historic importance, celebrating the increased diversity on the board and wishing her Godspeed. I stand by all that.

So this is not about who won, the destination. It is about the route, how we got there.

And let's be perfectly clear: I am not starting this conversation in the wake of my loss. This is not about being some sort of "sore loser". It is about being a sorely abused candidate.

My objections began two months ago on September 14th with my blog entry Fresh Lies served on a Bed of Tossed Data: The Politics of Desperation.

Then I attended the Tiger Bay luncheon on September 18th and stepped up to the microphone to ask if the leaders of both parties if they had any standards of behavior they expected of their candidates. Not so much, it turned out.

That was followed on October 4 with the blog Mason campaign: Off Track and in the Mud?

Then it was off to USF on October 8th to hear Stephen Carter speak about Civility in Politics and Society. Again I went to the microphone to as what rules of thumb should be employed in determining when appropriate negative campaigning lapses into inappropriate dirty campaigning. If I understood Dr. Carter's answer, he recommended imagining what my mother would think and considering if it served to erode the political process. I took his advice.

On October 24th I hit the keyboard again with HELP WANTED: CIVIL ELECTION ENFORCERS.

Which was followed with a supporter's letter Jono Miller Supporter Objects to Negative Ads Against Miller.

So long before the evening of November 4th, I was "on the record" speaking up publicly or writing about inappropriate campaign behavior. I did so no less than seven times before anyone knew the outcome of the election. In addition the publicly accessible blogs, I sent emails to the Civic League and some of the Republican supporters of Carolyn expressing my concerns PRIOR to the election. 

So for me this is not a week-old story but a two month-old story.


As far as I am concerned the election is settled. The behaviors of the candidate, local Republican leadership and Civic League prior to the election are not. So I'm not challenging the outcome but perhaps figuratively (and in some cases literally) what one might call the income of the election.

I appreciate the intent of Rick Barry's article. It dealt with a topic at least one writer at the Sarasota Herald Tribune was unwilling to pursue. Not really newsworthy, I guess. 

And while I think Rick's characterization of Carolyn was a little harsh (and I fear the editorial may have inappropriately resorted to journalistic paralipsis, if not proslepsis) I believe he raised several issues that must be aired and resolved. 

Our civic process here in Sarasota has sustained a grievous wound. It has been there awhile and after each election, we wrap it with a another layer of reassuringly sterile gauze while the underlying infection festers. Eventually, two or four years later, the putrescence seeps through and we add another layer, telling ourselves that this time we are on the road to recovery. But down deep we know that's not true. We need to unwrap this thing, expose it to the light of day, remove the necrosis and do what is necessary to really promote healing. If we don't we will lose the limb, if not the body politic.

The Pelican Press has taken the lead in exploring these issues. It remains to be seen if anyone else thinks this topic is worth the ink. I can assure you that there is more out there that is not merely newsworthy, but crucial to establishing both civility and a working two party system in Sarasota.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Unconditional Surrender

If art is supposed to get people thinking and feeling, then we are extremely fortunate to have J. Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture based on Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous photograph of nurse Edith Shain (or Greta Friedman or Barbara Sokol) being kissed on VJ day. It’s a great match for Sarasota, because unlike some of Seward Johnson’s works this piece speaks directly to the many veterans and citizens here that remember the end of that war. Personally, I’m very grateful that the allies prevailed over the axis powers, and not simply because it enabled the man who was to become my father to return alive to the states. 

It is interesting to compare the memorable iconic image of the Second World War with the Vietnam War. They were, for the most part, posed, if not outright staged: the Betty Grable’s pinup shot, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at Malta; MacArthur wading ashore at Leyte, and raising the flag on Iwo Jima. 

The two most memorable images from Vietnam were snapshots: Nine year old Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked down a road and South Vietnam’s national police chief executing a Viet Cong in the middle of a street. We’re not likely to see any giant sculptures of that sort. 

So we are blessed that the photo was taken of the kiss, yet saddened to realize that there is probably no comparable statuesque moment marking the end Vietnam conflict (perhaps cutting down the tamarind tree at the Saigon embassy so helicopters could evacuate?) nor, as President Bush observed when commemorating the 60th anniversary of VJ day: There will be no “VJ day” in the war on Terror. 

Although I was not born when the photo was taken, it has intersected with my life in two ways. 

First, VJ Day (August 14th in the US) was my father’s birthday. So every year we were celebrating both my father’s birthday and VJ day. 

