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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson

Governor Crist mercifully ended what little suspense was left when he named Christine Robinson to complete Shannon Staub's term on the Sarasota County Commission, something we should all be thankful for. But, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, some grumpy Republicans are faulting Crist for his selection. Crist clearly was within his rights to appoint a friend and loyal supporter, and even if she had never met the Governor, Robinson would have to be considered in the top tier of candidates for the position -- a result of her service on the Planning Commission.

Here's a tip: If you want to say something about the Governor's selection, the time to do so is before he makes it. Carping after the fact seems both pointless and petty.

The Governor did what he needed to do. It is the Sarasota community that dropped the ball.

The Republicans held a y'all come, "Republicans Got Talent" cattle call in North Port that was supposed to result in a Republican recommendation. No such individual emerged.

The Democrats, who boldly fielded several candidates, also declined to advance a favorite.

The two Tiger Bay organizations, which can usually be relied upon to sniff out a juicy contest, failed to take the bait.

The Sierra Club and other local organizations that can lobby and endorse because they are tax exempt, endorsed no one.

Local newspapers provided superficial coverage that reduced each contender to a postage stamp portrait and a thumbnail sketch.

And editorial boards, entities that traditionally make recommendations, not only failed to name any names, they by and large failed to address the basic public policy questions raised by such an appointment:

• Should the replacement be a Republican, like Shannon, and every other Commissioner for the last forty years, or would it be appropriate for the majority of voters (non-Republicans) to have some representation?

• Should the replacement have to have lived in District 3? If so, for how long? What does residency mean and what should it mean? Is proposing to move into the District acceptable?

• What is the appropriate mix of County experience and knowledge compared with District 3 experience and knowledge?

• Should candidates embrace "instant incumbency" and use a lame duck Governor's parting act as a springboard for re-election or should those seeking Shannon's seat agree not to run in 2012?

These questions were never publicly debated, no consensus was reached, and no local direction provided the Governor.

Perhaps no one bothered to assess qualifications and consider a recommendation because it was a foregone conclusion that Christine would secure the spot on the Board. She had the inside track from the starting bell. But if so, no one should act shocked, surprised, or indignant at the outcome.

For whatever reason, all of Sarasota County took a pass on an opportunity not only to comment on the gubernatorial appointment process, but also to seriously evaluate more than two dozen residents that felt they might make a good commissioner. I guess there's always 2012.

Everything I've heard about Christine Robinson has been extremely positive and there is no reason to believe she will be anything other than a competent, contributing member of the Commission. Republicans should stop holding her loyalty to a friend against her and be thankful that Crist didn't get creative as he did with his candidacy.

And the next time a Governor has to make an appointment, Sarasota County should not be a slack-jawed, passive spectator, but remember to engage both the issues and the Governor.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Crist Chooses Staub Successor

Got a call from the Governor's Appointment Office that the Governor has decided on someone to complete Shanon Staub's term. Bottom Line: It's not me and they think the Governor may make the announcement later this afternoon.

So much for the rumor that he likes to interview all candidates for gubernatorial appointments.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reflections on the Two County Commission Elections

There aren't many of us that have chosen to run as something other than a Republican in a Sarasota County Commission race. And one thing that binds us together is that, for the past forty years at least, none of us have prevailed. If there is any solace for Mark and Cathy it is that the they received more than twice the number of votes their opponents did, the last time their opponents faced opposition. Thank you for giving the entire electorate a chance to weigh in.

When I lost I was told recovery would take about a year, which wasn't far off, but, at least in my case, it wasn't losing that was hard to accept; but some of the circumstances surrounding the loss. I hope Mark and Cathy are not nagged by comparable concerns.

Nora now returns to the Commission knowing that over 71,000 more voters think she should be serving than did previously and Joe experienced a comparable boost in affirmation, garnering more than 68,000 more votes than he did last time around. I hope this provides them with more confidence that they are, in fact, the people's choices. And, of course, this is a confidence tempered by the realization that more than 45 thousand people aren't convinced, which may be like a "room for improvement" notation on an otherwise favorable report card.

As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, it is good to know that the majority of the county commission will be serving as result of having won recently in a general election, a fact attributable to those few of us who brought them to those general elections, despite the odds, popular wisdom, and recent history.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving towards a county commission elected by the majority of voters

THIS BLOG ENTRY IS THE FIFTH IN A SERIES DEALING WITH THE SUCCESSOR TO COMMISSIONER SHANNON STAUB. Today is a day to, without impugning Commissioners Patterson and Barbetta, thank Mark Hawkins and Cathy Antunes. For regardless of the outcome tomorrow, for the first time since 2000 the majority of the Sarasota County Commission will be serving as a result of the entire electorate having had a chance to vote for or against them in the most recently held election for their seat.

