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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Beyond Hollies and Poinsettias: Alternative Christmas Color

Red and green symbolize the Christmas season, but there are ways to get those living colors without resorting to the ever-popular (and sometimes overused) poinsettias and hollies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Still Shopping? Consider Penzey's Spices on Main St.

Looking for small, different gifts, from a store on Main Street? Consider Penzey's spices just east of Pastry Art (south side of Main, east of Lemon, 1516 Main). They haven't been open very long, but I know them from Minneapolis. They sell all manner of spices: eight varieties of Cinnamon, real Vanilla beans, more than a dozen chili peppers -- 250 spices and seasonings in all. And not just popular North American spices, but Central American, Caribbean, Asian, etc. (no Antarctic spices, tho). You can buy small (.3 ounce) jars that work well for stocking stuffers, or four fit in a squarish box they sell for about 50¢ (easy wrapping). They are open 10-6 most days, except Sunday when you can knock an hour off either end.
And no, I don't own stock or have some "arrangement" with the store -- I just think this is a place worth supporting. They are a national chain, but the employees are local and they chose Main St. and not a mall. Check it out -- I'll be surprised if you don't leave with something.  
And don't tell them I sent you, because they have no idea who I am.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sprawl is not the Answer and May be Dying a Natural Death

I'm not much for using this blog to redirect people to other blogs, but  STREETSBLOG , which "is a daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities" recently posted an intriguing article titled Quantified: The Price of Sprawl in Florida. The brief article has a graphic showing how much excess housing capacity already exists in various counties (Sarasota is shown as up to 25% more housing allowed at buildout, which I suspect is low). You may want to read that posting in juxtaposition with a November 26 2011 New York Times opinion piece by Christopher B. Leinberger: The Death of the Fringe Suburb. Leinberger argues that "suburban fringe" is doomed because the boomers that populated the fringe are downsizing and moving in towards city centers with more walkable amenities while the millennials also favor urban centers. Taken together these pieces suggest that efforts to revive Florida's economy by making it easier for new sprawl are likely to fail and fail miserably.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Do Term Limits Place Sarasota at a Regional Competitive Disadvantage?

As I understand it, part of the argument for term limits is to prevent County Commissioners from acquiring power. But power is something we want our commissioners to have, particularly when working in a regional context. If Sarasota County were an island floating in the Gulf of Mexico, its commissioners might not need to collaborate (and sometimes compete) with other counties. But Sarasota County exists in a regional context and one that, in general, is not term-limited.

Monday, November 21, 2011

City Whacks Pioneer Trees - Palms Most Abused

No sooner had the pixels faded on the revelation that only Live Oaks can be Grand Trees in the City of Sarasota than we discovered major pruning underway in Pioneer Park. Cypress along Hog Creek have been shorn of their lower branches and oaks have also been attacked. Now, the City will probably argue this is another way to end homelessness or reduce liability, but this work is certainly open to question.

What is not open to question is how the City prunes cabbage palms. The accompanying picture from Pioneer Park shows how the city does it. Please note there are only about a half dozen fronds left on the tree in the foreground and those few fronds point almost straight up.

Healthy Cabbage Palms dramatically overpruned by City Staff

This approach is completely contrary to the Tree Care Industry Association American National Standard ANSI A300 (Part 1)- 2008 that states: "8.3 Live healthy fronds about horizontal shall not be removed. Exception: Palms encroaching on electric supply lines."  

The International Society of Arborculture best management practices use nearly identical language: "Live healthy fronds should not be removed. If they must be removed however, avoid removing those that initiate above the horizontal."

The City of Sarasota is not doing right by our trees. Please ask Commissioners for some external review of the city's policies and practices.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Flawed Process Erodes Neighborhood Goodwill

The City of Sarasota Planning Board approved a new Goodwill Supercenter following a flawed process that had neighbors who support Goodwill pleading for more answers. By a 3-2 vote the board gave a green light to a new 30,000 square foot facility on the North Trail even though 1) Goodwill declined to hold a neighborhood workshop, 2) the information available to public on-line was inadequate and possibly inaccurate, and 3) City legal counsel essentially told the board that a proposal need not meet all the criteria they are required to use when evaluating a project. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Term Limits: Stifling Competition?