Secondly, when I would vacation with my parents as young teen on Martha's Vineyard, an old man with a heavy accent would show slides of his photographs some evenings. I wasn't too interested until I learned he had taken photos of Sophia Loren. I recognized the Life magazine covers he had shot of her. It turned out he was one of the world's best photographers, a man known at the Menemsha Inn only as "Eisie”. It was Alfred Eisenstadt -- the guy who took the photograph of the sailor impulsively (opportunistically?) kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ day. The photo the oversized bayfront sculpture is based on. And while Eisenstadt’s shot four exposures of “VJ Day” it was not posed or staged. 

I’m happy to let others decide whether it should be a temporary or permanent addition to the Sarasota, but I have three observations to share about the piece.

First, while I like the vista of it coming down 41, I wish it was set apart more with less background clutter.

Second, while I like the giant scale, the shift in point of view is very unfortunate. If you look at the original photo or Seward’s life-sized recreation (shown in Times Square), we are focused on the kiss itself – the heads of the participants. With the giant version, the closer we get, the less the kiss is visible and we’re basically left looking up the nurse’s skirt. That’s not the point of the piece. If it is, we should opt for Marilyn Monroe on the subway grating instead. Ideally I think we would look across at if from some height to reestablish the original point of view, although it is hard to think of a place in Sarasota where that might work.

Finally, while I love the photo and like the sculpture, I hate the title. For those whose don’t get the connection to Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War, the sculpture must seem to be about the nurse’s unconditional surrender. No doubt Johnson intended the play on words. But it seems to me that misses the point – her “surrender” to a kiss from a stranger was completely conditional – it would not have happened on August 13 or August 15. The kiss was conditioned by the euphoria of the end of the war. For me, Seward’s title coverts exuberance into submission.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Recycle Those Campaign Yard Signs!

Yes, those political campaign yard and highway signs can be recycled. I'm talking about those "corrugated" (actually twinwall) plastic signs. They are #5 polypropylene. Take them to the Recycled Plastic Man in Englewood at 530 Paul Morris Dr. (off South River Road). They are open from 7-4 on weekdays. For more on this this topic, see my earlier blog About those plastic campaign signs. . . recyclable? resusable?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Happened? How Jono Miller Ran What Looked Like a Winning Campaign and Lost an Election

A few weeks out, by many measures, my campaign seemed to be ahead -- whether measured by number of donors, newspaper endorsements, contributions, bi-partisan support, county and regional knowledge, internet presence, forum performance, years of community service, etc. But while the local press obsessed on how much money had come into my campaign in modest amounts of $200 and less, it now appears Republican partisans were quietly assembling a war chest of big donations to defeat me, an amount that may have totaled over $100,000. If confirmed, this means that despite my record-breaking fundraising effort, Carolyn's team actually outspent me. 

I'm told the money was not routed through Carolyn Mason's campaign account, but took a more circuitous route that allows the supporters of three candidates to pool advertising resources outside their respective campaign accounts. It is believed that most, if not all, of the money was diverted to support Carolyn Mason, and not the other two members, Marie Nisco and Donna Clarke. The result was a surge of television and radio ads that continually bathed the electorate during the last couple of weeks of the campaign. The ads ran from positive personal narratives to negative attack ads that, according to definitions provided by the Civic League of Sarasota, appear to be dishonest, irresponsible and disrespectful. This is the twin-pronged strategy that drove up both Carolyn's positives and my negatives. Outspent by five or six to one on media, I faced an onslaught that running a clean campaign based on direct mail, signage and personal appearances could not surmount. So I lost.

As far as I can tell, this is the first time a candidate employing negative attack ads has been elected to the Sarasota County Commission. In my opinion, the successful intrusion at the county level of dirty attack-style ads we usually associate with state and national level contests does not bode well for our community.

If you have additional information about the details of this story, please contact me at jonocampaign@gmail.com.

Jono Miller Reflects on Carolyn Mason's Victory

Carolyn Mason's election is a historic first for our county, one for which we may all feel proud. In fact, had Carolyn Mason announced she was running for the District 1 seat last November, I'm not sure I would have filed to run against her -- not because I didn't believe I would have been a superior commissioner, but because I believe our County would be well served with a more diverse commission.  But that's not how things happened -- Carolyn chose to run against me and a few hours ago she won.