Right now, for instance, on the First of November 2010, only one commissioner, Carolyn Mason, can say that the last time there was a possibility for District seat to change hands that electorate chose her over a candidate from another party. The other four commissioners were either unopposed the last time they ran, or won in a closed primary that excluded the majority of county voters.

So when the next commission is seated, whether incumbent or new face, the Commissioners from Districts 2 and 4 will have something more closely approximating a mandate than those presently serving.

It would be inappropriate to blame Commissioners Thaxton, Staub, Patterson, and Barbetta for the lack of previous Democratic or Independent challenges to their candidacy. In fact, the lack of opposition no doubt reflects not only both their political power as Sarasota Republicans, but also general county-wide satisfaction with their leadership.

No, it is the Democrats and Independents, whose registration accounts for about two thirds of Sarasota voters who need to take responsibility for the historic lack of organized opposition. But this year they are doing their part, with Democrat Mark Hawkins challenging Nora Patterson and Independent Cathy Antunes taking on Joe Barbetta for the only two seats that expire this year. Whatever the outcome, at least we can say the entire electorate will have had a say in three fifths of the commission.

It is worth noting that he other two current commissioners each can stake a claim to being the most popular commissioners ever. While District Five Commissioner Jon Thaxton is only serving his third term so far, he hasn’t faced a Republican opponent since 2004, Democrats and Independents have never challenged him, and a write-in candidate made him the top all time vote getter, pulling in over 107,000 votes. District Three Commissioner Shannon Staub has been elected four times (only Bob Anderson topped that), also facing Republican challengers only twice and, like Thaxton, has never appeared on a ballot against a Democrat or Independent. Based on their experience, political skill, and popularity, each would have to be favored in the 2012 elections, if they chose to run.

While Commissioner Thaxton’s intentions are unknown, Commissioner Staub’s announced departure ensures that, whatever the fate of Patterson and Barbetta, we will be looking at a new Commission next year.

And, now that the voting will be behind us, perhaps the media and citizenry can focus their attention on the third race, moving from election of two to the selection of one.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Civil Community, Most of the Time (Except When it Matters)

Civility. Nothing like it. The Sarasota Civic League is against negative political advertising and features a pledge for candidates to take. USF Sarasota Manatee hosts forums about civility in politics. In fact, one is coming up November 4th. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice has a major initiative called "Because It Matters" that includes a webpage Civility in Democracy. Sarasota County has a Civility Code. So one might expect Sarasota to be a hotbed of civility. And I suppose most of the time it is. But during election season those strong voices for civility are drowned out by invective, distortions, and downright lies.

For all their well intentioned efforts, none of the above organizations actually calls anyone out for being uncivil. As a result, candidates can devolve during a campaign with no real fear of being confronted by anyone other than their opponent. The Civic League lamely proclaims that "the community and voters should assess whether a candidate kept their pledge during the conduct of their campaign." So they are willing to decide whether a candidate is qualified or not, but unwilling to decide if they can keep a pledge. This is roughly analogous to Consumer Reports warranting that a blender is made by a reputable company but being too timid to reveal if the blades are likely to cut your fingers off.

I should think voters would like to know if qualified candidates can keep their word for the duration of a campaign.

Its easy to advocate for civility when everyone is being civil. But when the discourse heads into the gutter no one seems to want to get their hands or shoes dirty.

This community would benefit from some organization willing to speak out when things turn uncivil. To be fair, the press does weigh in at times and has spoken up when candidates hit below the belt. But wouldn't it be valuable for another, independent, non-partisan group to render opinions on the civility of political campaigns? Because this is when it really matters.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Silence in the Competition for Staub's Commission Seat?

THIS BLOG ENTRY IS THE FOURTH IN A SERIES DEALING WITH THE SUCCESSOR TO COMMISSIONER SHANNON STAUB. As mentioned in a previous blog posting on Shannon Staub’s successor, the Englewood Sun called for “someone with a strong South County background and a strong voice.” So I have to ask, is it just me, or has the silence been deafening?

Everyone seems to know and expect that applicants for the District 3 seat will be working back-channel access to the Governor, trying to narrow six degrees of separation to one or two. And any contenders that may have the Governor’s number on their cell phones can be expected to place a call. This sort of behind the scenes jockeying is part of our political process and is actually somewhat explicit because the gubernatorial appointment form (Question 27) asks for three persons who have known you well for the past five years. This is not the place where applicants list two neighbors and their favorite barista (unless a neighbor or the barista knows the Governor). Which happens.

But is that it? Everyone keeps their head down, seeks out contacts that might put in a good word in Tallahassee, but otherwise tries to stay out of sight? What about the strong voices? The Republicans held auditions that I believe afforded everyone present three minutes to test their voices. But since then, what has been heard?

