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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Sarasota County Commission Aborts 2050 Scoping Process

Sarasota County apparently does not use the “ordinance bank” feature of Municode, so I don’t think I have easy access to Ord. No. 2011-070, § 2, 11-9-2011. That's the ordinance that adding a scoping requirement for County initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendments. 

As a result I can’t easily research the whereas or intent sections of that change in Section 94-85 County Initiation of Comprehensive Plan Amendments, but I suspect the County Commission added a scoping process via 2011-070  in order that the proposed amendment will be clearly defined and all pertinent issues identified”.

Now according to section (a) the Board may waive the scoping requirement, and, as I argued yesterday, that would make sense in constrained, technical cases since the purpose of the scoping (having clear definition of what needed to be done) would be implicit in the proposed amendment.

But very little was clear yesterday. In its simplest terms, the County Commission was voting whether to re-open 2050. According to a much-maligned graphic* , when the county initiates a CPA  (Comprehensive Plan Amendment) there is to be a public workshop on scope (pursuant to 94-85(c))

And indeed, according to the County’s REVISITING 2050 webpage, “The commission subsequently directed that the public be engaged in discussions with the process of preparing a scoping document for appropriate implementation actions.” 

But then, according to the dreaded diagram, the matter is to go to the Planning Commission (pursuant to 94-85 (a) before coming back to the Board.

I don’t think that happened. At least, I don't see any reference to Planning Commission involvement. If I am right, the county entered into the scoping process. If they wanted to waive it,  that should have been done as the first step, but once they entered “the dashed box” in the Comprehensive Plan Amendment process, the next step was to be the Planning Commission. 

I am arguing that they could have skipped the whole scoping effort if they did that at the front end, but once they started the scoping process they initiated a process the public (and presumably the Planning Commission) was relying on.

Throughout all this Commissioner Barbetta stated at least twice (and maybe three times) words to the effect that “we’ve always done it without the scoping process”. I know that’s not true because the effort to amend the TDR ordinance went through the scoping process. I was at the public workshop, and received notices about when it was going to the Planning Commission.

What surprised me was that no one, not the County Administrator, nor representatives of the Office of the County Attorney, nor the several high-ranking members of the planning staff interceded and politely said something to the effect of:

“Commissioner Barbetta is right, we did always do it that way, and then in 2011, a previous Board passed an ordinance requiring a County Initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) to go through a scoping process. I believe the reason for that was to ensure both that what was being proposed was sufficiently narrowed or defined, and to make sure the Planning Commission is involved at a relatively early stage. As I recall, the Board has the power to waive the scoping process, but I would have to go back and look at the ordinance and board discussion to provide any guidance on when that waiving was to be invoked.”

The fact that no one said something similar suggests that either a) they didn't know that, b) they were afraid to even obliquely challenge a commissioner, or c) I have no idea what I am talking about (in which case I will admit my error, something I am about to encourage the Board of County Commissioners to do).  

So, If I have the facts straight, the Board initiated the scoping process (by using that preparing a scoping document language cited above from their 2050 website) and then in their meeting yesterday, aborted that process, taking the Planning Commission literally and figuratively out of the loop and proceeding with very little clarity on what staff is to be doing.

My understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order is that someone voting on the prevailing side can initiate a motion to reconsider at the next meeting. 

I think one of the four commissioners (Barbetta, Robinson, Mason, or Hines) who voted to abort the scoping process should make such a motion, if only to clarify what exactly took place and correct the lingering misunderstanding regarding the scoping process. Ideally, someone should make the motion to put this collection of major proposed 2050 changes back on course.


1) Since sometime in 2011 the Scoping Process has been the default setting for all Board-initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendments. (This is contrary to statements made by Commissioner Barbetta.)

2) The Board initiated the scoping process in this case when they directed staff to prepare a scoping document and posted that intent on the 2050 webpage. The staff initiated the scoping process as directed and held the required workshops.

3) The next step according to the law and their flow chart involves going to the Planning Commission and providing for public comment.

4) Then, once the Planning Commission weighs in, it goes back to the County Commission, which authorizes the scope and processing of the CPA (or not).

5) I don't think it went to the Planning Commission (seeking confirmation).

6) If they didn't want to go the scoping route, they should have made that decision at the front end, not by deviating in the middle of the process. Once they started on the scoping process the public and Planning Commission had cause to act in reliance of the process, since the Commission did not waive scoping at their initial decision point as shown in the flow chart.

7) Instead of following the procedure, on May 8th they took a short-cut, aborting the legally-reqired scoping route they started on, thus depriving the public and Planning Commission of the opportunity specifically laid out in and mandated by ordinance 2011-070.