I don't think this is the place to explore how I lost, but I am willing to summarize how I think she won. Carolyn is warm and approachable, an experienced campaigner, and she started with 12% advantage in terms of party registration. Add to that her former Mayor name recognition and top of the list ballot placement. It is not widely known, but she hired a very skilled Republican strategist (yet another JM) and was very careful where and how and when she presented herself. She employed an intriguing advertising strategy, a mix of positive personal narrative and negative attack ads, which I suggest elsewhere were dishonest, irresponsible and disrespectful. And while her campaign fundraising was a fraction of mine, large sums of money were spent on her behalf. That's a difficult hand to beat. 

As for me, I had several goals when I filed 300 days ago. Winning, of course was the ultimate goal, but along the way I resolved to:
1) Make sure all voters had a choice in the general election,
2) demonstrate that a Democrat could be competitive in terms of fundraising, endorsements and bi-partisan support,
3) communicate to the public through blogging, and
4) run a clean campaign.

In retrospect, I hit four out of five goals -- I just didn't happen to win.

While I've grown close with most of my 18 fellow Democratic candidates it is probably no surprise that I feel closest to my fellow New College candidates, Keith Fitzgerald, Adam Tebrugge and Ryan Stanley. I sense we all share that desire to win, a desire that is tempered by principle and that principle is that there are more important things than winning. 

On several occasions I was approached with information or strategies to use that I felt were contrary to the pledge I signed for the Civic League. I just couldn't go there. The lyric from Loggins & Messina's Golden Ribbons seemed to sum it up: "What does it avail a man, to gain a fortune and lose his soul?"

In thirty years and, in particular, the last 300 days I have gained some insight into the magnitude of the job of county commissioner. Godspeed Carolyn.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jono Miller reflects on his 300 day campaign

After 2,505 petition forms, 80 blog entries, more than 1,000 contributions, and a half year's foregone salary; my 300 day foray into the world of candidates and campaigns has come to a close. For once, I can type the often-trite saying "Today is the first day of the rest of my life" without fear of contradiction or overstatement. Unless there is a serious malfunction, less than 22 hours from now I'll know if I am about to become a county commissioner or about to create yet another job here in Sarasota County (yes, I do that occasionally). 

At this point I'm aware of many of the mistakes I've made as a candidate and still disappointed that at least one of my opponents sought the low road. That, I believe, is a road that is easy to drive, but ultimately lonely. As for me, I've done what I could to run a clean, respectful campaign and overall this has been a very positive, affirming experience replete with new friendships, allies and insights about Sarasota County. And, whatever the outcome, I will fall asleep sometime before the morning of the fifth knowing that when it comes to life's roads; I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Jono Miller Supporter Objects to Negative Ads Against Miller

The following was submitted as a possible letter to the Editor by a Jono Miller supporter. It is titled: WITH NEGATIVE POLITICAL PAC ADS, IT IS ANY WONDER THAT SOMEONE OF JONO MILLER'S TALENT RARELY RUNS FOR OFFICE?

As a small business owner and active member of a local community civic association in Sarasota County, I feel compelled to speak out regarding the type of negative, misleading, and mean-spirited PAC ad that is being aired about Jono Miller who is running for Sarasota County Commissioner, District 1.

I have known and worked with Jono on various Sarasota County community issues over the past 20 years and believe that he would be mentioned a list of those that have contributed to the legacy and enviable quality of life that we all enjoy in Sarasota County. From his tireless work in protecting our most valuable natural resources as chairman of Sarasotas Environmental Sensitive Lands Protection Program to addressing important economic and social issues through his leadership with Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence (SCOPE), Jono has consistently demonstrated a rare talent in being able to understand diverse perspectives and find common ground solutions. This talent is often missing but is desperately needed in our political deliberations. We are blessed that someone of Jono's character, talent, and proven commitment is willing to consider serving in public office.  

The truth is that because of his proven track record in finding common ground solutions, Jono has broad support among both local business and civic leaders in Sarasota County. And throughout his campaign he has consistently stated that his top priorities will include promoting local businesses, keeping talent here, and diversifying our economy. All are essential for our economy and enviable quality of life to be sustainable and thrive in the 21st century.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Carolyn Mason: Dishonest? Irresponsible? Disrespectful? You Decide.

Like me, County Commission candidate Carolyn Mason was deemed to "exceed qualifications" by the Sarasota County Civic League and, like me, she signed a League pledge to avoid negative advertisements, a term that has actually been defined by the Civic League (see below). I turned the other cheek when Carolyn sent her first mailer that was dishonest, in part because I believe she mailed it before signing the pledge. But now, after signing the pledge, she is running a TV spot that is simultaneously dishonest*, irresponsible*, and disrespectful* and has sent out another mailer laden with dishonest distortions and half truths.  