Oh, and here is another negative unintended consequence of two term limits: potential competitor back-off

Let's get inside the mind of someone considering a challenge to Commissioner X, who is just completing a first term. 

Should I run against X now, knowing X hasn't accrued many negatives and is the incumbent?  . . . .Nah, I'll just wait four years when there will be an open seat. 

Thus, instead of fostering challenges, two term limits may inadvertently give people a pass on their second term, functionally creating what amounts to an eight year term -- not a great outcome if candidate X is only a mediocre commissioner.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stop Me Before I Vote Again!

I keep reading that anyone who argues against term limits for Sarasota County Commissioners is "ignoring the will of the voters." Really? Which voters? Because the record seems pretty clear what the will of the voters has been. . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Five Directions for Water Management in Florida

I'll be speaking about water issues at Ringling College tonight so posting some of my thoughts about water is probably a good idea.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Term Limit Ballot Measure

Commissioners: I hope you will indulge my Midnight Pass adversary and term limit ally, Bob Waechter, and allow him to read this brief statement on my behalf, as I am unable to attend today.

I could be a proponent of term limits if I lived in a community where the elected leadership was firmly entrenched, unchallenged, and never seemed to voluntarily leave office or get voted out.

But that is not the case in Sarasota County. The last three-term commissioner in District 1 (Sandgren) stopped serving in 1980, back before Jimmy Carter was bailing out Chrysler. Recent incumbents Mercier (2 terms) and Mills (4 terms) decided on their own not to run again. Commissioner Staub, arguably one of the most popular commissioners ever, stopped before completing her fourth term.  And both Shannon Staub and Commissioner Patterson defeated incumbents to gain their seats on the Commission. The fact is that more than half of all recent Commissioners have served two terms or less. So, in my opinion, we have a reasonable balance of experience and new perspectives on the commission. Idealistically, then, I oppose term limits for Sarasota County Commissioners because I believe voters still have the ability to vote out Commissioners they don’t like (ask Gene or Jack) and I can’t see why voters would then support term limits to force the expulsion of those Commissioners they do like.

But I seem to be cursed with being both an idealist and a pragmatist. (That’s why I’m working with Bob) and I recognize that the public generally supports term limits. 

Therefore I am asking that you consider drafting and holding hearings on a potential January 2102 ballot measure that would preemptively adjust county commission term limits to three terms. If passed, such a measure would retain both the term limits most of the public seems to crave and increase the likelihood that we could rely on a balanced number of experienced commissioners to lead our increasingly large, complex, and challenging County government.



Friday, September 30, 2011

Why we may not want to run government like a business

Before we get too enthralled about running government like a business, come along with me and examine one day's (Sept. 30 2011) business stories from the Sarasota Herald Tribune:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Top Ten Natural Signs of Fall in Sarasota Florida

The Sarasota Herald Tribune's Tom Becnel filed a engaging report: Top Ten Signs of Fall in Florida, presumably as a condolence for those Sarasotans who miss the honking of migrating geese, the cider-pressing, leaf-raking and other signs of Fall that distinguish more temperate regions of our great nation. Along the way he cast each and every "sign" as a cultural phenomenon, describing how one can discern the change of seasons around here by the behavior of people. Here are ten ways to tell it is Fall in Sarasota without resorting to an anthropocentric point of view:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

County Commission District 3 Election Results Now Available • 419 Days Early

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune predicted that "instant incumbency" might confer a political advantage, but now we see the power inherent in the system. Wednesday evening, the 14th of September, all but three or four of the most prominent and proven local Republican fundraisers solidly lined up behind the Christine Robinson juggernaut.

I always assumed a juggernaut was some sort of nautical warship, like a dreadnought. I mean, "naut" is right in there at the tail end of the word. But it's really a gigantic chariot that early European observers believed that the faithful threw themselves under out of devotion. So metaphorically, a juggernaut combines nearly unstoppable momentum and a totally committed horde of true believers. 