8) The only remedy I am aware of is for a commissioner that voted on the prevailing side to make a motion to reconsider at their next meeting. Commissioner Patterson cannot make the motion, but she could second such a motion.

9)If you would like to encourage them to reconsider, you may email them at commissioners@scgov.net.

NOTE: Commissioner Patterson should be recognized for her efforts to follow the Commission's own duly-adopted process to involve the public (and unstated) the Planning Commission in a MAJOR revisiting of 2050. Unfortunately, she is just one person, less than one hundredth of one percent of our county population, and so her voice was discounted. 

*[ I don’t believe that graphic was available online as part of the Board Packet Supporting Materials, yet it became a key item in the discussion that followed and the public should have access to it.] A similar, but I don't believe identical, graphic may be seen here.

Finally, if there are any factual errors in what I have written, please use the comment section and I will make changes as appropriate.


Here is most of the body of what I wrote to one commissioner (with some typos corrected):

I think for myself, don't swing at every pitch, and when I communicate with the board it is because I feel something important needs to be said. I'm neither emotional nor accusatory about this matter. It may all be one big, crucial misunderstanding.

But my understanding is that the Commission adopted a process (that was inaccurately portrayed by one commission member and which may have led others to misunderstand the process) that features, as the default setting, a clearly laid-out sequence involving public workshops and the Planning Commission

Months ago, the county commission had a choice to take that "scoping" route or not. At that time, the Commission could have argued this was too urgent, too important, or too whatever to wait, and go directly to the public workshop on the CPA (as shown in the orange hexagon on your flow chart).

But that's not what happened, instead, some months ago the board directed staff to initiate scoping -- at least that's what your 2050 webpage says (see attachment). Once y'all posted that on your website you clearly communicated to the public that you had embarked on a scoping process that involved public workshops and would subsequently have the matter brought before the Planning Commission before it came back to the board. 

Maybe your webpage was wrong, or vulnerable to misinterpretation. But I think a reasonable person would conclude from it that the county had embarked on "a process of preparing a scoping document" since that is what the website says. And that process goes from public meetings to the Planning Commission. 
Screenshot from the County's 2050 webpage.
This is why people like myself believe the Planning Commission should be the next step.

I know abort is a connotation-laden word. But let's not go to the most incendiary meaning. If NASA has to abort a mission to the moon, they would be well advised to do that before launch or immediately afterward while the vehicle is over the Atlantic and not when it is half-way to the moon. Your collective vote yesterday was halfway to the moon because Option 3 specifically tries to opt out of the scoping process you had already told the public you were engaged in.

I participated in the TDR scoping process and knew from that experience that the scoping process involved the Planning Commission. Your County Administrator, legal staff, or planning staff should have told you that before you voted. I tried to in Open to the Public after you voted. 

You're aware of my reputation in defense of our natural areas, but lately I've been more vocal defending the role of our advisory boards. The Planning Commission is the mother of all  local advisory entities and it has a special role in comprehensive planning. It should be involved early in this process, but it has not been.

The Commission has just made a decision about the most significant changes proposed in our comprehensive plan in more than a decade without 1) any public hearing, 2) any involvement of the Planning Commission, or 3) following the procedure you adopted in 2011 and chose to utilize in this matter by invoking the word  "scoping" in your direction to staff and on your webpage.  Even if every other contention of mine is fallacious, it seems nearly inconceivable that a county commission would make a decision to embark on major changes in a comprehensive plan without any hearings or Planning Commission involvement. In my opinion this is not good public policy.

This 2050 process has started out unduly polarized. I regret that, but short-circuiting your officially-adopted and communicated-to-the-public process is not a path towards less polarization.

No one likes being told they were misled. But I am contending that 1) the repeated inaccurate statements of one commissioner combined with 2) silence on the part of your staff regarding the scoping process, and 3) a webpage that told the public the county was preparing a scoping document presumably as part of the scoping process, which had not been waived as you were required to do; all combined to created conditions that enabled the majority of the board to make a decision based on misunderstanding of the law as well as what had been communicated to the public. 

There are some driveways in life where you turn off your headlights, make a u-turn, inwardly resolve to try to not do that again, and get back on the main road. There is nothing wrong with any commissioner admitting he or she was making a decision based on inaccurate information, without understanding that the public had been told via your website that the the county would be engaged in the process of preparing a scoping document, which directly implied Planning Commission involvement. Therefore, please give consideration to making or supporting a motion to reconsider. 

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