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

Saturday, May 31, 2008

After Two Weeks Jono Miller Secures an Opponent in Sarasota County Commission District One Contest

One of the cornerstones of my campaign has been my conviction that ALL Sarasota voters deserve a choice when it comes to electing their county commissioners. Furthermore, I believe that choice should be in a general election (not a lower-turnout  primary) and the choice should be 'real' -- that is not an incumbent versus someone with no real chance. 

Unfortunately our present county commission does not meet those three criteria. Three of our commissioners were unopposed the last time they ran, one had token (write-in) opposition and the one that was elected in the most competitive race (where Democrats and no party affiliation and other party affiliation actually got to vote) was a three way contest in a primary. 

This reality (the lack of truly competitive races) is not a swipe at our current commissioners -- after all, they stepped up and volunteered to run. If anything it is a criticism of those Democrats who failed to mount a challenge. I do want to honor and recognize the Democrats who have stepped up, most recently Jennifer Cohen, Fredd Atkins, Bill Bishop and Tom Price. They deserve credit for working to re-establish a two party system around here. And all Sarasota Democrats should be inspired by Bill Carey, the most recent Democrat to serve on the Sarasota County Commission (1966-1970). His service motivates me every day.

When Paul Mercier decided not to pursue re-election anymore, it apparently set off a concerted effort to find a Republican to challenge me. Meanwhile my campaign has been reworking itself to compete against one or more unknown contenders. And with each passing day there was an increasing chance no one could be found, in part because of the steep financial hurdles posed by our County Charter. [More on this in a subsequent blog.]

Bottom line: In order to deliver on my promise of a real choice someone had to challenge me. As a result, the last two weeks with no Republican opponent have been somewhere between ironic and embarrassing. Finally, last night Sarasota Herald Tribune political reporter Jeremy Wallace broke the story that the Republicans have identified a candidate

While it means more work for me, it gets us all closer to having a real two party system and real choices for our county commission. Had I been seated with no opposition I would have been saddled with four years of "Who elected you?" -- and that would have been a fair question.

I welcome my new opponent, Carolyn Mason, and look forward to a principled contest based on the challenges and opportunities facing our county. 

Now we both wait to see if any more contenders step forward. We'll know in three weeks when qualifying ends.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Get On Board: Sarasota County's Decision Making Simulation

I spent three hours in Venice this afternoon participating in a simulation called "Get on Board" -- a play on words meant to suggest both participation (getting on board) and insight into the realities of what it might be like to be a  County Commissioner -- getting on the board. 

The simulation was run by Collaborative Labs from St. Petersburg College and they had a fairly well-oiled operation designed to enable citizen teams to grapple with simplified versions of decisions real boards might face. 

My team (#14) consisted of myself, Caroline, Virginia, John, Shelley, and Rosemary. During introductions I was pleasantly surprised to learn many of us treasured canoeing or kayaking on the Myakka. 

We sat around a circular table that was nearly covered with an unrolled game board depicting Serene County. Then we were asked to read a series of scenarios and chose among alternatives. Through three scenarios, my choice only became the group choice once, but I was gratified by my results in an earlier portion of the program when we were asked to identify citizen priorities  for Sarasota County. 

In that early segment, there were seven "service areas" or categories and we were asked (as individuals) to identify the top three priorities. Then we each voted using 'clickers' and quickly saw the aggregate result. I made choices not based on what I thought others might choose, but on what I thought they should be. If my picks were identical to the assembled groups then I would have scored 21/21. As it turned out, I ended up at 19/21, suggesting my priorities were very congruent with those of the citizens present. 

At any rate, each of our choices brought with it financial implications and changed our scores on three scales: courage, collaboration, and communication. 

Near the end of the afternoon we were asked to identify some things citizens could do in each of those three arenas. In terms of citizen courage we started with ideas that focused on citizens speaking up and getting involved. By the end we added that it takes courage to look beyond narrow interests to recognize and consider the interests of a broader community.

And that ability, to get beyond "what's in it for me?" to "how will this affect the larger community?" is probably one of the intended outcomes of the afternoon. 

I'm glad I went, but I was hoping for material that was more Sarasota specific. I began imagining an online game/process that citizens could be involved in. Rather than than ambitiously trying to hit all the 'service areas' it might work to have a specific case history to tackle. 

This week's hot topic, Paid Beach Parking, came to mind. I could see different groups being given different starting conditions in terms of budget shortfalls, beach needs, parking fees, and the number of objecting emails. By varying parameters, we could collectively explore where everyone 'draws the line' -- switching positions from for to against or vice versa. 

That might really simulate what it is like to be a County Commissioner. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Neighborhood Parkland Program: Saving Sarasota's Special Places

I believe one of the antidotes to the rapid change that leaves many of us disoriented and feeling as though we don't recognize our own communities is working deliberately to retain those distinctive special places we have in Sarasota County. For some, these places are links back to the county they grew up in. For newer residents they provide a connection to the past. And in some cases they simply affirm and support what makes Sarasota different from other places nearby.

