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

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Former Governor Bob Graham Urges Better Support for Florida's State University System

Bob Graham was in town Friday, primarily to give the commencement address at New College. And although the local newspaper didn't report on it, he used the occasion to document and decry the decline in Florida's University system, which New College is part of. He painted a picture of slipping support and cited the fact the state university system has (overall) the worst student-faculty ratio in the nation. He pointed out that while New College had experienced minimal cuts so far, many receiving degrees that night would go on to attend graduate school in Florida and would therefore experience the cuts firsthand. He even outlined a campaign for graduates to reverse the trend. The suggestions included having alumns adopt legislators to personally introduce them to the College.

The rest of this blog does not deal with Governor Graham's educational agenda,
but rather it is a reminiscence of my relationship with him over the years.

Governor Graham is a hero of mine because I've followed much of his career and noted how he appears gracious and evenhanded, even when disagreeing with someone. I first met Bob Graham in 1978 when he was running for Governor for the first time. At that point he had already been elected to the Florida House twice and the Florida Senate twice. And although I  subsequently met Governor Graham several times over the years, including visiting him at his house on Anna Maria during his run for the presidency (his only unsuccessful campaign), until this year I never have had more than a few words with him -- and those were frequently comparing notes regarding the journals we both usually have with us.

Sometime in the mid- eighties I presented him with a framed illustration of a Florida panther that I had done. It wasn't good art and it wasn't even killer illustration, but I was illustrating a series of calendars for First Florida Banks and somehow presenting the original art to the Governor was a photo-op. That was in Naples. 

Recently I met him at a book signing in Osprey, where he asked those gathered what could be done to help the State's citizens better understand what the state had at risk in terms of rising sea level. I responded with an idea he seemed to endorse. That was a project to mark selected low-lying urban areas of the state with a colored band indicating what a two meter rise in sea level would look like. The idea was that the band would provide citizens with valuable information about hurricane flood prone areas as well as reminding them about the possible effects on Florida of accelerated sea level rise. We actually tried this with blue masking tape at New College during the spring break. 

Yesterday I had the opportunity to drive Governor Graham from downtown to New College and from a College reception for fellowship winners back to his hotel. During the first run he had to catch up on voice mail and I showed him how 'visual voice mail' on the iPhone would enable him to listen to messages in the order he chose. He was interested (and made a corresponding note in his journal), but wasn't sure he was ready for the technology. We chatted about New College, the quality and contributions of the students and graduates, and I tipped him off not to expect caps and gowns. On the drive back downtown he inquired about my campaign and then suggested a strategy. 

I intend to try it. After all, he is probably the most popular and successful Florida leader of the last half century.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Oil concerns bubble up again

Just when the buzz about oil prices seemed to be settling a little, two days worth of headlines ($200 prediction and $135 reality)  have turned my attention back from who might end up challenging me in the District 1 County Commission race to what it will cost people to drive around Sarasota. 

Our county was laid out, zoned, and generally designed during an era when crude oil was less than $30 a barrel. How our somewhat sprawling county is going to operate when oil may soon cost five (or more) times that amount is a daunting challenge. New York Times writers (second article above) blame supply problems and increased demand in the developing world, but others identify speculation and outrageous profits as contributing factors. 

Key elements in any response will be those approaches that enable citizens to reduce driving, strategies such as transit and affordable housing close to employment (or transit). Reducing the need to drive by placing services closer to residences through mixed use zoning should also be part of the mix. Other strategies include lowering the cost per mile by increasing efficiencies through hybrid technology and producing lighter weight vehicles that remain safe.

The biggest complicating factor right now is the uncertainty regarding whether oil prices will continue to rise or if yet another speculative bubble is about to burst (see poll on right).  Economists, oil executives, citizens, and petroleum analysts such as Arjun N. Murti (profiled in the first article above and graphic based on his work at top of story) seem to to have wildly divergent predictions (see earlier blogs).  

County planners and decision makers now face a difficult choice -- listen to those who believe prices will drop back below $100 by the end of the year or begin serious planning to minimize the negative effects of rapidly increasing fuel costs that threaten to further consume Sarasotan's household budgets.

More later.