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

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jono Truth Squad #3: Gnawing Doubts

Earlier this week I told a group that I had lived in three of the five commission districts. But that statement (which suggests I have broader geographic experience in the County than my opponents) gnawed at me and I wanted to make sure that was the case. Upon further research, I concluded that wasn't true --that the total was only two.

The First District stretches from the shore of Sarasota Bay out east to Manatee County, and many say it is generally north of Fruitville Road and Palmer Boulevard.  I still think of that portion of Fruitville west of the railroad tracks as Third Street. 

When I stopped by the Supervisor of Elections Office today I took time to look at the more detailed maps and realized the First/Second District boundary is far more intricate than usually portrayed. 

During college I lived for awhile in what was known as "the Main Street house" -- probably the last residence on Main, just east of what was Saprito Brothers, a citrus stand, which is now a Michael Saunders office at the corner of Main and Osprey. So, invoking the Fruitville Road rule of thumb I (incorrectly) presumed that the Main Street House was in the Second District, since it was south of Fruitville. 

The map at the Supervisor's office showed that was not so. That indicated I had lied when I told the Civic League I had lived in three of the five commission districts and sent me here to the keyboard to clarify matters and atone.

Then things got more complicated. The First/Second District boundary starts at the Bayfront at 10th Street, heads east on 10th, then drops south down 41 to 4th, heads across 4th to Orange, then south on Orange to Main, and then heads east on Main to the railroad tracks where it jogs back up to Fruitville. 

That means that west of Orange, the boundary is not Third Street but Fourth St. 

After college I lived in two different homes on the north side of Third, homes I had previously assumed were in the First District. 

So my further investigation revealed that the two former residences that I thought were in District One were actually in Two and the Main Street house I thought was in Two was really in One.

So technically, I have lived in three out of five commission districts , due to minor wiggles in the district boundaries. 

The real significance is not so much the numbers game, but the fact that I have lived downtown in our densest (if not most populous) city, in suburban portions of the City of Sarasota (where we are now) and twelve years in the unincorporated county (District 4 near Riverview High School). 

And I do believe that represents broad experience in a variety of settings within the county -- experience that improves my qualifications to be a commissioner. 

Of course, I should have checked the detailed map before running my mouth. Assumptions can be dangerous. 

Here's to gnawing doubts. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Reasons to Vote Against Sarasota's Two Charter Amendments?


The two Sarasota charter amendments have become a hot topic in recent days, with many entities advocating a no vote. 

People have been asking me about my position and, wanting to be responsible about a response, I went looking for the actual ordinance language that will be implemented if the ballot measures pass. It is the ordinance language that will determine how it is implemented, not the brief capsule summary that will appear on the ballot. 

It is not on the sample ballot that I got in the mail. (That's the short ballot summary.)

It is not in the 30 page Primary Elections Voter's Guide produced by the League of Women Voters and funded by the Supervisor of Elections. Curiously, the Voter's Guide does not even acknowledge the existence of the two charter amendments, much less print the ballot summaries.

As of 10:00 a.m. on August 12th, the wording was not available on the Supervisor of Elections website. Based on my phone call inquiry they may add it. THEY DID. 

I don't think the ordinance language has appeared in the newspapers.

And if it was available on the County website I was unable to find it easily. While it is probably available through Board minutes, I think it should be easier to locate. MUCH BETTER NOW, see below.
So, here we are less than two weeks from the election that will decide this matter and all that most of us have to go on is two very brief ballot summaries, government FAQs, and advocacy opinion pieces-- there is no easy way for voters to access the actual ordinance language to make their own informed decision. 

So, for now at least, regardless of the actual merits of the amendments, I'm suggesting these two measures should be defeated on procedural grounds alone. 

I believe that in this day and age voters should have access to all relevant materials well in advance of an election. That doesn't appear to be the case in this situation, especially since early voting has already started. 

And we can't attribute the lack of information to great haste -- the ordinance language was adopted on June 11th and became law on June 27th.

Makes you wonder how many of the people who have already voted read the ordinances they would be voting on. Hat's off to those of you who did.

We can wring our hands and decry how uninformed and out of touch the electorate seems to be at times, but unless government is providing all the information to voters, the complaints seem hollow. We can do better. 


I suppose pointing out a procedural error  and wagging a finger could be considered a form of leadership, but I don't think it is particularly admirable or helpful.

In addition to posting the above blog, I let both the Supervisor of Elections and the County Administrator's office know about the lack of easy access to the ordinance language.

Now, roughly a day later, the supervisor's website does provide easy access to the ordinance, while the county has moved a prominent link to the Charter FAQ page to the county's home page. And (wait, there's more) they have also created links to board discussion of the amendments -- very nice. 

So local government can be responsive and will do better next time.

As for the merits of the ordinance, I think the goals of reducing election expenses and having some understanding of financial implications are valid. 

But, in my opinion, the ballot measures have been unduly burdened with other add-on provisions, such as petition signature expiration changes and judicial review.

I feel the petition expiration shortening is not warranted. Citizens need time to gather signatures.

I'm not optimistic that preemptive judicial review is likely to be forthcoming or reliable. I'm not an attorney but it seems fairly common that our judicial system declines to take up matters until someone has been injured. I do think it would be prudent to solicit educated opinions regarding legality before ballot language is finalized, but I think it will be hard to arrive at a single definitive opinion in advance of adoption.

As for telling the electorate what the financial implications will be, I suspect reasonable people could disagree and that disagreement could be a significant aspect of the debate prior to the vote. 

For these reasons, I  would continue to advocate a "no" vote on these measures.