I don't claim to be the father of the Neighborhood Parkland program, but I do feel comfortable claiming midwife status. I was involved in many of the early discussions regarding the need for and strategy to create such a program. So it was very gratifying yesterday when the County PARC (Parks Advisory and Recreation Council) voted to move forward with seven neighborhood parkland sites.[We considered 25.]

The county is still several steps away from acquiring or otherwise protecting these places -- work plans need to be drafted, approved by PARC, taken to the County Commission and then, if approved, followed by appraisals and negotiations (that may or may not be successful; this is a willing seller program). 

But I am excited about these seven and their potential to save special aspects of our County.

 Here's a capsule description of each:

Vann Farm: 10 acres. This is a ten acre site on South Macintosh that has long been a site for 4H livestock and horticulture projects. It is a unique facility that allows kids to connect with the County's rural heritage.

Oneil: 40 acres. This parcel is out at the east end of Fruitville Road. The owners cleared the understory but left most of the trees. It is contiguous with a much larger Environmentally Sensitive Lands site and PARC envisioned part of the site being joined with that larger parcel and being restored, while a smaller fraction, probably closer to the road would be more open and parklike. 

Osprey Rowing Club Site: .82 acre. Sarasota has established itself as a major force in competitive rowing. Our narrow bays minimize fetch, which means good rowing conditions. This site is south of the Spanish Point Marina and Restaurant. PARC members were exited about the potential for other uses (in addition to rowing) and a possible collaboration with other rowing programs.

Venice Campground. 24 acres. One of only two campgrounds on the Myakka, this site contains nearly a quarter mile of river front and an RV campground. It is adjacent to Snook Haven and close to several other public lands (Jelks Preserve and South Sleeping Turtles). This operation can provide a Myakka-based recreational experience to thousands in the course of a year. The alternative is probably to see it sold and redeveloped as private homesites. 

We also included the top three sites identified by the City of Sarasota. PARC is trying to follow the lead of the cities so we don't end up inadvertently missing a high priority of theirs while we pursue a lower priority.

Whitaker Bayou Greenway Park 4.1 Acres This site consists of eight parcels along Whitaker Bayou. Acquiring them would create a unique, more natural park, to complement Martin Luther King Jr. park to the south. the City has earmarked future dollars to develop the site. Unfortunately, there is some indication that the owner is not interested in selling at this time.  Staff will develop a work plan so the County can be ready if the situation changes.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens About 10 acres. One of Florida's oldest tourist attractions (opened in 1939) the Jungle Gardens is one of a few that have persisted post-Disney. Former Sarasota attractions that have closed include Circus Hall of Fame, Glass Blowers, Floridaland, Texas Jim's Reptile Farm, and Sunshine Springs and Gardens. This is a chance to save part of Florida's cultural history and state funding is being sought. 

Shady Hammock Park 16.8 acres North of Fruitville and east of Cardinal Mooney and south of Bobby Jones Golf Course. This a relatively large undeveloped site inside the City. 

All seven of these sites total about 106 acres, about 1/6 of a square mile or roughly 1/3500 of the county. Not much of the total, but some truly unique opportunities.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Thoughts on Memorial Day: A Father's Gift of Innocence and the Responsibility of Knowledge

My family tree is fairly skinny -- not a lot of cousins and uncles -- so when I was growing up the only relative that I knew about that had died in military service was Henry Tillinghast, a confederate soldier that died October 9th 1861 in the Battle of Santa Rosa Island. My great grandmother was born shortly afterward and named in his honor: Henry Corley. 

My father served in the Second World War, and was assigned to the 814th Military Police Company. He told me many stories from those years,  mostly spent in the Pacific Theatre (Australia and New Guinea) and they were engaging tales that fascinated me as a young boy. I was proud that one of his assignments had been to guard General MacArthur's family while they stayed in the Lennon's Hotel in Brisbane. And I enjoyed knowing that he and his compatriots would take advantage of the fact that MacArthur would leave his shoes in the hall to be polished. They would take their shoes off and slip into the General's so that they could later tell their buddies they "knew what it was like to be in MacArthur's shoes."

The point is that in all the stories there was no hint of the losses, cost, or fog of war. I don't know if any of the men he served with died, but if they had my father would not have shared that with me. In the post-war 50's and 60's he had given me a gift of innocence, to be able to grow up in a country that had won the war against the Axis without knowing the incredible cost. 

As I matured the cost, on both sides, gradually became clearer and the responsibility of knowledge arrived. And the older I get, the less Memorial Day is about car races and sales events and more about the sacrifice of others. 

Last year was a new pinnacle of awareness for me as I contemplated a photograph taken by John Moore of a woman named Mary McHugh at Arlington National Cemetery. It represents, as well as any single image can, both the sacrifice and loss. It shows Mary mourning on the grave of her fiance, Sgt. James. J. Regan, who was killed in Iraq in February of 2007. Click on these links for more on Army Ranger Regan and the photograph.

I hope all blog readers will incorporate remembrance and respect in their Memorial Day plans.