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Tigers all

PETER O’CONNOR
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

I attended the monthly Tiger Bay luncheon meeting in Sarasota in early March. As I’m almost tired of saying: the crowd was good, the food only fair. The agenda for that Thursday was the appearance of Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and City of Sarasota Chief of Police Mikel Hollaway. These two police professionals cover the city and larger county. They answered questions from the day’s moderator and from the floor.

We learned lots of detail, all of it of interest, but little covering our island home on Longboat Key. The sheriff supports our own department with specialized services, as does his parallel elected sheriff in Manatee County. The crowd was friendly. I didn’t hear a tough question. One lady questioner from the floor asked about immigration. The sheriff deflected that one by saying it was all up to the feds. He of course claimed to be tough on this subject.

I was positively impressed by Chief Hollaway. He made a lot of sense. The sheriff impressed me as a competent but elected official. His answers to questions were first and foremost political answers. But then that’s OK too.

The story of this meeting for this observer and commentator was not the meeting and its agenda, or the crowd that filled the room. It was the heavy presence of Longboat Key luminaries. I counted 12 of note (in no particular order): Michael Welly, Al Hogle, David Persson, Bob Siekmann, Vince DeLisi, Gail Barthold, Phillip Younger, George Spoll, Dr. Hal Lenobel, David Brenner, Jim Brown and B.J. Webb. I’m sure there were more Longboaters in the room; some were at our table. The story is this heavy attendance from Longboat Key. This is good, although I wonder what was the attraction of two Sarasota law enforcement guys. Obviously, at least to this observer, the word is out: it’s important to be a Tiger.

I’m glad to see so much interest in the goings-on in our metropolitan area. The folks over there up to now haven’t been impressed in our civic interest. Maybe this new crowd here is just covering all its bases. In its first year it clearly has been consolidating its power base. Maybe it thinks Tiger Bay is just the place to be on a Thursday. Maybe it just feels the wisdom of supporting Dr. Lenobel, the longtime lead Tiger. Such support would be both called for and well advised.

With this observed fresh interest in civic action fresh in my mind, I observed our town’s performance in the most recent election March 15. I have to connect that performance, or lack thereof, in relation to our new found Tigers. This may or may not be a completely fair connection. I made it nonetheless.

I think that we will all agree that an engaged electorate is the essence of good government. I suspect — no I know — that our public officials, especially the new Tigers, will agree.

So it troubled me to see the results of our most recent LBK election — not the results but rather the turnout. We managed a turnout of just 18.77 percent! This by any measure is a poor performance. Where was the town’s leadership? The town manager, to his credit, spent no small amount of time, as well as considerable political capital on the main issue. I know he’s apolitical. He didn’t get much help.

I didn’t see any advertising, any public statements, any requests to us in the media to interview or opine. In short the election was a non-event. Political activism is more than attendance at a monthly luncheon in Sarasota.

By the time you read this, the meager numbers will have been sliced and diced for you. The take-away number I point out is that 371 voters approved the borrowing of and likely spending of $16 million for the rest of us. There are 6,260 registered voters in this town. Democracy? I thought the question came up too soon; and I said so.

The numbers speak for themselves. Apathy was in play, maybe citizen neglect. There was no enthusiastic or otherwise leadership in evidence from the current team of commissioners and supporters. These could only get out a miserable voter turnout on a “vital” question. This question was vital to them; in fact the proposal presented to the voters was that authored by one of them, not the scheme developed by our town manager and our consultant. Comments by both PIC and IPOC, both calling for approval, were taken by the voters as irrelevant. The numbers are such that I’d not view town sentiment as favorable for a likely $39 million question for next year’s ballot question for beaches. This might also not be a good ballot for two or three incumbent commissioners to run on.

The other ballot question on term definition was, for me, a non-starter. It had little relevance, except for the town attorney who has been on both sides of the question. I suppose that more specificity is better; I didn’t see the need to ask the voters’ opinion. He got the opinion of 18.77 percent of us. Big deal.

Census data now available shows that Longboat Key has lost 725 of our population between the 2000 and 2010 census counts. So, you can assume even fewer voters on the rolls next year and ensuing years. Not good.

We should frankly be ashamed of ourselves, all of us.

Might it be time to again review the costs of local elections, as well as the timing of these elections? I know the traditional reasons for March elections — that’s when the people are here. They may be here; they still don’t participate. In November the national attention is focused on elections. Might we be better positioned to participate then?

My continuing question keeps cropping up — can Longboat Key continue to afford “Home Rule?”

Something for Tigers, new and old, to consider.

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1 Response for “Tigers all”

  1. John Wild says:

    As usual, well said Peter – but perhaps only 18.77% turned out because the other 5/6ths apparently see the beach as a “cost is no object” issue, and are blessed with deep enough pockets to ignore the cost, whatever it becomes. It’s also possible that while many are registered to vote from here, doesn’t mean they spend more than the “required” 181 days in Florida to be “a citizen” and avoid paying state income taxes elsewhere. All you have to do is drive down GMD at night and look for lights in windows to validate who is actually living here.

    As to the other item, specificity is good, but perhaps people serving full terms would avoid having to create “replacement Commissioners” who take office off-cycle. But for those appointed, they at least avoid spending $15,000 on average to get elected to a non-paying position. Go figure.

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