Headed south

Contributing Writer

I attended a virtually unadvertised meeting of the Charter Review Committee (CRC) yesterday morning. You-all can also find out when these consequential meetings are being canceled and scheduled by dropping by town hall every afternoon and peruse the bulletin board on the wall.

I was, as usual, the only resident attendee. The town says the law says the town does not have to advertise many upcoming town government meeting on-line or in the newspapers. I have always preferred that the town follow the spirit of the law, as opposed to the letter of the law. I believe this town policy contributes to the dismally low participation by our property owners in their local government.

The Charter Review Committee convenes every decade, per state law, to review and amend the town charter. It is the town charter that gives our voters the power to control density on Longboat. Given the 84+% voter support for no more increases in density. I feel the voters, and property owners, would sorely miss this provision in our town charter, if some politically appointed charter review committee was to quietly remove the density provision from the town charter, during a meeting that was solely advertised on a bulletin board in town hall. If the town can spend $6.5 million on town parks during the past few years, I feel they can afford to spend a little money to keep the residents of longboat well informed about important meetings and activities at town hall. Imagine how effective a well designed web site might be using info-graphics and a clear easy to understand town calendar and straight-forward information about the content of pending codes and ordinances. How about an on-line commission meeting agenda that was not cryptic and re-pleat with legalize?

At yesterdays CRC meeting, ex-commissioner Younger’s proposal to decrease the voting districts from five to four, and to increase the at-large commission seats two to three was approved by the CRC. I believe this is a bad idea, and this is why. (1) Mr. Younger’s proposal, if approved by the commission and the voters, would further polarize our community and further discourage resident participation in serving on the commission. (2) under Mr. Youunger’s proposal, it would be possible that five of the seven commission seats could be occupied by residents living within a few hundred yards of one another in Harborside commiunity. We already have an unrepresentative commission due to unopposed walk-ons, appointees and five of the seven commission seats occupied by south end residents. Younger’s plan could shift that metric further to the south. I have no problem with three years terms as constantly having to run for office is most likely a further deterrent to attracting new people into the political process.

We are probably approaching a period on Longboat when there will be no contested elections, and thus no municipal election. We are already at the threshold since without the candidacy of Larry Grossman and myself, there would have been no Longboat Commission election in March, no discussion of issues and budget and town policies.

Why, with fifteen thousand property owners do we have a commission composed of a majority of seats occupied by unopposed or appointed residents and two seats occupied by ex-commissioners on their second six year election cycle? I am in no way suggesting that the present commissioners are not qualified or good public servants, I am saying that our electoral process is broken and dysfunctional..

The CRC rejected a proposal that the town sponsor four televised, streamed and archived town meetings to allow Longboat residents to gain an in-depth knowledge  of  commission candidates. I ask, how else will voters gain an understanding of who is running and who they want to vote for? The expense to the town would be insignificant compared to the $6.5 million the town has invested in Bayfront Park and an iffy town center run by a private college in Sarasota. I believe that having an effective candidate forum would attract residents to run for office, just because the forums would level the playing field and greatly reduce the stranglehold of the two local newspapers on the election process. Having forums would reduce the need to raise large amounts of money  for yard signs and political ads in the newspapers. The greatest argument for town sponsored commission election forums is a far better informed electorate.

The CRC also adopted a proposal that the town elections be moved to November to coincide with national elections. I think this is a bad idea as it will introduce partisan politics into the commission election. It is difficult enough to attract residents to run for the commission. Adding party affiliation into the process will further discourage good candidate material from entering an even more politically hostile race. Moving the election date will not likely save money as our new three year term cycle will frequently be out of phase with the national and state election cycle. Additionally, all the noise of  a national election will further obscure our own struggling town commission election process.

After reading this piece, I hope many residents will make their wishes known to the commission. Anyone who has been politically active for very long, realizes that there will never be a time of unanimity. I am sure there may be many who will disagree with the content of this column. My job is to inform and attempt to promote public dialog. So please make your thoughts known. I will try to convince the town to create an easy to use, easy to access, phone app to enable residents to become part of the public discussion that should be taking place in our community, an is not happening.



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