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Fixing the Longboat Key electorial process

GENE JALESKI
Contributing Writer
jaleski@lbknews.com

Longboat Key is somewhat unique in the way that it elects the town commissioners. At the federal, state and county levels of government, voters elect candidates by district. On Longboat everybody votes for everybody.

Currently the island is divided into five district commission seats and two at-large seats. To run for a district seat, one has to reside within that district. However, all island voters can and do vote for the candidates within any/all district(s). The current system does promote a sort of distributed representation across the community. However, to be successful, any district candidate must win the majority of the south end votes , since two-thirds of the votes cast in our elections come from the south end, regardless of how many people are registered to vote in the various districts.

I, and others, advocate a change in the town charter that promotes a stronger empowerment of the various neighborhoods up and down the island. We advocate that only voters living within a district can vote for a candidate running in their district. That still leaves the two at-large seats to smooth out the governing process.

There are those who would like to see the residency requirements removed, effectively removing any concept of neighborhood representation. Under their scheme, it would be possible for the entire commission to be represented by a single residential block in Bay Isles. Given that two thirds of the voters reside in Sarasota County, it is not only possible, but most likely, that the town commission would be comprised of south end residents exclusively. I think this is a bad idea for a community with diverse neighborhoods.

I believe it is essential that our neighborhoods regain some degree of home rule by adopting a true district electoral process.

 

The Observed Elephant in the Corner.

In this last election, how did you decide which candidates to vote for?

Did you know about the candidates’ specific platforms?

How did you learn about the candidates?

Do you wish you could have had better candidate information?

There were no candidate interviews or write-ups in either local paper.

The Observer held a belated candidate forum weeks after the absentee ballots had been mailed. Absentee votes account for 30% of the total votes.

Only one candidate had a few yard signs and newspaper ads.

How did you decide who to for for?

Did you look at the endorsements of the two local paper editors?

I cannot help believing that, in the absence of  any public information about our commission candidates, that voters must rely on the political endorsements put forth by the Observer and LBK News editors, as the only indication of who to vote for. I believe this is unhealthy for any democratic system.

My solution is to have the town conduct four televised, and internet streamed and archived, public candidate town hall meetings, where voters can participate. This would empower the voters to make better informed voting choices, instead of having to rely on the political, social and personal inclinations of the two newspaper editors, as their sole source of candidate information.

I was glad to see the most recent commission election was free of $25,000 campaign funds, that discourage new candidates from entering local politics. Who wants to go around begging for money to be elected to a thankless job that pays nothing?

Until our community comes up with a way to replace the overbearing influence of the two newspaper editors to pick winners, we may never have a robust electoral process again on Longboat, with multiple candidates running for all the open commission seats. I hope, as a community, we can find a way to end the current climate where candidates simple walk into a commission seat, unopposed and unvetted.

 

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