If any readers are aware of any blog postings, interviews, letters to the editor or any other public pronouncements from others vying for the seat, please use the comment section to let me know. Because I am not hearing or seeing much.

As promised I’m attaching my responses to my own form below. Please read the previous blog entry if this seems perplexing.

Yes, I know it is small. It's a pdf and if you click on it you should be able to enlarge and read it. If you are reading this on Sarasota Speaks, the pdf may not be visible. If not, click on FULL ARTICLE to go to the original blog entry.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

RE: Shannon Staub's Successor --The Missing Page in the Appointment Form


At a recent Tiger Bay luncheon the Governor apparently referred to his practice of interviewing all candidates that apply for a gubernatorial appointment. Now that more than two dozen Sarasotans have applied to fill the remainder of Commissioner Staub's term, he would seem to have a lot of work to do.

He is aided by the staff in the appointment's office who receive the applications, and vet applicants. The application is fairly extensive (six pages of content) and asks for a lot of detail on some matters. But it is a general appointment form and doesn't actually deal with a number of important questions the Governor (and Sarasota citizens) would probably like to have answered before a decision is made.

For instance: the form doesn't ask if an applicant lives in the District in question, whether they intend to run for the District 3 seat in 2012 if appointed, or if they have ever done anything for the County or District.

In order to simplify the work of the Governor and staff, I've created a supplemental page that addresses many of the shortfalls. In the next few days I will answer the questions, forward my responses to the Governor's Appointment Office and post my responses online here.

If all the applicants would do the same, it might be a service to both the Governor, the media, and Sarasota citizens.

Of course, since I am applying to complete the term, some will no doubt accuse me of preparing a biased or leading form that plays to my strengths. I actually feel it is fairly neutral on that score, but I'll concede the point.

In response, here's my proposition to other applicants -- a possible way to balance any bias:

You design your own one page supplemental form, fill it out and send it to me. I will answer the same questions you posed and submit my response to your form to the Governor's office and post it online. The only caveat is that I reserve the right to forward your completed form to the Governor's office and post it here as well.

Below you'll find the page I think is missing from the form. Yes, I know it is small. It's a pdf and if you click on it you should be able to enlarge and read it. If you are reading this on Sarasota Speaks, the pdf may not be visible. If not, click on FULL ARTICLE to go to the original blog entry.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What kind of leader should replace Shannon Staub?

Before the pixels faded on the darting emails announcing Commissioner Staub’s decision to step down, the Republican Party issued a communiqué asserting that the appointment needed to be a Republican, based on the fact that Commissioner Staub is a Republican and the assertion that District 3 is a predominantly Republican district.

There’s no getting around the fact that Commissioner Staub is a Republican, so that logic makes a certain amount of sense. But Commissioner Staub is also a woman. Does that mean her replacement needs to be a woman? She grew up outside of Florida, so should the Governor avoid a native? She lived in Canada. Does that mean who ever follows should have extensive experience outside the country? She has been committed to working on water policy. Does the appointment need to be hydrophilic?

The flaw in cherry-picking any one aspect of Commissioner Staub's many attributes is that it begs the question of which aspect or aspects are central to the appointment of a successor and which are not. Maybe being a Republican is central. Maybe her approach to leadership is more so. The Governor will decide.

The Republican leadership could have argued her replacement needs to be a Republican because all our county Commissioners are always Republican. And if you didn’t get here before 1971, that’s certainly true. That fact may call into question whether we have a functioning two party system in the County, but as a general rule you wont lose much money betting that all Sarasota County Commissioners are Republicans.

But instead, their press release argued that District 3 is predominantly Republican – an assertion that does not appear to be supported by the facts. In fact, District 3 is predominantly non-Republican, as is Sarasota County. Republicans represent less than 45% of the voters, and constitute less than a third of the overall population of the County. And in District 3 Republicans account for only slightly more than 40% of the voters.

So, if the Governor wanted to appoint someone who represented the predominance of the county (or District 3), that would be some non-Republican, a type of Commissioner we haven’t seen in forty years in Sarasota.

In addition to calling for a Republican, the party skipped what may seem like obvious requirements of knowing something about the County and District 3 and quickly stated it should be a resident of District 3. In political circles, the term “resident” is frequently used so loosely as to be nearly meaningless.

In this case, “resident” apparently means someone willing to contact a realtor to create conditions that would make it appear they could sleep in District 3 without imposing on a friend or getting a motel room, should they happen to be appointed.

The Englewood Sun came much closer to the mark when its editorial called for “someone with a strong South County background and a strong voice.”

(To be continued)

Monday, October 11, 2010


Filling Staub's vacancy

First Published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune: Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.

