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

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Clueless in South County?

A recent Venice Gondolier editorial suggested all three District 1 County Commission candidates (Jono Miller, Carolyn Mason, and John Mullarkey) were all equally clueless about South County. Unfortunately, it is hard for me to believe that the writer of the editorial was actually at the Southwest County Alliance candidate’s forum held at Boca Royale. Here is my response:

Yes, I marched in the North Port Fourth of July Parade and the Englewood Pioneer Days Parade. When I asked where the Englewood Parade would end and was told Englewood Elementary  I must have looked clueless, so the person helping me said: " So you want to run for the County Commission, but you don't know where the elementary school is?

I flashed him a "give me a break" look and said: "I'm not running for the dang School Board!" So maybe not knowing Englewood Elementary marks me as a hopeless south county wannabe. (At least I made the scene.) And, I’ll admit, I didn’t have a ready answer about the 776 Corridor Plan when asked about it at the Southwest County Alliance candidates forum. I chose to confess my ignorance instead of winging it.

But the fact is I have a long, rich history with south county, the Cape Haze Peninsula, Charlotte Harbor and North Port. And I suspect I am the only one of us District One candidates that can say that.

I first cruised down 776 as a teenager in the fall of 1970. I was part of a New College Environmental Biology class headed to Placida to paddle out to Devilfish Key. Since then I have paddled through all of Lemon Bay, and from Snook Haven to Sanibel (and from Ft. Meade to Chockoloskee). I’ve walked the beaches from the Charlotte County line north to Tampa Bay. Those early Charlotte Harbor forays led to my serving on the Charlotte Harbor Task Force and compiling a review of what was known about flows in the Peace River. My knowledge doesn’t stop at the County Line. I know Cape Haze, Bull Bay, Boggess Hole, and, of course, Devilfish Key.

I’ve been more than an engaged explorer of South County and Cape Haze. With my wife, Julie Morris, and Jean Huffman I undertook a major study of the habitats of North Port back in 1983. [The changing landscape of North Port, Florida as related to wildlife habitat and burning] That is one of the few documents that characterize the history of North Port before Mackles and GDC. Julie and I also worked on a major assessment of Gasparilla Island for the Conservation Foundation [Preserving the Heritage of Gasparilla Island, 1978, John Clark].

Map we produced of the Vegetation of North Port in 1948

But I’ve done more than study south county. I provided more than 15 years of leadership that led to the purchase of Manasota Scrub Preserve. That program went on to protect many key parcels along the Myakka. We should all be proud that it is now theoretically possible to park on the east side of the Myakka on 41 and walk 15 miles due north never leaving public property. I was also involved in protecting what was called the France Property – now Lemon Bay Park. Then I helped conceive and find funding for the County’s Neighborhood Parkland Program. I currently serve on the County’s Parks Advisory and Recreation Council that (successfully) recommended purchases on the waterfront in Englewood and is currently searching for non-motorized water access for the public along the Myakka at US 41. I also serve on a county group that is trying to protect scrub jays and I am arguing for approaches that do not unfairly penalize lot owners who happen to have scrub jay habitat.

I didn’t mention that I married my wife, Julie, at the Eagle Point Club in Venice or that my in-laws lived in Bird Bay Village for a while or the Curry Creek Preserve or working to keep a spring-training facility off the banks of the Myakka. But the fact is, for a guy who can walk to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport in 25 minutes, I have a long-standing, deep relationship with South County, not merely as a spectator, or researcher, but as someone fighting for the bays, rivers, public lands, etc. I just didn’t feel it was appropriate to BS an answer about 776 Corridor Plan (although I now have a copy here on my desk).

And I can make the same promise Paul Mercier made when he ran from the First District: You’ll be seeing me in South County, engaged on South County issues; and not just when the Commission is meeting there.

I've asked the Sun-Herald papers if I can provide a guest column answering the eleven specific questions raised by the editorial. As of Saturday September 20th, I am awaiting a response.

And instead of asking shibboleth questions to separate South County sheep from North County goats, perhaps South County voters should be asking: What have you done for South County before you started running for office? 

That's one I can answer.

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