If you've seen the TV spot you know it makes three assertions about me. I have neither a script nor a transcript, but if someone will produce a copy of the ad, I will gladly debate the veracity of each statement. My contention is Carolyn's claims are lies, distortions or half-truths, or, as the League would say: dishonest.

This is where it would help to have objective civic body to investigate the veracity of such claims. But the Civic League is apparently unwilling to enforce or adjudicate the the terms of pledge, and no other civic organization seems to want to step up. So it is left to people like myself to question behavior like this: What kind of person signs a pledge and then violates it?

But this is not merely an ad consisting of what I take to be dishonest assertions.  It features a corpulent man in a tutu dancing below my name. It is not clear if the man is meant to represent me or not, but putting someone's name on the screen along with an image of a person is a traditional technique for identifying someone.

At the risk of losing the corpulent, cross-dressing danseur vote, I get the sense that I am not being treated as a worthy citizen and individual -- meeting the League's definition of disrespectful. And I think it is pretty clear the ad degrades the tenor of public discourse and heightens cynicism about the electoral process. That, according to the League, makes it irresponsible.

I have already blogged about the "politics of desperation" but this is a new low.

I've worked for three decades to establish my reputation here in Sarasota County. Now a woman I assumed to be honorable is deliberately misrepresenting my views and actions for crass political advantage. That behavior that is hard for me to respect.

My moral compass prevents me from responding in kind. My final week TV ads are all positive and don't mention my opponents. I didn't even contemplate scripting or shoot any attack ads. Of my five mailers, only a portion of one could be considered negative and that contains independently-verifiable statements based on my opponents record as an elected official, which virtually everyone has told me is fair game. 

If one has to be dishonest, irresponsible and disrespectful to win an election around here then I fear for our community and society. 


The following definitions are used by the Civic League to characterize various forms of political advertising.

*dishonest if they base their messages on lies or subtle deceptions and half truths

*irresponsible if they degrade the tenor of public discourse and heighten cynicism about the electoral process

*disrespectful if they refuse to treat the opposing candidate as a worthy citizen and individual

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Venice Gondolier Sun Endorses Jono Miller

October 26 • A sixth county newspaper, the Venice Gondolier Sun, has weighed in, and like its sister publications, the Englewood Sun Herald and North Port Sun, it is endorsing Jono Miller. Those papers join the Pelican Press and Sarasota Herald Tribune in endorsing Miller. The Sarasota Observer found Miller to be the "most ready and most qualified", but went on to endorse John Mullarkey. Text of the Gondolier appears below.


Jono Miller for Sarasota County Commission

Ashort time ago, we gently jabbed the candidates for the District 1 seat on the Sarasota County Commission for what we saw to be their shortcomings on South County issues.

The editorial came after a South County homeowners’ forum, when some in the audience told us they were underimpressed by North County candidates’ answers.

The following day we got a call from one candidate, Jono Miller, objecting. He had a firm grasp of southern issues, he said, and sent us a long, detailed column to prove it.

We were impressed. First, Miller obviously did know his stuff. Second, he really cared that we knew it. (After his column ran, Republican candidate Carolyn Mason submitted one that we printed Friday.)

We are recommending Miller for the commission seat because of his command of the issues affecting all of Sarasota County, including those specific to the southern portion, as well as his common sense, his thoughtful approach to questions and his ability to articulate positions.

Miller, a Democrat, is facing Mason and independent John Mullarkey in the race for the North County seat being vacated by Commissioner Paul Mercier.

Mullarkey has business experience, but none in elective office.

Mason is an excellent candidate who has served on the Sarasota City Commission, including a rotating stint as mayor. She works for Habitat for Humanity and the Salvation Army. She has a strong background and a good understanding of county politics and issues.

Miller has been involved with county environmental preservation for three decades. He has been director of the environmental studies program at New College in Sarasota until going on leave when he officially launched his campaign. Miller conducted an environmental assessment of the Myakka State Forest many years ago when the state bought the property, so he is familiar with the area.

“I feel like I have a relationship with North Port,” he said.

Asked for an analysis of the reasons for lingering bad blood between North Port and the county, Miller thought it could be traced to General Development Corp.’s original design of the sprawling community and the threat its growth may pose to the city of Sarasota.

“It’s not the fault of residents and the city of North Port that they were dealt a dirty hand,” he told us. He felt that fresh faces on the city and county commissions could help forge a new, positive relationship.

Miller also said it was likely that a new jail would need to be built in the county, and that North Port could be a good place for it, especially since it might become a major employer.

While this would be his first elective office, Miller has had extensive service on a variety of county boards. He’s been on on the board of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Program, chair of the oversight committee on voting systems, and the county Parks Advisory and Recreation Council.

Miller has a good grasp of details on a variety of subjects. More than that, though, we were impressed with his thoughtful approach and what seemed to be a natural drift toward balance on the issues. He will be a positive addition.

We recommend Jono Miller for the District 1 seat on the Sarasota County Commission.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What Five Sarasota County Newspaper Editorials are Saying About County Commission Candidate Jono Miller

While thousands of Sarasotans have already voted, some local newspapers have not yet endorsed in the remaining Sarasota County Commission contest. Of the five that have endorsed, four and a half* find Jono Miller to be the most qualified.

* The Sarasota Observer found Jono to be the "most ready and qualified for the position" and then endorsed John Mullarkey. Jono will settle for most qualified.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

. . . he has repeatedly been willing to work on citizen committees with representatives of broad interests, including developers and business owners.

. . . his campaign has attracted the support of many Republicans, in addition to Democrats and independents, as well as a wide ranges of land-use planners, business leaders and community activists.

. . . Miller’s wide-ranging knowledge and experiences, his well-organized campaign and his voice of reason on contentious issues give him the edge. We recommend Jono Miller for Sarasota County Commission, District 1.

North Port Sun

We were impressed. First, Miller obviously did know his stuff. Second, he really cared that we knew it.

We are recommending Miller for the commission seat because of his command of the issues affecting all of Sarasota County, including those specific to the southern portion, as well as his common sense, his thoughtful approach to questions and his ability to articulate positions.

Sarasota Observer

. . .Miller is the candidate most ready and qualified for the position. He has an expert grasp of the issues . . .

. . . Miller gets it: He understands that the top challenge for Sarasota County is creating an environment that will lead to job and business growth.

Pelican Press

We are fortunate that one of the candidates in this race not only meets but exceeds these requirements – Jono Miller.

His campaign finances show healthy contributions from the development community. For a well-known environmentalist to receive such contributions is a refreshing change, and an example of Miller’s ability to create consensus.

We believe Jono Miller is uniquely qualified in these uncertain times to provide a steady hand at the county commission. Despite his assigning Midnight Pass a low priority, we endorse Miller for the District One seat on the Sarasota County Commission.

Englewood Sun

Miller has a good grasp of details on a variety of subjects. More than that, though, we were impressed with his thoughtful approach and what seemed to be a natural drift toward balance on the issues. He will be a positive addition.

The Sun recommends Jono Miller for the District 1 seat on the Sarasota County Commission.

Jono Miller Endorsed by Englewood Sun

Jono Miller picked up his fourth major newspaper endorsement when the Englewood Sun endorsed his candidacy. (The others are the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Pelican Press, and North Port Sun). Here's part of what  the Englewood Sun said: We were impressed. First, Miller obviously did know his stuff. Second, he really cared that we knew it. We are recommending Miller for the commission seat because of his command of the issues affecting all of Sarasota County, including those specific to the southern portion, as well as his common sense, his thoughtful approach to questions and his ability to articulate positions.

Friday, October 24, 2008


HELP WANTED:  CIVIL ELECTION ENFORCERS Part time. No pay, intangible rewards. Some heavy lifting. Must possess backbone, gonads or other body parts that covert well-meaning intention to action. Some experience preferred. Sarasota County is looking for dedicated citizens willing to stop the degrading and deceitful campaigning that is eroding civil government, compromising public faith in elections and elected leaders, and discouraging well-meaning citizens from considering politics. 

I haven't had it bad, so far. But the ungrounded, unfounded attack ads of others that I see on TV and some mailers are so pernicious that it is past time for citizens who care about local government to stop relying on civility workshops, pledges, forums, and speeches and step up. Sarasota deserves better. Fact is, our local lectures and high-minded campaigns about civility and civil discourse are meaningless if no one objects when bad behavior appears. And the silence has been deafening. We can do better.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

North Port Sun Endorses Jono Miller

Long-awaited endorsements from South Sarasota County are coming in and the North Port Sun has endorsed Jono Miller, a north county resident who has been visiting (and learning about) North Port since the early 80's. Miller's broad knowledge of the entire county seems to be reflected in the editorial endorsement. This is Miller's third local newspaper endorsement.

Excerpts from the Endorsement:

We were impressed. First, Miller obviously did know his stuff. Second, he really cared that we knew it.

We are recommending Miller for the commission seat because of his command of the issues affecting all of Sarasota County, including those specific to the southern portion, as well as his common sense, his thoughtful approach to questions and his ability to articulate positions.

I feel like I have a relationship with North Port,” he said.
Asked for an analysis of the reasons for lingering bad blood between North Port and the county, Miller thought it could be traced to General Development Corp.’s original design of the sprawling community and the threat its growth may pose to Sarasota City.
“It’s not the fault of residents and the city of North Port that they were dealt a dirty hand,” he told us. He felt fresh faces on the city and county commissions could help forge a new, positive relationship.

Miller has a good grasp of details on a variety of subjects. More than that, though, we were impressed with his thoughtful approach and what seemed to be a natural drift toward balance on the issues. He will be a positive addition.

The Sun recommends Jono Miller for the District 1 seat on the Sarasota County Commission.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Eight Former Sarasota Mayors Endorse Jono Miller for the County Commission

October 23 • Three mayors were missing when five former City Of Sarasota mayors gathered on the Sarasota bayfront recently for an unprecedented photo. The eight mayors are all endorsing Jono Miller, candidate for Sarasota County Commission from District One. Mayors at the gathering included Mollie Cardamone, William Kline, Richard Martin, David Merrill, and Rita Roehr. Mayors Fredd Atkins, Mary Anne Servian, and Jack Gurney didn't make the impromptu reunion. The eight city leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, represent a surprising show of political unity that boosts Miller's claims that he not only knows the county better than his opponents, but also has significant city credentials. Their bipartisan show of support adds to his growing list of organizational and personal endorsements.

"Jono is very knowledgeable of the county issues and needs. He has the experience and leadership to make some much needed positive change for Sarasota County," Former Democratic mayor Mollie Cardamone commented. Former Republican mayor Rita Roehr added, "Jono has only the best interest of Sarasota County in mind."

Miller said the numerous endorsements were the result of his work with city leaders over more than three decades: "My opponent kept emphasizing the valuable insight and experience that comes from being mayor, so I decided to call some of the former mayors I had worked with. I asked 13. One said she was already committed to my opponent, four said they would be neutral, and eight said they would endorse me."

"I am deeply honored because not only do these mayors know the city and its relationship to the county commission, but they also know my opponent and myself. They are therefore uniquely qualified to offer opinions about what kind of county leadership are needed and their overwhelming support for my candidacy speaks for itself."

Miller's Republican opponent, Carolyn Mason, lists just one former mayor on her website, Republican Lou Ann Palmer.

After the photo shoot the bipartisan group headed to a local restaurant to reminisce about the city and discuss the challenges Jono will face on the commission.

Although Miller once lived outside the city in the unincorporated county for twelve years, his record of service to the city stretches back to 1977 when he was appointed to the City's Parks and Recreation Board at age 26. For the past 16 years, Miller has been at the center of the county's environmentally sensitive lands program, which has protected nearly 45 square miles of local shorelines, hammocks, and prairies. Despite receiving the County's Lifetime Achievement award for his conservation work, Miller says his perspective has broadened in recent years.

"The metaphor is I no longer color with just the green crayons. I'm deeply committed not only to the wild areas of the county, but the cities as well – if the cities aren't working, people will leave, creating decay and sprawl."

The restaurant conversation included not only national topics that ranged from Wall Street to Wasilla, but also the difficult local economic situation the new commission will face in November. Miller conceded the commission will have to deal with tough choices, but said he is ready to focus on steps to re-energize the local economy.

"The county, SCOPE and the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce have all recently announced major efforts to understand and support the local economy and I'm committed to all three. I think our goal needs to be to make Sarasota County simultaneously known for its environment-friendly businesses and its business-friendly environment."

In addition to his environmental leadership, Jono has volunteered his time and talent by serving in leadership positions on numerous boards and committees geared to improving the community. Jono has served as president of the New College Alumnae Association Board, on SCOPE (where he served a term as chairman and was co-chair of the project on Aging), on the board of his neighborhood association, on the Booker Elementary School's Student-Parent Management Team, and was recruited by the county commission to serve on the Sarasota County Citizen Oversight Committee on Voting Systems, which he ended up chairing.