The challenge of finding the best Sarasota County resident to complete Shannon Staub's term is a daunting one, complicated by the fact that no one will be able, on short notice, to fill Shannon's shoes. Let's concede that her 14-year knowledge of the county, region and state is unique.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who has his hands full with the governorship and the final month of his campaign, also faces a daunting task. He is receiving advice and even demands regarding both the qualifications and individuals who might best complete Staub's term. So here's our advice:

Don't appoint anyone who will run for the District 3 seat in 2012.

Why is that desirable? Because it minimizes the lingering effects of an admittedly political appointment and maximizes the power of Sarasota County voters.

Of course, our advice is contrary to popular wisdom and the emerging version of musical chairs that has many hopeful contenders looking for a place to squat in District 3 -- where Staub lives -- before the music stops. And those who already live in District 3 are hoping geography will improve their chances.

But once the governor winnows down to a list of competent contenders, the question shouldn't be about who lives where, but rather when do the voters get a crack at them and under what terms.

It is one thing to let a departing governor fill a seat for two years and obsess about two years.

But incumbency is very powerful in Sarasota County. We know because, since 1980, incumbent county commissioners who seek additional terms have been successful 87 percent of the time.

Instant incumbency

That means that, if the Crist appointee runs for the District 3 seat in 2012, he or she will very likely be elected, and subsequently re-elected, etc. That's why the feeding frenzy has begun -- because getting lucky with the governor now means a high probability of success in 2012 and for years beyond.

It means that, instead of dictating who will serve for two years, the governor will be creating what the Herald-Tribune has termed "instant incumbency" -- probably determining who will serve for six, 10 or possibly 14 years.

That scenario is a disservice to both the electorate of District 3 and the whole county.

If we can't have the commissioner we elected, and we can't have a special election, at least we should have the open seat Shannon would have created in 2012. That would keep the political playing field level, instead of stacking the deck by creating one lucky winner and a large group of instant losers, many of whom might be credible District 3 candidates if they could compete in 2012 on a level playing field.

To be honest, we have to question the motives of those who would relocate in order to be able to run in 2012. We believe candidates should have broad, and not temporary or short-term, experience with the area they reside in. Renting or buying a place in a district just to opportunistically advance a political career is not the kind of admirable preparation for public service we should reward. Rather than gaming the system, residents of other districts should run for their own district's seat.

A county perspective

Let's keep in mind that our County Commission districts are not single-member districts, but at-large districts. The District 3 commissioner is not elected only by District 3 voters, but rather by all county voters. So the governor should be looking for the best replacement from the perspective of the entire county, and his or her District 3 credentials, while relevant, should not diminish or overshadow the needs of the rest of the county.

Gov. Crist has an opportunity to minimize voter disenfranchisement with this appointment; he set a precedent by appointing Sen. George LeMieux, which ensured an open Senate seat in 2010. If County Commission contenders won't take themselves out of consideration for the 2012 District 3 seat, Gov. Crist should do it for them. Ideally, he would announce his decision before the election, to subdue the rancorous jockeying and maximize much-needed transition time for our next commissioner.

Migrating opportunists and instant incumbency are not the hallmarks of good government. Sarasota County deserves better.

Jono Miller ran for County Commission as a Democrat in 2008. Paul Mercier is a former two-term Republican county commissioner from District 1; he did not seek re-election to a third term. Neither has applied for the seat Staub is vacating but each has stated that, if he were to do so, he would not run for the District 3 seat in 2012.

      Tuesday, April 6, 2010

      What one dollar is buying Ringling College

      I think we ought to face the fact that Ringling College is probably the most successful enterprise/operation in Sarasota County today. They've grown their program, ascended to the peak in digital arts, done more than their share to improve the North Trail, brought great speakers to Sarasota, and they are persistent advocates for creativity, a trait we all could use more of. None of this happens without great leadership and the College has had plenty.

      Which makes their current persistence in a quixotic foray all the more perplexing. Setting aside the questions of whether the Municipal Auditorium could actually meet the requirements of a sound stage, one has to wonder why a great and powerful institution would develop a blind spot and engage in behavior that most people would find inappropriate. But it happens.

      That behavior wasn't coming up with an idea. And while some would take our City Commission to task for entertaining the proposal, they owe Ringling a fair hearing. When successful, creative thinkers come up with an out-of-the-box idea, people that could make it happen should listen. Ringling shouldn't be faulted for brainstorming a solution to a community problem.

      But by now, it should be clear to Ringling that attempting a public resource grab with this much community resistance it not only not likely to succeed, but is morphing their image faster than any liquid crystal display.

      Someone at Ringling calculated the price for the municipal auditorium to be one dollar. Now they need to go back and calculate the cost, because years of goodwill are rapidly disappearing down the drain as a broad coalition of citizens clap their hands to their foreheads in disbelief and reassess their image of one of our great local institutions.