The list of hosts, sponsors, and patrons is truly breathtaking. And her supporters include not just the men behind the curtain, but also each of the four other sitting County Commissioners. Every one. Juggernaut indeed.

Ms. Robinson became a county commissioner because of a single "vote", but that one vote happened to be the Governor's when he appointed her, frustrating dozens of Republicans who seemed to think they deserved a chance. 

To be fair, Christine was (and is) far more qualified than many, if not most, of the other Republican contenders. But if their fate wasn't sealed by instant incumbency, it is now. Way beyond the amount of money raised, this pre-emptive event sent a clear signal that other Republicans don't need to waste any time or resources imagining being the District 3 Commissioner. And the message is probably even clearer to any Democrats or others who might have considered having a go. 

The 2012 ballot will be crowded and possibly confusing. Luckily, we have a system that takes the worry out of many elections. Is this a great county, or what?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Overpruning Weakens and Threatens Palms

The Sarasota Herald Tribune was kind enough to print my guest column advising people that simply put: you cannot improve an established palm's health by sawing off fronds. I wrote the column in response to a letter to the editor commenting on a previous article about Texas Phoenix Palm Decline, a disease that is killing our native cabbage palms, among other species. The first link above takes you to the article as it ran on September 7th. The version below is my original submittal:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Seven Challenges of North Trail

People have been scratching their heads for years wondering why North Trail doesn’t seem to work any better than it does. After four decades of scratching my own head, here’s what I have come up with.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Meta-Advice for Advisory Boards

One time, many years ago, I was invited to address a Manatee County Advisory Board. While at the meeting a Manatee County Commissioner showed up and proceeded to advise the advisory group what he thought they should do. In fact, I thought he was more or less telling them what to do. Perhaps puckishly, I opined that in my county the advisory boards provided advice to the county commission and not vice versa. I haven’t been invited back.
The role of advisory boards is complicated, involving careful balancing between citizens, staff, and elected officials, but let me offer several comments triggered by recent developments.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Regarding Commission Districts

The following ran as a letter to the editor in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on June 10 2011 in response to the previous day's news story COMMISSION WON'T DRAW NEW DISTRICT LINES FOR SOUTH, which seemed somewhat slanted to me.

Regarding "Commission won't draw new district lines for south":

The story about commission district lines states "the City of Sarasota will have two representatives predominantly representing city residents, while Venice residents would be spread between three districts". 
Wow, where to start? 
First, Commissioners represent the entire county, not just their district. We have a geographic distribution requirement (districts) ostensibly to ensure that five next-door neighbors couldn't theoretically run the county, but our residency requirements are so lax that five neighbors could conspire to move into different districts and do it anyway. Allowing musical chair candidates to re-locate to gain political advantage weakens the entire premise of districts.
Second, there is no guarantee anyone from the City of Sarasota will serve on the County Commission, since both Districts 1 and 2 include significant areas outside the City.
Finally, you can't have it both ways -- where Sarasota "gets" 2 seats while Venice is split 3 ways. Why not say Venice "gets" 3 seats, while the City of  Sarasota is split in two?
The best way for south county to wield more power is to field great candidates that appeal to ALL voters county-wide. The fact is that if Venice residents played their cards right they could have three Venice City residents serving on the County Commission. And North Port could have two. And the City of Sarasota and Longboat Key might have none.
Clarification: I wasn't suggesting Venice residents could hold down three seats at the same time as North Port could have two -- just that Venice could have three or North Port could have two.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

City Commissioners Farewell Fracas

The three departing Sarasota City Commissioners have a chance to straighten things out before they leave office and there are more than a handful of reasons why they should do. If you haven't seen Saturday's Sarasota Herald Tribune, check out the online article: Sarasota's volunteer planning board at center of uproar.

The basics appear to be that the three outgoing commissioners are (according to the City Attorney) violating the City Code by skipping an advertising requirement and attempting to re-appoint two planning boards members rather than letting the new commission decide who should serve. That is ill-advised, and not simply because the City Attorney cautions against it: