July Fourth is about rights

Independence Day is our most sacred national holiday. It was ordained as a day of celebration, but also one of sober reflection upon the causes that led prominent personages in 1776 to risk their lives, liberty and property to abjure the depredations of a remote government.

The Declaration of Independence — the reading of which is almost as integrally a part of the day’s celebrations as picnics and fireworks — was a careful stating of those insurrectionists’ beliefs regarding their rights as free men. It led to years of war and even more years of struggle in forging a new nation in the aftermath of that great conflict.

The constitutional government that emerged, binding the 13 states into a single union, was not anticipated by any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Their focus in 1776 was on obtaining a release from the dictates of a government in England many had come to regard as eminently foreign. And the purpose of that release was to protect the rights and freedoms each of the signers felt he was bequeathed at birth, but which that foreign government had threatened.

However, the triumphs of reason and reasonableness that gave us our Constitution and Bill of Rights ensured for generations of Americans the essential freedoms for which our Founding Fathers risked all 236 years ago.

Our duty to their sacrifice is, as George Santayana put it, to “… remember the past.” We must remember not just the blood that was shed at our nation’s birth – we must remember the many differences of opinion and belief that were resolved to craft a new government that has endured for more than two centuries.

Our democratic processes are being corrupted by the combination of technology and unlimited expenditures of money by those who would subvert the example set by our forefathers. This threatens to reduce our elections solely to exercises of profligacy and propagandizing, inundating the electorate with a mind-numbing cascade of political pablum, and awarding victory to the highest bidder.

Virtually extinct are substantive discourses on the great issues that confront our nation, or meaningful conversations about compromise in finding solutions. Instead, the people – and their elected representatives – have become polarized to such an extent that our government has devolved into a “winner-take-all” mentality.

In such a climate, the semblance of democracy in the functioning of our electoral processes belies the grave peril our hard-won freedoms now face.

If Independence Day is to have any real meaning, it must be a time for contemplation of how far afield our political processes have drifted since the founding of this country. It must be a time for recommitment to the ideals of historical awareness, reasonable accommodation and the preservation of all our guaranteed rights, not just for a privileged few, but for every American.

Posted in Editorials | 1 Comment

Health care decision a vital first step

On June 29, the Supreme Court of the United States released its long-awaited decision in the several cases aggregated as Florida, et al v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al. In a 5-4 decision, the majority, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, upheld almost all of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 — pejoratively referred to by opponents as “Obamacare” — including the controversial “individual mandate.”

The court disagreed that the individual mandate was constitutional under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution — the argument advanced by the Obama administration — but did find it an allowable exercise of the taxing authority of Congress. The only part of the law that actually was struck down was the portion related to the Medicaid expansion requiring states to comply or lose all federal Medicaid funds.

The constitutional processes of our government — executive, legislative and judicial — all functioned as they should in this matter, just as the Founding Fathers envisioned. The expectation at the birth of our nation was that the verdict of the Supreme Court would be the final word on such a matter. And so it is. Except, of course, for those who have a minuscule grasp of how our government was intended to work, or are unrepentant sore losers … or both.

Like it or not, the PPACA is now the law of the land. Americans can stop fretting that a grave illness will “max out” their insurance, because such arbitrary limits are forbidden. Americans now can stop fretting that a pre-existing health condition will preclude them from obtaining insurance, because such exclusions are forbidden. And the almost 40 million Americans who are not covered by any form of health insurance — and thus essentially are denied proper access to the full capabilities of our health care system — will begin gaining coverage under the expansions the act provides.

A tangible and proactive, if imperfect, first step in providing all Americans access to affordable health care has been taken. The nature of its imperfections will be hotly debated in coming months, but the one that ultimately will gain the most favor with the American people is … the PPACA does not do enough.

From the outset, the intention of the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress was to move toward a single-payer form of universal coverage — essentially an expansion of Medicare to cover all citizens, not just those over age 65. But the president’s desire for a bipartisan bill that could be supported by both parties gradually whittled away at the legislation until all that remained was a replication of the plan instigated by Mitt Romney when he was the Republican governor of Massachusetts.

Now that the PPACA is set for implementation, the people will become more and more cognizant of its shortcomings — especially the requirement that they must further enrich health insurance companies — and the inherent simplicity of providing universal coverage for all Americans under a single-payer plan.

Critics of a single-payer plan maintain that it will bankrupt the nation — that health care costs not only will continue to rise, but will rise faster than the participants’ contributions sustaining the system. It is true that costs likely will continue to rise, but not because of the plan itself. Rather, costs will continue to rise because of the unchecked greed and corruption of corporations involved in the delivery of health care.

In the 1990s, before he became governor of Florida, Rick Scott was CEO of health care giant Columbia/HCA. At the conclusion of a massive probe of that company’s billing practices by the FBI, Columbia/HCA pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and paid a record fine of $1.7 billion to settle the criminal and civil charges levied against it and its executive corps. No individual executive — including the CEO, who had by then taken the millions of dollars offered in severance and left the company — had to face criminal charges. The government, it seems, was content to recover most of the money defrauded from taxpayers, rather than also send rich corporate types to prison.

Columbia/HCA was charged with a host of corrupt practices, including “upcoding” (claiming patients were sicker than they were and filing for more expensive treatments) and bribing physicians and other health care providers to provide unnecessary referrals. The practices went back to the very first hospitals Rick Scott bought in Texas in the 1980s.

For years, the fine stood as the largest ever paid for health care fraud … until this week. GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical giant, just agreed to a new record fine of $3 billion in settlement of criminal and civil charges brought by the U.S. Justice Department for advertising drugs for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and for bribing doctors to prescribe its drugs.

Only two companies — a conglomerate that operates more than 250 hospitals and surgery centers, and a pharmaceutical monolith with $45 billion in worldwide sales — now account for almost $5 billion in criminal and civil fines paid to the U.S. government. One rightly could imagine that these two companies represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If so, then any single-payer system operated by the federal government — including the current Medicare system — is unnecessarily burdened by billions of dollars in fraudulent claims and charges. Eliminate the crooks — and their crooked spoils — and you eliminate most, if not all, of the upward pressure on health care costs.

Coupled with the efficiencies expected to be achieved from a single-payer system, health care costs actually should start to decline. But only if the malefactors among the health care providers are forced to conduct business honorably and fairly — or weeded out.

There are many who, awash in jingoistic pride, love to extol the United States as the greatest country in the world. But the greatest country in the world does not allow 50,000 of its citizens to die each year because they lack access to proper health care. Nor does it allow millions of its citizens to face economic ruin because of the costs of paying exorbitant health insurance premiums.

If America truly aspires to be the greatest country in the world, then it must start by ensuring that every American has affordable access to quality medical care.

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Final preparations under way for Siesta’s Fourth festivities

A sign at the entry to Siesta Key Public Beach warns the public that private fireworks are not allowed on the beach or in the park. Photo by Rachel Hackney

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota County Government are reminding the public about fireworks safety in advance of the July Fourth holiday.

Deputy Matt Binkley told about 20 members of the Siesta Key Village Association during their regular meeting July 3 that the Sheriff’s Office placed a digital sign at the entry to Siesta Public Beach on June 27, alerting visitors and residents alike to the fact that a county ordinance makes it illegal to shoot off private fireworks on the beach.

Deputies have seized fewer fireworks from the public in recent years, Binkley said, adding that he hoped they would continue to see an improved situation this year.

Although the rains from Tropical Storm Debby last week had created a less hazardous situation from a fire standpoint, Binkley said, fireworks still could harm people enjoying the holiday as well as the endangered birds that nest on the beach.

Extra Sheriff’s Office patrols, including the mounted patrol, will be operating on Siesta Key during the holiday, Binkley said, and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce has hired off-duty deputies to assist with any security issues that might arise.

SKVA member Dave Magee reported news from Kevin Cooper, executive director of the chamber, that the U.S. Coast Guard will not be opening the two island drawbridges after the chamber’s July Fourth fireworks show ends at the public beach, to facilitate the flow of traffic off the key.

Binkley said the Sheriff’s Office would have someone directing traffic at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41, while the Sarasota Police Department would have an officer stationed at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Osprey Road.

In related news, as of July 2, SKVA member Kay Kouvatsos reported, the Siesta Chamber was about $1,000 below its fundraising goal of $35,000 to pay for the fireworks on the beach.

A chamber spokesman told The Sarasota News Leader it is not too late to purchase VIP picnic tickets for the July Fourth festivities. The cost is $150 per couple, which includes the picnic — with beer and wine — a parking pass at the beach and a “front-row view” of the fireworks.

Kouvatsos noted that the picnic this year will kick off with shrimp cocktail, as part of an effort to diversify the menu.

Anyone interested in purchasing tickets must pay for them and pick them up by 5 p.m. today at the chamber office in Davidson Plaza.

For more information on the ticket packages, call the chamber at 349-3800 or visit www.siestakeychamber.com.

Safety on the Fourth

Sarasota County Government has pointed out that in 2010, fireworks caused approximately 15,500 reported fires, resulting in eight reported deaths, 60 civilian injuries and $36 million in direct property damage across the United States.

That same year, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 8,600 people for fireworks-related injuries, with 57% of those injuries to the extremities and 37% to the head.

The highest rate of injuries per million people was for children from ages 5 to 14, a county news release says. Almost two-thirds of the injuries were in males, it adds.

County officials point out that Chapter 791 of the Florida Statues makes it illegal to possess the following fireworks for consumer use: firecrackers, torpedoes, skyrockets and roman candles.

“Sparklers,” as approved by the Florida Fire Marshal’s Office, are legal, the release says. These include snake or glow worms, trick noisemakers, party poppers, snappers and sparklers.

For more information, call the Sarasota County Call Center at 861-5000 or visit www.scgov.net.

Posted in Crime & Law Enforcement, Parks and Recreation, Sarasota County, Siesta Key | Comments Off

City Commission continues manager search

Failing to reach a consensus today, July 2, on the three remaining applicants for Sarasota city manager, the City Commission voted to continue its search for a person to replace Robert Bartolotta, who resigned as city manager in January.

Commissioners agreed it would be unfair to hire one of the candidates without a unanimous vote.

Interim City Manager Terry Lewis reported this morning that Rich Chaffin of McKinney, Texas, had dropped out of contention.

The three remaining candidates were Ed Mitchell, city manager of West Palm Beach; James Chisholm, city manager of Daytona Beach; and Thomas Barwin of Oak Park, Ill., who was village manager of that Chicago suburb until March.

For all the details on the discussion, visit The Sarasota New Leader on Thursday.

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Storm impacts, Siesta Village issues on meeting agendas

The residential structure at 7110 Manasota Key Road is threatened by beach and dune erosion, according to a preliminary county staff assessment. The wooden deck has collapsed, and the dune walkover has been washed out.

During their monthly meetings this week, members of the Siesta Key Association are expected to hear an update on the damage Tropical Storm Debby inflicted on Sarasota County, while members of the Siesta Key Village Association are expected to hear updates July 3 on the bid process for the Siesta Village maintenance contract, noise issues in the village and Sarasota County staff efforts to determine the best way to illuminate the Village crosswalks.

Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson is expected to be present for the SKA meeting on July 5.

County staff has been continuing to compile and update assessments of beach erosion and other problems, County Administrator Randall Reid told The Sarasota News Leader July 2. A preliminary meeting was scheduled today, July 2, among county staff and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Laird S. Wreford, the county’s coastal resources manager.

In a June 29 email to Patterson, Wreford wrote, “Turtle Beach suffered some significant beach erosion from Tropical Storm Debby. It is estimated that 10-20 ft. of beach eroded away. South of Turtle Beach Public Park, from Fisherman’s Cove and Fisherman’s Haven condos down to the Palmer Point Park area, most of the restored beach and restored dune vegetation were washed away. … The rock revetment in front of Fisherman’s Cove and Fisherman’s Haven was exposed for the first time since the construction of the South Siesta Key beach nourishment project.”

However, Wreford added, the positive news was that some of the sand that had remained near the shore as submerged sand bars was expected to be pushed back up onto the shoreline in the coming days.

“So we won’t know the final loss for a little while,” Wreford added.

In an email sent to Reid June 29, Rob Lewis, the county’s executive director of planning and development services, said he had directed staff to Manasota Key last week for a hands-on review of storm damage to homes. Staff had met with John Geist, president of the Manasota Key Homeowners Association, and residents.

“They inspected homes on the beach side of the key to determine storm damage and to establish which agencies should be contacted and included in the dissemination of information toward the mitigation of storm damage,” Lewis added.

According to preliminary reports, Manasota Key sustained some of the worst erosion from the storm, county staff has notified the County Commission.

Lewis pointed out that one residence on that key had suffered “significant washout,” which had undermined its foundation.

The Village Association meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 3, at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, 5250 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key.

The SKA will meet at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, July 5, in Room F at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key.

Posted in Environmental News, Sarasota County, Siesta Key, Weather | Comments Off

Suncoast Super Boat Festival continuing through Sunday

A trailered Grand Prix boat is among the racers ready to launch in Sarasota Bay this weekend. Photos by Norman Schimmel

All weekend events of the 28th Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix Festival remain on schedule, according to the event’s website, with the Festival Parade of Boats starting at 7 p.m. today, June 29, on Main Street in downtown Sarasota.

The Boats by the Bay Downtown Block Party began at 5 p.m. on Gulfstream Avenue at the end of Main Street and will continue until midnight. The party features vendors, food and the Grand Prix boats on display. Live entertainment will be provided in J.D. Hamel Park.

The Meet and Greet Who’s in the Driver’s Seat will take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 30, in the Tropics Room at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. Tickets are $5 for adults, with children age 12 and under admitted free.

The brightly colored boats stand out at Centennial Park in Sarasota.

Powerboats By the Bay has been scheduled from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 30 at Centennial Park, at the intersection of 10th Street and U.S. 41 in Sarasota.

Bands will be playing from 12:30 p.m. until 9 p.m.

The Miss Super Boat Grand Prix Bikini Contest will be held on June 30 as well, with judging at 3 p.m. The contest will be on the stage at Centennial Park.

The annual Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix itself will feature two heats, tentatively scheduled at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 1, with live streaming on superboat.com.

The best viewing area is Lido Beach between New Pass and Big Pass.

The annual festival is a benefit for Suncoast Charities for Children. Over the years, the event has raised $14 million for facilities to serve children with special needs and their families. Among the agencies Suncoast Charities supports are the Loveland Center, Sarasota Special Olympics, Children First and The Florida Center.

The Sarasota grand prix is one of the longest continuously held races in the country, Suncoast Charities points out.

The Sarasota County Commission recognized the festival with a proclamation on June 26, noting that in 2011, the week-long event drew about 100,000 people, with the county realizing an economic impact
 of approximately $12.7 million.

For more information and a complete festival schedule, visit www.suncoastoffshore.org.

Posted in Downtown Sarasota, Sarasota County, Sarasota People | Comments Off

Post-Debby advisories issued for the public

A rainy haze seems to cover the downtown bayfront area as Tropical Storm Debby's rains pelted the area this week. Photo by Norman Schimmel

As local governments continue to deal with Tropical Storm Debby’s effects on the county, Sarasota County Emergency Management officials are urging businesses to report any damage, health officials are warning people to use caution around flooded areas and standing water and the City of Sarasota is asking for patience with debris collection.

In a news release issued today, June 29, the Sarasota County Emergency Management Department says information about businesses that suffered harm “is vital as damage assessment teams continue to evaluate the effects of the storm.”

The news release says business owners may report damage, losses, closings, impediments to reopening or any other issues of concern to a private sector hotline, 850-410-1403, between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily until further notice.

Information also may be reported by email to EOC-ESF18@em.myflorida.com.

Regarding floodwaters, the State Emergency Response Team with the Florida Department of Health is urging parents and other adults not to allow children to do the following:

  • Wade in or play in floodwater, as it may contain fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste and septic tanks.
  • Play with toys that have been in floodwater until the toys have been disinfected. Use one-fourth cup of bleach in one gallon of water to disinfect toys and other items.

The SERT also advises that if anyone with open cuts or sores is exposed to floodwater, the person keep the cuts as clean as possible by washing them with soap and disinfected or boiled water. If a wound develops redness, swelling or drainage, the person should seek immediate medical attention.

Residents who sustain lacerations and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past five years should get a tetanus booster, a county news release says.

Health officials also point out that drinking contaminated water from any source may cause illness. According to local health officials, all water utilities in Sarasota County that provide potable drinking water are operating at normal capacity. “However, if your well has been flooded, it needs to be disinfected and tested … after floodwaters recede,” the news release says.

Questions about testing should be directed to the Sarasota County Health Department at 941-861-6133.

County health officials also offered the following recommendations to promote safety in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby:

  • Do not drive through flooded roadways.
  • Look before you step, as the ground and floors may be covered with debris, including bottles and nails.
  • Avoid contact with downed power lines and electrical wires.
  • Do not open manhole covers.
  • Clean up debris to avoid injury and contamination.
  • Operate chainsaws only in safe conditions (not in water soaked areas), and only if you are experienced in the proper use of such equipment.
  • Wear shoes to avoid injury to the feet from glass, nails or other sharp objects.
  • Be alert to wildlife (snakes, alligators, etc.) that may have been displaced as a result of flooding.
  • Heed posted signage near affected area waterways.

Finally, the City of Sarasota has announced that short-term delays are possible with yard waste collection because of the higher than normal amount being collected after Tropical Storm Debby.

Waste Management, which picks up yard waste for the City of Sarasota, anticipates delays may occur through the beginning of next week, a city news release says.

“Your patience is requested as crews work longer hours and manage the larger workloads,” the release adds.”To assist with the collection, please remember trimmings should be less than 4 feet and weigh no more than 50 pounds.”

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Siesta Seen: Radar sign issue nearly resolved

Flags purchased by the Siesta Key Village Association are flying in the Village in honor of the upcoming July Fourth holiday. Photo by Rachel Hackney

During the six months since radar signs were installed around Siesta Key, one pad has been minus its sign. Apparently some misinformation has circulated about that sign situation, Chris Hauber, the technical specialist in the Sarasota County Mobility/Traffic Office told me June 29.

Hauber has been the project’s point person.

If all goes as he hopes it will, Hauber will have a new application turned in to the Florida Department of Transportation by July 3, to seek the final approval for installation of that last sign.

If he cannot complete the application before the July Fourth holiday, he said, it should go off to FDOT about 10 days later.

The radar sign has been planned for a location on Midnight Pass Road near the Commonwealth Drive intersection, in the vicinity of the “hump bridge” over the Grand Canal.

Once an application is submitted, Hauber said, FDOT generally responds within 30 days. If time ticks much past that period, he said, staff usually gives FDOT a call to find out what is causing the delay.

Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner had emailed county staff and FDOT earlier this month, asking what the hold-up was with that last sign.

In a June 12 email, Albert Rosenstein, FDOT engineering manager at the Sarasota Operations Center, responded that the unit and its components had not been crash-tested. Therefore, “the device needs to be located outside the requested location — which means it must be located further from the road than a post mounted sign.” Rosenstein added that because the sign had not been crash-tested, “there is a chance if someone hits it, the radar and associated components could cause great harm.”

Hauber indicated on June 29 that the sign and its components should meet FDOT standards, because that was the intent when the county purchased the equipment.

The worst-case scenario, Hauber said, would be for FDOT to require the sign to be moved further from the road, and that was not a major problem. The extra distance would be just 3 feet, Hauber said.

“It’s a minor, minor detail,” he pointed out.

FDOT has no interest in being responsible for the sign, Hauber added, and the county has no interest in FDOT being responsible for the sign.

Hauber was apologetic that the matter had not been resolved sooner.

“I’ve just been busy,” he said. “We have to prioritize,” he added, referring to county staff duties.

And while Tropical Storm Debby’s assault on Sarasota County created extra headaches for most staff, Hauber said the situation actually allowed him to get more work done this week. “I had fewer phone calls,” he said, though he added he would have to deal with some of the storm’s aftermath.

The dumpster

The dumpster in Siesta's public parking lot is used for trash related to Village upkeep. Photo by Rachel Hackney

As county staff led contractors through Siesta Village last week, to help them visualize what they would be bidding on if they wanted the job of maintaining the Village grounds, the group paused in front of the dumpster in the parking lot between Avenida de Mayo and Avenida Madera.

“This is our one dumpster,” Ryan Montague in the Mobility/Traffic office explained. It stays locked, he added, because Village businesses have tried to use it. Therefore, the company that wins the maintenance contract would get a key for the lock, Montague said.

Russell Matthes, president of the Siesta Key Village Association, was eyeing the trash bulging out of the top of the dumpster as Montague noted that that garbage is collected from it on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The dumpster has been one topic of continuing conversation for SKVA members over the past months, and it even sparked some email exchange this spring with county commissioners.

During the SKVA’s meeting June 5, Mark Smith, chairman of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., explained that SKVMC and SKVA representatives had approached John Davidson, who owns the buildings on Avenida Madera from which Anna’s Deli and Total Tennis relocated a few weeks ago, about moving the dumpster out of the parking lot and closer to Total Tennis.

However, Smith said, Davidson did not like that idea. Therefore, the dumpster will stay in the public parking lot, taking up space that could be used for vehicles.

“We’re going to have to enclose it,” Smith also noted of the dumpster.

When someone pointed out that that will mean losing another parking space in the lot, Smith said simply, “It just happens to be the only public lot in the Village.”

Rahmi Nehme, co-owner of Blasé Café, pointed out that the Village has parking spaces that are not used at night, but the business owners have towing signs up, warning drivers away from those spaces.

Businesses should allow people to use the spaces, Nehme said, especially during special events such as Siesta Fiesta, when the size of the crowd makes spots particularly difficult to find.

No one disagreed with that remark.

Speaking of maintenance …

On June 26, the Sarasota County Procurement Office sent out an addendum to the request for proposals for the Village maintenance contract, apparently providing answers to questions that had been asked by prospective bidders.

Among those answers are the following:

• Sunday visits are required year-round.

• All landscape beds shall be hand-pruned only. Electric or gas-powered shears may not be used on landscape bed plants.

• Vendors are required to replace missing and broken pavers, and the replacements must match the existing color conditions of in-ground pavers.

• Coconut palms are being replaced because they died during a hard freeze in the winter.

• Gas edgers, mowers and blowers may be used, but that usage must not interfere with outdoor dining or outdoor customer services.

The bids will be opened at 2:30 p.m. July 11 in the Procurement Department at the Sarasota County Administration Building, 1660 Ringling Blvd., in downtown Sarasota.

Boaters beware

Lots of visitors usually are present on Siesta Key during the July Fourth holiday, and it’s a good bet some of them will be renting boats to explore the Grand Canal.

Fortunately, Sarasota County officials did get some new “Slow Speed” signs erected late this spring to help protect the manatees that frequent the canal.

SKA President Catherine Luckner reported on that effort during the SKA’s May meeting, as the organization had requested the new signage months ago.

Two new signs extend the slow speed zone south of the Siesta Drive bridge (the north bridge), a new sign extends the slow speed zone to the area south of the Bird Colony Islands and one new sign extends the slow speed zone to the area north of the mouth of Phillippi Creek, Luckner said. The latter “is a very big area for manatees,” she added.

The county’s Natural Resources Department staff also saw to it that a new sign was erected to extend the slow speed zone to the area south of the Stickney Point Bridge. SKA Director Bob Waechter had pointed out last fall that that sign was missing.

A clean Key for ‘company’

During the Sarasota County Commission’s June 26 regular meeting, Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on the island, pointed out that Tropical Storm Debby had left Siesta “pretty messy.” She asked that county staff clean up all the debris before visitors descended upon the island for the July Fourth holiday next week.

Chairwoman Christine Robinson pointed out that visitors also could be expected in Englewood, Venice and on Lido Key, which needed to look presentable as well.

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key, Siesta Seen, Tourism, Weather | Comments Off

Debby leaves piles of debris

Cleanup efforts continued around the county today, June 28, as the remnants of Debby made their way out into the Atlantic Ocean.

The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression on June 27, according to the National Weather Service.

A report from Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane to county officials just after 9:30 p.m. June 27 said he and his staff would continue to collect and consolidate damage and flooding reports today, June 28, with estimated cost figures.

Staff photographer Norman Schimmel took the following photos June 27 on the Sarasota bayfront:

A view to the south along the bayfront shows more damaged boats beyond the sailboat.

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Final county property values down 1.1%, not 1.7%

Photo by Norman Schimmel

The final property values for Sarasota County are down only 1.1% from last year, Sarasota County Interim Chief Financial Officer Steve Botelho notified the commissioners and County Administrator Randall Reid late June 27.

The change will generate an additional $112,000 for the county’s general fund, compared to the preliminary budget presented to the commissioners earlier this month, Botelho added.

The June estimate was a 1.17% decrease, Botelho noted.

Botelho and his staff originally built in a 4% decrease in property values when they prepared preliminary budget figures for the 2013 fiscal year.

The final figure was provided by county Property Appraiser Bill Furst. By state law, it is required by July 1.

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County arts grants put on hold until July

The Flying Wallendas perform during a Cirque des Voix program of Circus Sarasota and Key Chorale in January. Circus Sarasota is among the organizations recommended for arts grant support for Fiscal Year 2013. Photo by Norman Schimmel

With Chairwoman Christine Robinson voicing displeasure about the paucity of recommended arts grants going to South County in fiscal year 2013, the Sarasota County commissioners voted unanimously June 26 to ask the executive director of the Sarasota County’s Arts and Cultural Alliance to come back with more information before the commission take its annual vote on all the grants.

Out of the $1.3 million in recommended Tourist Development Cultural/Arts Grant Awards for FY 2013, less than $90,000 was to be awarded to South County organizations, Robinson pointed out during the board’s regular meeting in Sarasota.

That was less than 7% of the total, she said.

Commissioner Nora Patterson made the motion to ask Jim Shirley to come before the board again on July 11.

“I’ve never been totally sure that a new arts organization or an arts organization that feels like it can field something [new] that can produce tourism” receives adequate assistance to apply for funding support, Patterson said.

She added that the purpose of the grants was to spur tourism.

Robinson expressed frustration because Shirley could not provide detailed documentation about his discussions with South County applicants for the 2013 fiscal year grants.

The list the alliance had prepared for the commission’s consideration this week recommended only three South County grant recipients: the North Port Art Guild, with an award of $4,903 for a program titled, Mandalas for World Peace; Venice Theatre, $78,516 for its 2012-13 tourist season; and the Venice Symphony, $3,614 for a program titled Evening in Vienna.

Last year, during an appearance Shirley made before the commission regarding tweaks to the application process, Robinson had requested he put more emphasis on helping South County organizations apply for the grants.

Robinson lives in South County and has represented its interests since she has been on the commission.

Robinson told Shirley on June 26 that she could find only one line in his report for the June 26 meeting relating to her 2011 request, and that line just referenced his having increased his number of visits to South County to encourage participation in the grant process.

“I’m routinely down there once or twice a month,” Shirley said. However, he added, he had tried to increase the number of those visits to three or four a month.

Additionally, Shirley said the alliance staff had made sure advertising about the arts grants had been spread evenly throughout the county.

“Did you document who you met with [in South County]?” Robinson asked him.

“Oh, yes,” Shirley replied.

When she told him she wanted that information, he said he could provide it to her at a later time.

Shirley added that South County had about nine groups that potentially could be eligible for the arts grants under the guidelines the county had established.

“I actually believe there are more than nine,” Robinson replied.

When Shirley said 26 organizations were represented at the South County orientation session he had hosted regarding the grant application process, Robinson asked how many of those were based in South County.

Sixteen were from Sorth County, he indicated. Combining figures from the meetings in both parts of the county, Shirley said he estimated 30 to 32 organizations altogether had represented South County.

“We did receive five applications [from South County groups this year] that qualified,” for the grants, he told Robinson. Two dropped out after beginning the process, he said.

“Why did those folks withdraw?” Robinson asked.

“I do not know,” Shirley told her, though he said he felt they had pulled out because they would have had difficulty “meeting the criteria for the grant.”

When Robinson then asked him about new organizations seeking grants, Shirley explained that the criteria for the Cultural/Arts Grant Awards require an organization to have been registered with the state for at least one year and to meet the requirements for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status as stipulated in the Internal Revenue Code.

However, Shirley reminded the commissioners that the county had a pool of $20,000 that could be used for arts grants for new organizations through the Opportunity Grant Program. Orientation meetings for groups interested in those one-time grants were scheduled in both North and South County later this week, Shirley said, with the application process opening July 7.

Robinson asked him to be sure to contact any of the South County organizations that had attended the earlier sessions but had not applied for the other grants.

“Last year, I voted for the [grant recommendation list],” Robinson said, “but I had a deep concern about it. This year, I continue to have a deep concern. Nothing’s changed, other than one [extra] award to South County. There’s a problem here, and it needs to be fixed.”

Shirley pointed out that two additional South County organizations, not one, had been recommended for grants in FY 2013.

“It still amounts to 7%,” Robinson said, whereas last year, the amount going to the single South County organization was a bit more than 7%.

Then Patterson asked Shirley whether he knew what percentage of the tourist development tax revenue was collected in South County. She thought it was about 8%, she said.

That figure represented revenue just from the City of Venice and the City of North Port, Robinson told Patterson. It did not include Casey Key or hotels in Englewood, for example, she added.

“I think that probably it is time that we ask Mr. Shirley to come in for a more leisurely discussion item and talk with the board about what he actually does to encourage new organizations that haven’t been recipients of grants before,” Patterson said.

“In a way,” Patterson continued, “the deck is a little bit stacked against South County just because your existing arts organizations tend to be in North County,” and the majority of hotels that collect the tourist development tax are in North County.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta agreed with Patterson, saying, “This is a function [of] where [the assets] are located.” He pointed to organizations on the list, including Selby Gardens, Sarasota Opera and Sarasota Ballet, as examples.

Still, Patterson said she agreed with Robinson that more of an effort needed to be made to recruit South County organizations for the arts grants.

“These organizations need to come forward,” Barbetta said.

When Patterson asked how soon the grants needed to be awarded, Shirley said July would be “our timeline to keep things on schedule.”

Recommended grants

The following is the complete list of arts grants the Cultural/Arts Grant Panel, operating under the aegis of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, recommended for funding in the new fiscal year. Forty applications were submitted; 38 of them won approval, according to a memo provided to the County Commission:

• Art Center Sarasota, Season 2012-13: Southern Exposure, in the amount of $37,648;

• Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, Inc., Sarasota — From the Top, in the amount of $9,535;

• Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota Inc., Core Season Seventeen, in the amount of $12,563;

• Asolo Theatre Inc., Celebrating the American Character: From Shoulder to Shoulder, in the amount of $80,222;

• Avenida de Colores Inc., Sarasota Chalk Festival, in the amount of $34,512;

• Banyan Theatre Company Inc., Summer Season 2013, in the amount of $16,293;

• Circus Sarasota Inc., Winter Production, in the amount of $52,157;

• Circus Sarasota Inc., Holiday Spectacular & Spring Show, in the amount of

$26,627;

• Coexistence Inc., Embracing Our Differences 10th Anniversary, in the amount of

$22,651;

• Florida Studio Theatre, Inc., 2013 Sarasota Festival of New Plays, in the amount of $41,392;

• Florida Studio Theatre Inc., Summerfest 2013, in the amount of $40,965;

• Gloria Musicae, Spotlight Gloria Musicae, in the amount of $7,532;

• Gulf Coast Heritage Association Inc., Holly Days & Mangrove Lights, in the amount of $22,007;

• Gulf Coast Heritage Association Inc., Exploraventures! Family Days at Historic

Spanish Point, in the amount of $7,101;

• Key Chorale Inc., Key Chorale: Widening Our Reach, in the amount of $13,460;

• La Musica di Asolo Inc., Celebration, in the amount of $17,752;

• Marie Selby Botanical Garden Inc., Live Performance at the Gardens 2012-13, in the amount of $79,370;

• Mote Marine Laboratory Inc., Sea Lions: The Water’s Edge, in the amount of $64,083;

• New College Foundation Inc., New Music New College season 2012-13, in the amount of $22,677;

• North Port Area Art Guild Inc., Mandalas for World Peace, in the amount of $4,903;

• Ringling School of Art and Design, 2012-2013 Selby Gallery Exhibitions & Visiting Artists Program, in the amount of $23,409;

• Sarasota Ballet of Florida Inc. Twenty-Second Season, in the amount of $81,929;

• Sarasota Dance Festival, Holiday Dance Spectacular, in the amount of $18,286;

• Sarasota Film Festival Inc., 15th Annual Sarasota Film Festival, in the amount of $45,842;

• Sarasota Film Society Inc., Cine-World Film Festival 2012, in the amount of$10,651;

• Sarasota Opera, Fall Production: Rigoletto and Little Nemo in Slumberland, in the amount of $40,965;

• Sarasota Opera, Opera Lovers Weekend 2013, in the amount of $40,538;

• Sarasota Orchestra/Florida West Coast Symphony Inc., Shoulder Season 2012-2013, in the amount of $81,076;

• Sarasota Pops Orchestra Inc., 2012-13 Season The Wedding Season, in the amount of $3,753;

• The Florida State University, on behalf of John and Mabel Ringling Museum of

Art Foundation, Sarasota in the Age of the American Moderns, in the amount of

$83,637;

• The Perlman Music Program/Suncoast Inc., the Emerging Artists Performance Series, in the amount of $4,438;

• The Players Inc., Broadway Theatre Series, in the amount of $30,431;

• The Players Inc., Summer Sizzler Series, in the amount of $16,045;

• Van Wezel Foundation, World Class Entertainment, in the amount of $76,468;

• Van Wezel Foundation, Friday Fest on the Bay 2012, in the amount of $7,023;

• Venice Theatre Inc., 2012-2013 Tourist Season, in the amount of $78,516;

• Venice Symphony Inc., Evening in Vienna, in the amount of $3,614;

• Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, WBTT Shoulder Season 2012-2013, in the amount of $43,403.

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Withdrawn Buchanan filing says media reports ‘disparaging’ the congressman

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota / VIA FACEBOOK

As U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s legal troubles start to catch the eye of national news networks, it’s clear that his legal team is not pleased with how one Tampa Bay media outlet is covering the congressman’s ongoing dispute with a former business partner over allegations of illegal campaign contributions.

In documents filed with Sarasota County on June 22, lawyers for Buchanan asked the judge overseeing the case to stop plaintiff Sam Kazran and his lawyer, Robert Stok, from speaking to the media. Kazran is suing Buchanan in part because, Kazran says, the congressman worked ”to silence Kazran regarding numerous election laws which were knowingly violated by Buchanan during his run for public office.”

In its filing, Buchanan attorney Michael Semanie argued that Kazran and Stok are “trying this case in the media,” “publicly disparaging” Buchanan’s character and employing “calculated and deliberate public smear tactics.” Their evidence? Three stories aired and posted by the Tampa Bay station WTSP:

All three were written by WTSP Senior Reporter Mike Deeson.

“Although Defendants do not presently question the motives of the author of the attached articles, certain reported ‘facts’ intended to disparage Defendants’ character, which could have been gleaned only from Plaintiffs’ counsel or Plaintiff himself, are demonstrably false,” Semanie wrote. A footnote claimed that “a demand for correction” was sent to Deeson.

Deeson posted a “clarification” Tuesday, June 26, the day after Semanie formally withdrew his request to have Kazran and Stok muzzled. “It’s not like I’m the only one that’s reporting things about him,” Deeson tells the News Leader, citing recent CNN and New York Times stories about the case. “But let’s be honest. I did make a mistake.”

The real reason for the Buchanan motion may have been to prevent the pretrial release of a videotaped deposition Buchanan is scheduled to give July 30-31. Buchanan’s team argued that legal precedent gives the court the right to restrict release of that deposition, arguing that Kazran and Stok want to turn “‘the discovery process into a means to obtain information for publication in the press or other media.’”

The deposition may “contain matters that are inadmissible in evidence, irrelevant to the issues in litigation, defamatory, or prejudicial,” Semanie wrote, concluding: “The video deposition will proceed as scheduled and Plaintiffs will be entitled to use the videotape and information for the preparation of their case — just not for the purpose of unfairly prejudicing the Defendant.”

When asked about the filing and its withdrawal, Buchanan attorney Mark Ornstein writes in an email that the motion was rescinded “at Vern’s request”:

Kazran must be held accountable for refusing to repay the loans, and this proceeding must go forward without distraction. It is important to remember that Vern first sued Kazran on September 4, 2008 to recover his loans; and Kazran then cynically brought a different lawsuit against Vern on October 1, 2008. Kazran has no excuse for his failure to repay the $3 million he borrowed from Vern. The facts involving this business dispute are clearly on our side and we look forward to a swift resolution that forces Kazran to repay the money.

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Re-filed lawsuit seeks reopening of Midnight Pass

A Sarasota County diagram from 2006 shows a project proposal for reopening Midnight Pass.

The Midnight Pass Society has re-filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking judicial orders requiring the appropriate Sarasota County, State of Florida and U.S. officials to issue permits necessary for the reopening of Midnight Pass between Siesta and Casey keys.

The case was filed June 12 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

“We’re looking to get relief,” Jim Herbert, chairman of the 2,000-member Midnight Pass Society, told The Sarasota News Leader June 27. “It’s been a long time now,” he added, noting the pass was closed in 1983.

The defendants are Sarasota County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lawsuit was filed under the citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Water and Endangered species acts, it says.

The case originally was filed in March 2011, but it was withdrawn last fall after the determination was made that errors in it could have hindered its progress through the legal system, Herbert said.

“Our attorneys felt it was better to pull it and re-file,” he added. “We’re just hoping to get this back on track. Ideally,” he said, “we could sit down with the parties and get this thing done.”

The lawsuit contends that “acts and omissions of federal, state and local governmental officials are keeping Midnight Pass artificially closed, which is causing ongoing harm to the environment, the Florida manatee, and residents of the Siesta Key area in continuing violation of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act …”

It also contends that the continuing closure of the pass “is depriving plaintiffs of their rights to engage in interstate commerce and to the equal protection of the laws …” The latter clause refers to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit points out that Midnight Pass “was a natural and navigable channel owned by the State of Florida at the juncture of Siesta Key and Casey Key … [which are] barrier islands located between the western side of Little Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 12 miles south of the city of Sarasota.”

The lawsuit says the pass appeared on navigation charts dating to 1883. Even the “improper dumping of approximately 225,000 cubic yards of dredged material” during the construction of the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1960s did not cause the pass to close naturally, the lawsuit points out, though that dumping did result in the pass migrating, leading to erosion of beachfront property.

In 1983, two Siesta Key residents “whose homes were threatened by beach erosion artificially filled Midnight Pass with spoil and sand and closed it,” the lawsuit points out.

Those private homeowners were Syd Solomon and Pasco Carter Jr.

The county, the state and the Army Corps of Engineers issued the permits for that closure, the lawsuit says, “on the condition that [the pass] be reopened in the future. Midnight Pass remains closed, resulting in ongoing harm to the water in Little Sarasota Bay, the property of thousands of homeowners, the economic livelihood of businesses that depend on tourism, fishing and boating, and the safety and well-being of the endangered Florida Manatee.”

The suit adds that the closing “has resulted in a substantial diminution in the number of species that historically inhabited this area.”

In 1991 and 2008, Sarasota County and the Midnight Pass Society applied to DEP for permits to reopen the pass, the lawsuit notes. DEP denied the permit on the first try, the suit says. In 2008, DEP issued a Notice of Intent to Deny the second application, “after which it was withdrawn by Sarasota County.”

The lawsuit says that Notice of Intent to Deny was issued because DEP officials “determined that opening a new inlet would cause significant adverse impact to the existing (post-closure) coastal structure,” and that they “did not consider whether the closure of the original Pass was having an adverse impact on the natural coastal system.”

Along with the Midnight Pass Society, plaintiffs include two restaurants on the south part of Siesta Key — Turtles and Ophelia’s on the Bay — and Turtle Beach Marina.

Four individuals also are listed as plaintiffs: Vince Plodzien, a resident of Blind Pass Road on Siesta Key; Randy Cornell, a Chattanooga, Tenn., resident who visits Siesta Key regularly, according to the suit; Steve Brannan, a Sarasota County resident and “avid fisherman and boater,” the suit says; and Arthur Singleton, a resident of Fisherman’s Haven Condominiums, adjacent to the pass.

County’s response

Sarasota County Assistant Attorney David M. Pearce filed a motion on June 19 to dismiss the lawsuit.

The motion says three of the lawsuit’s counts fail to state a cause of action against the county under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Those regard violations of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Commerce Clause.

The court should dismiss the other two counts, the motion says, “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction” under Federal Rues of Civil Procedure.

Those last two counts deal with the issue of the Equal Protection Clause and the failure to act on the permit for reopening Midnight Pass.

Regarding the last count, the county’s motion says, “as the permit applicant, it would be the County which would have been harmed by the alleged failure to process an application.” The motion adds that the plaintiffs were relying on “third-party standing” to assert the rights of the county.

The county contends the plaintiffs lack that standing.

A current Sarasota County aerial map shows the general area where Midnight Pass was situated between Siesta and Casey keys.

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key | 1 Comment

Children’s Fountain reopens in Bayfront Park

The Children's Fountain is a popular feature of Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Steigerwaldt-Jockey Children’s Fountain, located within Bayfront Park, has reopened following cleanup and debris removal made necessary by Tropical Storm Debby’s assault on Sarasota County, the City of Sarasota announced today, June 28.

The fountain will be open until 7 p.m. tonight, a city news release says.

Weather permitting, the Children’s Fountain will continue to be open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. through Labor Day, the news release adds.

For more information about the Steigerwaldt-Jockey Children’s Fountain call 365-5318.

Posted in City of Sarasota, Parks and Recreation | Comments Off

New Sarasota County Government website unveiled

The proposed new homepage for Sarasota County Government features easier access to the most frequently visited county sites, staff members say.

Sarasota County commissioners on June 27 proposed some tweaks to the design of the new county website, specifically to make it easier for people to find out information about economic development.

During a presentation by Crystal Pruitt in the Communications Department and Barbara Garrett in the Information Technology Department, Commissioner Joe Barbetta pointed out that if people can’t find information readily on a website, they leave it quickly. “It’s my understanding you have about 20 or 30 seconds to capture someone when they come on your site,” he said.

Pruitt told him that economic development was one of the topics that would be easily accessible from a button on the lower part of the homepage.

Barbetta responded that people tended to use search bars right away, and someone typing in “economic development” in the search bar at the top of the new website should be able to bring up a page with information on the county’s economic development programs.

He added that he wanted “better links to key things in the county. … There should be a homepage for economic development.”

Garrett told Barbetta that staff could use key words on pages to help someone reach links faster.

“I think the suggestion is we have direct contact information,” County Administrator Randall Reid told Garrett and Pruitt.

Barbetta also said he would like to see a collage of photos related to economic development show up when a person went to that page.

Chairwoman Christine Robinson concurred with the need to make it easier to find information about economic development, adding, “Jobs is the No. 1 issue that is facing our county right now.” She asked Pruitt and Garrett to make sure a website user could touch one button and reach an economic development homepage.

Moreover, Robinson said, it should be easy for small business owners as well as representatives of larger companies to find the resources they needed on the website. She pointed out that certain information would be important to both types of businesses.

Barbetta also emphasized the need for simple links, though he voiced approval of some of the links planned, including one for information about the county’s beaches and parks.

Barbetta stressed that the website needs to get users “to the right place so they can contact somebody right away.”

However, Barbetta conceded those were just his views.

“They want your comments,” Reid said, referring to Pruitt and Garrett. “That’s the intent of presenting [this].”

Pruitt told the commissioners, “Most of the changes that we have heard today are very easy to do.”

After the website launched, she said, staff would monitor it regularly and continue to seek responses from the commissioners and the public about any further changes that were needed.

That launch is expected in about two weeks, she told The Sarasota News Leader.

Commissioner Nora Patterson asked whether Pruitt and Garrett could appear again before the board and demonstrate the changes Barbetta and Robinson had proposed, once the features had been incorporated into the design,.

Those were good suggestions the commissioners had made, Patterson added, “and I’d like to see what you do with them.”

Reid said the follow-up appearance would be scheduled.

During the presentation June 27, Pruitt also noted that “Sarasota County Excels” would be the logo incorporated throughout the website as “branding.”

She added that, based on research and analytics as well as work with focus groups, staff had learned that the most visited parts of the current website were the calendar of events, the contact button, the Sarasota County Area Transit site, the beaches/park information, the libraries site and the electronic newsletter. As a result, she said, buttons featured on the new website would make those sites easier to find.

Buttons for the county commissioners and Reid’s office would be easier to access as well, Pruitt said.

Garrett also pointed out that staff in each department would be able to load material onto the site — including photos and video — without having to go through the Communications Department.

“You do check the quality of [that material]?” Reid asked.

The Communications staff would check everything before it appeared on the website, Garrett told him.

Highlights of the new website

The staff presentation noted the following among the features of the new website:

• A current weather and beach cam link “as a friendly reminder that Sarasota County is a great place to live, work and play.”

• News and video access located prominently in the center of the homepage.

• Easy navigation to a list of online services such as the county’s new eProcure system for vendors bidding on county projects, GIS mapping, the online auction and water bill payments.

When Commissioner Patterson asked, “What’s the ‘online auction’?” Pruitt responded that it was a link to a national site featuring surplus items, including those from Sarasota County, on which members of the public could bid.

“We’ve had it for quite a while now,” Pruitt added. “These things which may have been buried in several links are now brought forth to the front of scgov.net,” she added.

Posted in Sarasota County | Comments Off

Stormwater discussion leads to confusion, rebuke

County commissioners debate staff’s approach to basin analysis

A Sarasota County map shows areas where basin management plans have been completed or are planned.

What was pegged as an update for the Sarasota County Commission this week on the county’s Stormwater Environmental Utility Program and new state water quality standards ended up with commissioners confused about the action staff wanted, one commissioner warning about spending money unnecessarily, and County Administrator Randall Reid affirming that staff needed to be clear about what it wanted in any appearance before the board.

At one point in the discussion, Commissioner Nora Patterson said, “This is about as clear as mud.”

John Ryan, a manager in the Environmental Utilities Department, told the commission June 27 that in February, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law new standards for nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll in the state’s waterways.

The Hudson Bayou and Phillippi Creek basins were just over the maximum allowed level for phosphorus, Ryan said, but the Gottfried Creek Basin, which drains into Lemon Bay near Englewood, had a phosphorus level considerably higher than the state allowed.

When Commissioner Joe Barbetta asked whether a plant nursery was in the area, Theresa A. Connor, director of the Environmental Utilities Department, replied that there was.

“It seems like that might be one of the sources,” Barbetta told her.

Patterson said she recalled from owning a nursery years ago that the county’s soil had a naturally higher level of phosphorus. A county extension agent had formulated a fertilizer for her business, she said, that excluded phosphorus for that reason.

“We’ve done some testing of the situation with the area [of Gottfried Creek],” Connor said, but staff still was unable to determine the source of the problem.

“So there’s not enough ground phosphorus to explain this?” Patterson asked.

“No,” Connor said.

Dealing with the permits

Connor also pointed out that if the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found any impaired waterways in the county within five years after it issued a new stormwater management plan permit for the county, state law would allow DEP to step in and ensure the county took the necessary measures to solve the problems.

Because the county would have to renew its stormwater permits in 2013, Connor suggested that a study of the phosphorus situation in Gottfried Creek could serve as a pilot program for handling the new state standards.

County staff could work with landowners, businesses and organizations in the affected community, Connor said, “to see what can be done to reduce the nutrient loadings in that basin.”

When Commissioner Jon Thaxton asked how long an analysis of the problem would take, Connor replied, “It shouldn’t take long … a matter of months.”

When Barbetta asked how much the initiative would cost, Connor said, “I would think it would be in the $50,000 range …”

Then Barbetta asked whether such an effort would come under the scope of work for which the county already had hired the firm of Jones Edmonds & Associates of Gainesville.

“They were looking a little more holistic in nature,” Connor said.

Still, Barbetta told her, he wanted staff to check into the charge given to Jones Edmonds, because the county already had paid the firm between $6 million and $7 million, “and I want to make sure we’ve gotten our money’s worth.”

Connor said staff would check into that.

What action is appropriate?

“Do you need us to authorize anything?” Chairwoman Christine Robinson asked.

“You’re not voting on it today,” Connor said of the analysis, adding that she was seeking board consensus on having staff work on amending the Gottfried Creek Basin Master Plan.

After the study was done, she said, staff would come back to the board for approval of whatever next steps seemed appropriate.

A Sarasota County Environmental Utilities Department slide shows details about new Florida regulations for waterways.

“Sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with the [nutrient] loading analysis,” Thaxton said. “Once the threshold is established and you have multiple exceedents of the threshold, either you demonstrate you’re going to fix it or [state officials] are going to fix it for us.”

In the latter event, he added, “all local discretion is removed. … This [basin study] is a good first step to avoiding that.”

Barbetta said he still was not willing to give his OK for funding a study.

Then a motion would be needed, Robinson said.

“What you’re saying is you want to do a narrower study and bring the details of the plan back to us?” Patterson asked Connor.

“Correct,” Connor told her, adding, “We’re not creating any future obligations for you to accept anything.”

Patterson said she would make a motion to include the language Connor wanted. Robinson phrased it as “moving that Environmental Services study the results of data for the Gottfried Creek Basin Master Plan and bring that back to us for review.”

Thaxton seconded it.

However, Barbetta told Connor her department could do the study. “You’re stormwater engineers for the county. Isn’t that part of your job?”

“It’s just having the time and the people to dedicate to this particular thing,” Connor said, which is why she had suggested a consultant do the study.

Then Barbetta told her, “I don’t know your workload. That’s up to you and Mr. Reid.”

“We wish we had the time,” Connor told Barbetta.

“This would seem as though it would be a part of the regular tasks of staff,” Robinson said.

When Robinson then asked for help in clarifying what was being sought, Reid told her, “I think we can review whether we have the ability to do [the study] in-house or not. But I think the recommendation is to try to address this through consulting contracts.”

Motion confusion

“Then we need to say that in a motion,” Robinson replied, adding that she had not understood from an earlier, one-on-one discussion with staff, before the meeting, that consulting fees would be sought.

Connor reiterated that the presentation was designed partly just to let the board know “we need to amend the Gottfried Creek Basin Master Plan. We’re not asking you to approve a contract.”

Connor added, “As we get into it and look at it, if we would need to have a consultant to do the actual analysis … we can look at whether we can do that in-house or externally.”

When Robinson clarified that Connor would come back to the board for any vote on paying for such a contract, Connor said that was correct.

“We want to be transparent,” Connor added.

When Patterson then asked if she could postpone a vote on her motion until Connor came back to the board, to seek a vote on the scope of the work needed to amend the basin plan, Robinson suggested it would be simpler to rule the motion out of order.

“Fine,” Patterson said.

“Thank you,” Robinson told her.

Then Patterson said to Connor, “I actually believe that you probably don’t have enough in-house staff to do [the study] … and that’s another whole philosophic discussion.”

However, Patterson added, “I, like others, really do like to know what I’m voting for.”

“I apologize for the lack of clarity,” Connor said.

Then Commissioner Carolyn Mason said that in regard to the inter-office memos the board received from staff, “It’s really important to have the recommended motion or action staff is looking for …

“To me, [what staff is seeking] ought to be crystal clear, and this [memo] doesn’t say you’re looking for any particular action,” Mason told Connor.

“If staff is looking for something,” Reid said, “it ought to be in the staff [material] submitted to the board.”

When he originally heard details about the stormwater management presentation for the June 27 meeting, Reid said, no mention was made of a need for board action.

“I believe [the prepared staff presentation] should conclude with the recommendation reflected in the [commission’s meeting material] packet,” he added, “if there is going to be a request for action.”

Posted in Environmental News, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Gulf Gate Library plans draw positive commission comments

A Harvard Jolly rendering shows the design of the exterior for the new Gulf Gate Library.

Of all the comments Sarasota County staff had received on preliminary design features for the new Gulf Gate library, “ninety-eight percent have been positive, overwhelmingly,” Project Manager Carolyn Eastwood told the County Commission during its regular meeting June 26.

After she and her team showed the board the latest design concepts for the facility planned to replace the existing library at 7112 Curtiss Ave., Eastwood asked for the commisisoners’ “blessing going forward.”

Commissioner Joe Barbetta responded with a motion for “[the team] to go forward with what we’ve seen today and refining it.”

Commissioner Nora Patterson seconded the motion.

“Third,”Commissioner Carolyn Mason added, drawing chuckles.

The motion passed unanimously.

“I think I like what I see,” Barbetta said.

A few people had expressed disapproval of the modernist look of the exterior, Eastwood responded.

“I like the style,” Commissioner Jon Thaxton said.

“And personally I love that kind of style,” Patterson added. However, she said, “it isn’t always the easiest to maintain.”

Sarabeth Kalajian, general manager of the county’s library system, told the board that when the project team had met earlier in the day, its focus was, ‘Let’s get the design that’s easy to maintain.’”

The design is expected to be complete by January 2013, Eastwood said, with construction getting under way in February 2013. Completion is projected for April 2014, she added, with a grand opening in May that year.

A fourth open-house meeting on the design work is scheduled for the public on Aug. 9, Eastwood said.

Mason commended the project team for holding the three open-house meetings. Eastwood had noted earlier that those sessions had drawn 80, 35 and 76 attendees, respectively.

When she attended two of the meetings, Mason said, “people were just raving about that particular format and how it provided an informal way for them to speak …”

Mason added, “Some people don’t like speaking in public, but they have something to say.”

Kalajian responded that she had seen some of the same people at all three open houses. “It’s really an engagement” with community members, she added.

One major concern prior to the start of construction is finding a temporary location for the library, Eastwood added. Kalajian is working on that with John Herrli, the county’s land acquisition manager, Eastwood said.

When Patterson asked whether the new library could be completed earlier than planned, Eastwood replied, “We’ve been talking about how to advance some of the project as best we can.”

Considering the heavy use of Gulf Gate Library, Patterson said, “a temporary facility, no matter how well done, is still going to be not the same.”

Eastwood said staff was hopeful that suitable temporary quarters could be found close to the site of the current library.

It probably would not have as many books, she added, but “this library has a very strong youth activity center,” so staff was trying to find a place that could accommodate as many of the regular programs as possible.

Harvard Jolly plans show the proposed layout for the library's first and second floors.

Eastwood and Ward J. Friszolowski, executive vice president of Harvard Jolly Inc. — the architectural firm handling the design — both commented on the current schematics as they showed them to the board. Eastwood pointed out that a number of people had told the project team they didn’t like the long walk from the furthest point of the parking lot to the current facility.

Therefore, Friszolowski said, the new library would be located in the middle of the property.

Eastwood noted that the existing single-story structure is about 17,000 square feet, while the new, two-story building will be approximately 28,500 square feet.

As he brought up the slides of the conceptual concepts for the interior, Friszolowski pointed out the first floor would include a small café, a Friends of the Library area — with the group’s bookstore — the circulation desk, a children’s area with a story-time room and an area that featuring primarily books in the adult fiction collection.

A Harvard Jolly rendering shows an interior design concept.

Outside courtyards will be included in the design, he said, as those existing features of the current library have proven very popular.

Patterson asked about shade for outdoor seating areas, saying she saw none on the conceptual plans.

A project team member assured her that shade would be included in the design through the use of trellis-type structures.

The public will be able to access the second floor by a grand staircase or by two elevators, Friszolowski continued.

Among the features of that level will be “a great space for teens, which are an important part of the [library user] population” for Gulf Gate, Friszolowski said.

The second floor also will have the public computer area, study rooms and the Youth Department.

The design will make use of natural light as much as possible, he said, though in a controlled fashion that would be energy-efficient.

Thaxton drew laughter with a comment about the landscaping: “I look at these [schematics] sometimes and pay attention to things I’m not supposed to pay attention to,” he said. The plans for the new library “show pinnate palms rather than the palmate palms” native to Florida, he pointed out.

“The landscaping is not so [literal] as the building [design] itself,” Friszolowski replied.

The Harvard Jolly team has a landscape architect on staff to make certain appropriate plants and trees will be included on the site, he added.

Thaxton drew more chuckles later when he asked  whether the latest interior color scheme included more burnt orange than the previous renderings had featured.

A staff member responded that the shading change had resulted from the use of a different printer for the schematics.

Posted in Neighborhoods, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Movie, movie

‘Brave’ is one of numerous movies geared to children in the summer of 2012. (Photo from AllMoviePhoto.com; Disney:Pixar)

Remember the olden days (about 10 years ago), when a movie was still called a “movie,” and not a “film”? And, remember when summer at the movies also included choices for adults — stories about humans, not avatars; stories with actual people portraying their roles; and not everything with computer-generated graphics?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a movie fan my whole life. I practically was raised in the business, having been brought up in a household where my dad was a movie executive, and weekly private screenings at his office were the norm.

I really love all kinds of movies, but in recent summers (that seem to grow longer and longer every year), I don’t have many options. I’m sitting at home, reading movie reviews online or in our newspapers, and I don’t even see a single R-rated movie, or even a PG-13.  This is code for: All kids can see any and all of what’s available. Their parents don’t have to worry about inappropriate behavior or dialogue.

But I’m actually looking for the “forbiddens.” I’m desperate to see a dysfunctional family, an alcoholic father who may or may not redeem himself or some good old teenage rebellion. I need to escape from my own reality by being absorbed in the story on screen.

I’m happily willing to pay regular admission for a ticket to see some talented actors portraying a myriad of adults with adult problems. And maybe the problems are not always resolved in two hours; that’s all right, too.

It really isn’t fair that the major studios choose to ignore those of us who care about such thought-provoking films during these endless summers. The studios make us wait for the short fall season to see Oscar-caliber movies.

In times past, the adults were in charge, and the kids were grateful for a chance to see any movie at all. How about a return to these days, just for a little while? I’ll even get the giant box of popcorn.

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Sarasota People | Comments Off

Roads remain closed because of flooding

Then Tropical Storm Debby creates flooding in the Golden Gate area of downtown Sarasota. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota County Emergency Management Department issued an update just after noon today, June 27, on road and bridge conditions, along with new damage information, resulting from Tropical Storm Debby’s assault on the county.

Debby has been downgraded to a tropical depression since she made landfall at 5 p.m. June 26 near Steinhatchee, about 35 miles north-northwest of Cedar Key.

Closed roads and bridges

  • Richardson Road, west of Coburn Road, in Sarasota is closed due to a culvert failure and collapse of the roadway.
  • North Beach Road remains closed to Columbus Avenue (Siesta Key Village).
  • Per order of the U.S. Coast Guard, movable bridges remain locked down to allow vehicular traffic to pass. Vessel traffic is limited. Bridges will not open unless a vessel is in distress.

Beware of water

Motorists are advised to avoid the following streets and roads because of standing water:

  • 5257 Avenida Del Mar (Siesta Key)
  • 4156-4160 Roberts Point Circle (Siesta Key)
  • 2734 18th Street (Sarasota)
  • Point of Rocks (Siesta Key)
  • Beach Road at Siesta Beach
  • 1920 Hillview Ave. (Sarasota)
  • 1435-1486 Hillview Ave. (Sarasota)
  • 4534 Banana Place (Siesta Key)
  • Gulf Meade Drive (Sarasota)
  • Myakka Drive (Sarasota)
  • Canal Road (Siesta Key)
  • Givens Street (Siesta Key)

Canal/drainage overflow issues continue at the following sites:

  • 4582 Del Sol Blvd. (Siesta Key)
  • 4534 Banana Place (Siesta Key)
  • Camino Real at Field Road (Sarasota)
  • Colonial Oaks area (Sarasota)
  • 4014 Red Rock (Sarasota)
  • Indian Beach Lane at Myrtle Street (Sarasota)
  • Poinciana Road (Venice)

Other traffic disruptions

Traffic signals are flashing at the two intersections. (Motorists are advised to treat non-functioning intersections as four-way stops):

  • Bee Ridge at Beneva Road (Sarasota)
  • U.S. 301 at Northgate Court (Sarasota)

Traffic signage is damaged or down at the following locations:

  • • The Legacy Trail sign at Laurel Road (Venice)

Coastal issues

A preliminary county shoreline damage assessment provided the following details:

  • Moderate (5 to 10 feet) to severe (10 to 15 feet) dune/beach erosion has been recorded throughout Casey Key as a result of the combined effects of high wave energy and high tide.
  • Some dune vegetation has been washed out.
  • Structural damage to decks and dune walkovers has also been observed.
  • Water standing from a height of several inches to 1 foot has been documented on Beach Road.
  • Most of the Siesta Key public beach was covered by seawater.
  • Some docks are still under water and will be assessed once water has subsided.

For more information, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 861-5000, or visit www.scgov.net.

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key, Transportation, Weather | Comments Off

County Commission declares state of emergency to respond to Debby

A Sarasota County Emergency Management PowerPoint presentation shows SaraSea Circle flooded on Siesta Key.

The Sarasota County Commission today, June 26, unanimously adopted a resolution declaring a state of emergency related to Tropical Storm Debby’s effects on the area.

That action authorizes the use of public funds in response to storm damage and allows the county to seek any state and federal financial assistance, if such funds become available.

Ed McCrane, the county’s emergency management chief, had requested the action.

The commissioners’ vote followed remarks McCrane made at the end of their regular business session, held at the Administration Center in downtown Sarasota.

In an approximately 9-minute PowerPoint presentation, McCrane said, “The good news is Debby should be making her way across the state later this afternoon and evening.”

He had learned from the National Weather Service prior to his 4 p.m. appearance before the board that Debby most likely would enter the state north of Cedar Key in Dixie County, he said.

Once the storm was over land, he said, Sarasota County should see only minimal effects from it.

The forecast called for another 4 inches of rain in the central part of the state through tomorrow morning, McCrane added. “We’ll probably see 1 to 2 [inches] in this area,” unless the storm’s path changed, he said.

McCrane pointed out that the county remained under a tropical storm warning.

County staff was keeping a close watch on the Myakka River and other basins and canals, to gauge the potential for flooding, he said.

Additionally, the chance of isolated tornadoes remained, McCrane said.

From Sarasota County to Pasco County, he said, weather forecasters were calling for a combined storm surge, with the tide, of 1 to 3 feet above ground level.

In response to a question from Commissioner Jon Thaxton, McCrane said the Myakka was expected to reach its flood peak today or June 27. However, McCrane added, “it looks like there’s a lot more capacity [in the river] than [forecasters are] expecting.”

McCrane also pointed out that one area on Siesta Key and one area near North Port continued to be flooded, with damage to the first floors of some structures.

McCrane’s presentation indicated flooded structures were at the following locations:

• 330 Island Circle on Siesta Key

• 427 S. Shore Drive, north of downtown Sarasota

• 763 Siesta Drive.

• Three homes at the intersection of Myakka Road and Gause Road, near the Playmore subdivision outside North Port

• 1639 S. Orange Ave. in Sarasota

North Beach Road on Siesta Key was closed from the public beach access to Columbus Avenue because of water and sand on the roadway, according to the PowerPoint presentation, and North Casey Key road was closed this morning because large amounts of sand had been deposited on the roadway. However, the Casey Key road had been reopened at 12:03 p.m. today, the presentation material said.

Richardson Road, just west of Coburn Road, is closed because of a stormwater culvert failure and a partial road collapse, according to a Sarasota County news release issued just after 1 p.m. today.

The news release also urged motorists to avoid the following roads because of standing water:

  • 1393-1394 Harbor Drive
  • The intersection of Proctor Road and McIntosh Drive
  • The intersection of 29th Street and Leon Road
  • 5257 Avenida Del Mar, Siesta Key
  • 4156-4160 Roberts Point Circle, Siesta Key

The news release added that trees were down and blocking traffic in the following areas:

  • Nokomis Grove subdivision
  • Colonial Oaks Park
  • Lemon Bay Park, Englewood
  • Albee Road and Edmondson, Venice
  • Honore Avenue and Kensington Street

Once the water had subsided, crews would check for damage to the roadbeds, McCrane told the commission. County staff already had been in communication with the District One office of the Florida Department of Transportation, he said, to check on the appropriate procedures to follow with those assessments.

The PowerPoint slides also said the U.S. Coast Guard would not open any drawbridges in the county unless a vessel was in distress.

County staff was responding to reports of downed trees and vegetation as those calls came in, McCrane said. In some cases, he added, the material was moved out of the way of traffic, with crews planning to pick it up at a later time.

Shoreline erosion assessments also were being conducted, McCrane said. “A lot of erosion is anticipated.”

Posted in Neighborhoods, Sarasota County, Transportation, Weather | Comments Off

County reporting positive economic trends through May

Tourism on Siesta Key has contributed to higher Sarasota County income than financial officials had projected through May. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota County’s May economic data shows revenue from the tourist development tax was up 31.6% over the amount budgeted, while the income from the half-cent sales tax was up 15.7%, according to figures released by the Office of Financial Planning.

Interim Chief Financial Planning Officer Steve Botelho pointed out in an email to the county commissioners that the tourist development tax revenue year-to-date was up 19% over the budgeted amount, totaling almost $9.6 million.

The combined revenue from the half-cent sales tax, the communications service tax, state revenue sharing income and the Florida Power & Light Co. franchise fees paid to the county totaled $5,134,515 in May, up 7.1% from the budgeted figure of $4,792,067.

Data for the fiscal year-to-date shows county revenue from those taxes is up 2.3% over the budgeted income level. Add in the revenue from the infrastructure surtax and tourist tax, and the total is up 5.1% for the fiscal year.

Additionally, utility revenue was up 17.5% for May and 8% so far for the 2012 fiscal year.

The only negative section of the May economic report involved the gas tax revenue, which was 3.9% below the budgeted amount. For the fiscal year-to-date, however, the figure is down only 3.2%.

On June 25, the commissioners received more positive economic news, with county Building Official Greg Yantorno reporting that commercial permit applications received from April 9 through June 1 involved projects totaling $4,424,780.

Among those projects are a 14,000-square-foot shell building to be constructed by Benderson Development at 215 N. Cattlemen Road, for its University Town Center project; and renovations at Sun-N-Fun RV Center at 7125 Fruitville Road, the Out-of-Door Academy at 5950 Deer Drive and Paddy Wagon Irish Pub at 3877 Clark Road.

County data also showed a 40.5% increase in building permits for single-family homes from May 2011 to May 2012, with the total value of construction up 17.3%, to $9,776,000.

Residential broker sales for houses and condominiums were up 7.3% from May 2012 compared to May 2011 with the average days on the market down 16.2% year-to-year, to 176 days, according to statistics from the Sarasota Association of Realtors. However, the median price had dropped 3.2%, from $188,875 in May 2011 to $182,875 in May this year.

Looking at the overall statistics, commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson told The Sarasota News Leader, “I’m really pleased.”

She also pointed out that retail sales in the county were up 8% from April 2011 to April this year, the latest month for which those statistics were available, and hotel/motel revenue was up 6.6% year-over-year for the same month.

“We have some great economic signs here,” Robinson said.

The permitting news was very encouraging, too, she said, “especially considering it’s summertime.”

The only really negative report was for the gas tax revenue, Robinson pointed out. Although that represents the smallest part of the county’s pool for road resurfacing funds, she said, “we always want to keep an eye on that.”

Robinson reiterated a concern she voiced during the commission’s budget workshops in mid-June — that the county, especially South County, has a great need for road resurfacing projects.

Impact fees and surtax revenue make up the larger share of funds for the road projects, Robinson said.

Commissioner Nora Patterson, who said during the recent budget meetings that the county should continue on a conservative spending course, told the News Leader the fact that the half-cent sales tax revenue was up 6.9% year-to-date was “good news, but I would cautiously express optimism.”

She was keeping an eye on revenue and spending projections through the 2017 fiscal year, Patterson added. By that fiscal year, she said, projections still showed “a pretty substantial gap between what the county will be making and what the county will be spending.”

Noting that Commissioner Jon Thaxton will be leaving the commission at the end of this year, after three terms, and that she would be giving up her seat when her fourth term ends in 2014, Patterson said, “I am still concerned that we leave the county in good financial condition.”

Siesta leading in tourist tax collections

Data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office shows Siesta Key with the greatest share of tourist development tax revenue by location this fiscal year, through April, the last month for which figures have been reported.

The island had collected about $2.869 million so far, giving it 30.12% of the total. The city of Sarasota was in second place, at $2.856 million, or 29.86% of the share.

Sarasota County was in third place, with $1.568 million in tourist tax revenue, or 16.46%.

The fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2011.

Siesta Key was well ahead of Sarasota with its March collections — at the height of season — the figures show.

Siesta reported collecting revenue of $827,406.77 in March, compared to $690,963.10 for the city. However, Sarasota surged past Siesta in April, with a total of $469,833.95, compared to $439,348.97 for Siesta.

Those April figures could change, though, as reporting locations are permitted to update figures as they receive new information about their collections, the Tax Collector’s Office has pointed out.

Posted in Business, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Bishop to discuss efforts to help Ugandans afflicted with HIV/AIDS

The Rt. Rev. Zebedee Kahangwa-Maserka at the Ugandan medical centre named for him. Contributed photo.

The Rt. Rev. Zebedee Kahangwa-Masereka, bishop of the Diocese of South Rwenzori in Uganda and founder of the Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation, will speak at the Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, on Tuesday, June 26, at 5:30 p.m.

Masereka will be joined by Dr. Daniel Sambili, the foundation’s medical director, a news release notes. Together they will speak about the work they are doing to help Ugandans afflicted with HIV/AIDS, “as well as the work they do to help the thousands of orphans and families that were displaced by violent rebel conflict in the area,” the news release adds.

The Church of the Redeemer is on Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The presentation will take place in Redeemer’s Gillespie Hall, at 222 S. Palm Ave. in downtown Sarasota.

A question-and-answer period will follow the hour-long presentation, and light refreshments will be provided.

The event is free; members of the public are warmly invited to attend, church leaders say.

An RSVP to reserve a seat will be appreciated via email to award@redeemersarasota.org or by telephone to 955-4263.

As a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has continued to devastate families across Uganda, The Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation was founded in 2002 in Kasese, western Uganda, by Masereka and a group of committed Christians and members of the local community, the news release says. The foundation’s medical centre was established in 2005.

Both the foundation and the medical centre work to combat the high rate of HIV infection, “along with the massive population displacements caused by former violent rebel conflict in the area — tragic circumstances that account for the presence of thousands of orphaned children and many widows/widowers in the district,” the news release says.

BMCF has two components: BMCF-Uganda is responsible for identifying children in need of sponsorship and disbursing funds to cover their school fees, meals, textbooks and psychological counseling. It also operates the BMCF Clinic.

“Masereka believes that education and health care are linked together and are the keys to the successful modernization of Uganda,” the press release adds.

For more information about the foundation or the medical centre, visit www.bmcf.org. For more information about the Church of the Redeemer, visit www.redeemersarasota.org.

Posted in Religion | Comments Off

Harbor Acres stormwater system contaminated

Water stands in the grass and parking lot by Bayfront Park and Marina Jack. Photo by Norman Schimmel

A diluted mix of wastewater and stormwater flowed into the stormwater system in the Harbor Acres neighborhood today, June 25, as a result of heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Debby, the City of Sarasota reported.

That rainfall created localized street flooding and high flows in the sanitary collection system, a city news release pointed out. “Crews stopped the spill by using pumper trucks to divert the flow,” the release said. Although the exact amount of the spill was unknown at the time of the city’s report, which came after 7:30 p.m., the news release said, “it is estimated 20,000 gallons of untreated wastewater mixed with stormwater entered the stormwater system. Crews have disinfected the impacted area.”

More than 4.3 inches of rain had been recorded in Sarasota in the previous 30 hours, the news release noted. “With such heavy rainfall, spills of this nature are not uncommon in sanitary systems in Southwest Florida,” the release continued, adding that crews would continue to monitor the Harbor Acres neighborhood and other low-lying areas throughout the night as Tropical Storm Debby continued “to drop significant rainfall on the area.”

Water samples were being taken along Sarasota Bay near the discharge locations, the release said.

The City of Sarasota Utilities Department notified the appropriate health and regulatory agencies, the release added.

Residents are cautioned to avoid direct contact with street flooding during any rain event because of the possibility of cross-contamination between wastewater and stormwater, the news release said.

Posted in City of Sarasota, Environmental News, Weather | Comments Off

Debby’s winds bring high surf to South County beaches

Sarasota News Leader contributor Fran Palmeri ventured to the Venice Jetty and Nokomis Beach today, June 25, to record the high surf — and at least one swimmer in the Gulf of Mexico — as Tropical Storm Debby continued to lash the area.

At 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the National Hurricane Center advised that a tropical storm warning remained in effect for the Florida Gulf Coast from Englewood to Destin, with reports of Debby having sustained wind of 45 mph. Her winds were extending outward up to 230 miles, the NHC reported.

The storm was located at latitude 29.3 north and longitude 85.1 west, about 30 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola. Debby was reported to be moving toward the northeast at nearly 5 mph, according to the NHC.

Although Debby had weakened, the NHC added, “the combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters.”

All photos by Fran Palmeri

Posted in Weather | Comments Off

Free HIV testing offered this week

Member organizations of the HIV-AIDS Network of Southwest Florida will offer free HIV testing in Sarasota this week as part of the national HIV testing campaign, Sarasota County officials have announced.

The Sarasota County Health Department will provide free testing with same-day results from 8:30 a.m. to noon. The department is located at 2200 Ringling Blvd., in downtown Sarasota.

The Health Department also regularly offers testing at no charge on a walk-in basis for four sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, a county news release notes. Testing is provided at the department’s 2200 Ringling Blvd. location from 1 to 4 p.m. on Mondays; from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays; and from 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays.

The Community AIDS Network also will provide free testing with same-day results on the following days and locations:

• Tuesday, June 26, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Bethel CME Church, 1719 22nd St., Sarasota.

• Saturday, June 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1680 18th St., Sarasota.

Additionally, on Tuesday, June 26, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. free HIV testing will be available at the Planned Parenthood health center at 736 Central Ave. in Sarasota.

Health officials note that this year marks the 31st year since the start of the AIDS pandemic. “Despite advances in testing and treatment, many people who are HIV positive still do not know it,” the county news release points out.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five people living with HIV in the United States is unaware of their HIV status.

“Early diagnosis is the key,” said Valerie Wojciechowicz, a Sarasota resident who educates and advocates for women living with HIV. “When I learned that I was HIV positive over 20 years ago, I made positive lifestyle changes,” she says in the news release. “Today, my quality of life is good even with HIV, in part because of the early diagnosis and treatment.”

The risk factors for HIV infection are having unprotected sex and sharing needles or syringes. If persons have never been tested, or if they have had unprotected sex or shared a needle since their last test, they should get an HIV test, health officials say. “Knowing their HIV status can help them get into a medical treatment earlier, take steps to stay healthy, and keep from spreading the virus to others,” the release adds.

HIV testing has become fast and easy, the news release points out. The Clearview® HIV Test, done with a finger prick, provides preliminary test results in only five minutes. This testing will be available at the special testing events sponsored by the Sarasota County Health Department and Community AIDS Network.

The Rapid OraQuick HIV Test, also done with a finger prick, provides preliminary test results in 20 minutes; it is routinely used at the walk-in testing clinic at the Health Department’s downtown Sarasota location, the release adds.

“Test results are always kept private and are not shared with anyone, including family members, significant others, employers or landlords,” the news release points out.

For more information on HIV testing opportunities throughout the year, call the county call center at 861-5000 or visit the HANS website at www.hivsarasota.org.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Section of Beach Road closed because of flooding

Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies are stopping drivers from accessing about a 100-yard section of Beach Road on Siesta Key because of flooding, Sgt. Scott Osborne told The Sarasota News Leader this afternoon, June 25.

The segment of road had been blocked off all morning, Osborne said.

If the rains from Tropical Storm Debby would stop for an hour, Osborne pointed out, the water would recede, but “[the rain] just keeps coming and coming.”

One deputy is stationed approximately in line with Our House on the Beach, he said, which is located at 1001 Beach Road.

Some drivers had voiced anger about having to use Midnight Pass Road to reach their destinations, Osborne said.

Several drivers who tried to access that portion of the road before it was closed flooded out their cars, Osborne said, so those vehicles have been abandoned alongside the road.

“It’s just very deceiving there, where you look down the road,” he added.

Flooded-out vehicles had been reported in other sections of the island, he said.

In an email this morning to County Administrator Randall Reid, Theresa Connor, director of environmental utilities, wrote, “We have had very heavy rainfall in the coastal area and we have had an overflow this morning from the Siesta Key Wastewater Reclamation Facility due to the amount of stormwater entering the sewer system through leaks in the collection system and rainfall at the plant itself.  We have several lift stations on Siesta Key without power or surcharged due to the excess flow and staff is responding to the alarms.”

Connor added, “Other areas of the sanitary sewer system and other wastewater reclamation facilities are also experiencing high flows due to the rainfall, but so far we have been able to manage without an event. … We have notified the appropriate regulatory agencies and we are preparing to go to emergency staffing levels  for round-the-clock operations. ”

Osborne said he had had no reports of any additional problems from the storm’s wind and rain.

Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives near the north Siesta bridge, told the News Leader she and her husband, an attorney, were both working from home today, as they were unable to leave because of flooding on their road.

The county news release advised all county residents to use caution in driving, while Debby remained stalled in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Weather Service early this afternoon included Sarasota County in its area of counties under a tropical storm warning. The county news release noted that tornadoes are possible, along with flooding.

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key, Weather | Comments Off

County residents urged to reduce water usage

Sarasota County utility officials are urging residents and businesses to limit their use of toilets, washing machines, dishwashers and any other appliances that could result in additional wastewater being sent to the wastewater collection system.

The rains that have assaulted the area from Tropical Storm Debby are causing Sarasota County’s four major water reclamation facilities to become overloaded, according to a county news release. So far Sarasota County has received several inches of rain, resulting in downed tree limbs, localized street flooding and overloaded storm drains, the release adds.

Residents are advised to continue to pay close attention to local news media for updates on the situation. Additional flooding, tornado warnings or other urgent updates could happen as Tropical Storm Debby churns across the Gulf of Mexico, county officials point out.

For information about storm preparation, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 861-5000 or visit www.scgov.net and click on the “All Hazards” button.

Posted in Neighborhoods, Sarasota County, Weather | Comments Off

Grant still secure for Siesta stormwater project

Sarasota County officials have planned the new stormwater project at Siesta Public Beach to eliminate the potential for runoff to deposit high levels of unhealthful bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The $975,000 grant the Southwest Florida Water Management District awarded Sarasota County for the stormwater project planned at Siesta Public Beach “is fine at this time,” Sarasota County Project Manager Curtis R. Smith told The Sarasota News Leader today, June 22.

County staff is continuing to work through the permitting process with both state officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Smith added, but SWFWMD is being kept up-to-date on that.

Another progress report was due by the end of the day today, he said.

The project is designed to eliminate the build-up of bacteria from runoff into the Gulf of Mexico that could lead to unsafe swimming conditions.

The total estimated cost of the project is $1.5 million, Smith said. According to terms of the grant, SWFWMD would pay for up to 50% of the cost of construction, with $975,000 set as the maximum amount.

Early this year, county staff agreed to hold off on the start of construction of the new stormwater pond at Siesta Public Beach until after the July Fourth holiday. That decision was made to ensure the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce could continue to use the site of the old ball field at the beach for guest parking for its VIP picnic. Sales of tickets for that event help cover the $35,000 cost of the fireworks.

Smith confirmed June 22 that the project still would get under way no earlier than July 7, but “probably a little bit later.” He added, “We’re working on revising the schedule right now … We don’t have the date firmly fixed.”

Construction is expected to be complete about six months after it begins, he said, including the resolution of any “punch list” details.

Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, had expressed concern during the June 7 SKA meeting that the county still did not have all the permits in place for the stormwater project. She pointed out that county staff had told her that if the work did not begin by Aug. 1, the county would lose the SWFWMD funds.

After consulting with Carolyn Eastwood, who has taken on oversight of the stormwater project from Spencer Anderson, Smith told the News Leader that SWFWMD officials would let county staff know at any point if they were not willing to extend the period for use of the grant.

(Anderson has been promoted to general manager of field services in the Operations and Maintenance division of the county’s Public Works Department.)

“It’s very difficult to tell exactly how long the permitting timeline is going to be” on this type of project, Smith said.

Part of the delay in the permitting process was related to changes in location and configuration for the pond, he pointed out.

Members of the homeowners association at the Gulf and Bay Club, which is adjacent to the beach park, had objected to the original site plan for the pond. That issue was resolved successfully last year, Smith noted.

In a June 14 email to Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, Smith said he expected to have the stormwater project’s design drawings at the 60% completion mark within four to five weeks.

On June 22, he told the News Leader, “We’re working through our final details on our design drawings and specifications.”

This version of the site plan for the Siesta Public Beach improvements, provided by Sarasota County staff, is about 30% complete.

Posted in Environmental News, Sarasota County, Siesta Key | Comments Off

Siesta Seen: Potential maintenance contractors check out Siesta Village

Tom Maroney (left), general manager of business operations for the county's Public Works Department, points out landscaping features to a group of vendors interested in bidding on the Siesta Village contract. Photo by Rachel Hackney

The group of about 25 people making its way through Siesta Village under threatening skies shortly after 9 a.m. on Thursday, June 21, seemed to spark little curiosity from passersby, but someone out of that group more than likely will be taking over the Village maintenance in coming weeks.

About 15 members of the group were vendors or vendor representatives vying for the one-year contract for that upkeep — and taking over a job the county has had since Aug. 16, 2011.

The tall gentleman with the military bearing at the head of that procession was Tom Maroney, general manager of business operations for the county’s Public Works Department. Perhaps no one will be happier than Maroney when a vendor is hired, as it has been his responsibility these past months to make certain county staff kept the Village looking neat and clean.

“I’m looking forward to it very much,” he told me, speaking of his coming relief from that oversight.

The request for proposals for the maintenance contract had been expected to go out before the end of 2011. However, continuing efforts to improve operations in the county’s Procurement Department — and continuing turnover in that department — delayed the RFP. It finally appeared on the county’s new eProcure website just after midnight on May 31.

It was Maroney’s idea June 21 to take the vendor group through every part of Siesta Village included in the maintenance package. “We just want to make sure there’s no misunderstanding,” he told me as the folks gathered by ones and twos for the mandatory 9 a.m. pre-bid meeting.

As of June 22, it appeared 26 people other than members of the news media had registered on the eProcure site as potential bidders for the project, so apparently some of the firms decided not to get involved after all.

That group of 26 represented a lot of diversity — from a firm that handles the landscaping for Jungala at Busch Gardens in Tampa and the World of Golf in St. Augustine, to one that has references from the City of Orlando and Orlando International Airport, to mom-and-pop-type operations. They’re based in-state and out-of-state.

James Scheidel, the county procurement analyst in charge of the Siesta project, reminded everyone before the walk-through began that any questions about the project had to be submitted by 5 p.m. June 27.

Following the tour of the Village, Scheidel and Maroney hosted a Q&A in the County Commission Chambers at the Administration Building on Ringling Boulevard.

Russell Matthes, president of the Siesta Key Village Association, did lodge an objection to the choice of that venue after Scheidel announced it.

“That makes no sense at all,” Matthes said, adding that it would seem far better to have people ask questions on-site.

Sheidel replied that the decision was made to use the Commission Chambers so the vendors would have plenty of space to gather.

Scheidel told me he had not known ahead of time how many people would show up for the pre-bid conference.

That Q&A ended up lasting only about 40 minutes, even though Scheidel had reserved the chambers until 1 p.m. — just to make sure ample time was available for queries.

“The questions were rather innocuous,” Maroney told me.

Among his comments during the hour-long walk, Maroney told the vendors they or their representatives needed to come back to the Village at least one more time after June 27, because the annual plants would go in that day.

Maroney added that they would be provided a list of all the types of flowers and plants county officials expected to see in the Village.

Bids on the maintenance contract are due by 2:30 p.m. July 11, Scheidel reminded everyone. Those bids will be opened and read aloud in the Procurement Department on the third floor of the Administration Building beginning at that time, he said.

After that session, Scheidel told me, county officials will begin the process of determining a recommendation on the winning bid, to present to the County Commission.

Smith, Matthes and other representatives of Siesta organizations — as well as some of the county commissioners — have voiced worries about the amount of the final bid, as county staff had estimated the cost at $200,000 a year. Smith has been adamant that that amount is too high.

By the way, Smith was non-too-pleased with some of the sights he took in as he and Matthes followed the group of vendors on the walk-through. “There is an incredible amount of trash and weeds in the landscaping,” Smith said, as the group approached Davidson Plaza on the west side of Ocean Boulevard.

VIPS wanted

With about two-and-a-half weeks to go, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is busily reminding people about the VIP picnic on the Fourth of July, with those prized parking passes at Siesta Public Beach.

Chamber Executive Director Kevin Cooper told me earlier this week, “We’re kind of just right around where we were last year” at this time with ticket sales.

“We’re hoping for a strong finish,” he added.

The chamber picks up all the $35,000 cost of the big fireworks show on the beach for the Fourth. No grant funds help with the project. And that is why those VIP ticket sales are so important.

For $150, a couple gets not only the parking pass, but also the opportunity to enjoy delicious picnic fare, beer and wine and figurative front-row seats for the fireworks.

Earlier this month, Don Damron, the senior fire plans reviewer and inspector for the Sarasota County Fire Department, told members of the Siesta Key Association that the Siesta show shoots off bigger fireworks than the bayfront show in downtown Sarasota.

“Size does matter,” Damron said, drawing laughter from the audience of the June 7 SKA meeting.

The chamber also is partnering with the Manasota Track Club again this year to host the second Firecracker 5K, which will raise additional funds for the fireworks spectacular.

The 1-mile fun run and the 5K will be held on June 30 on Siesta Public Beach. Registration will begin at 6:30 a.m. for the 5K, which will start at 7:15 a.m.

The cost is $15 for SKCC and track club members who preregister, or $20 the day of the race. For non-members, the fee is $25 per person.

Cooper said the Manasota Track Club representatives with whom he has been working have told him that registration is pretty much on pace with what they would expect at this point. A lot of people sign up the day of the race, he added.

Last, but certainly not least, the chamber also is selling  tickets for anyone interested in pressing the plunger to start the Fourth fireworks show. Those tickets are $5 each, or five for $20.

Referring to that contest, Cooper told members of the SKVA during their meeting this month, “It was a real big hit last year.”

For more information, stop by the chamber office in Davidson Plaza on Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village; call 349-3800 or visit the website.

Saluting the troops

To honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces for the sacrifices they make, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar in Siesta Village will hold a “traditional backyard grill out” on July Fourth, the restaurant has announced.

“It is because of those in the military that Americans are able to celebrate Independence Day in freedom and safety,” a SKOB news release points out.

In fact, the son of one of SKOB’s owners is serving in Afghanistan.

Guests on the Fourth will be invited to sign a large banner that will be sent to the 214th Combat Brigade after the holiday.

Additionally, a percentage of the proceeds from SKOB’s sales on the Fourth of grilled quarter-pound hot dogs, BBQ chicken drumsticks and Italian sausages will go toward providing goody packages to the troops.

For more information, call 346-5443; email bethskob@gmail.com; or visit SKOB on Facebook.

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key, Siesta Seen | Comments Off

Section of South Shade Avenue to be closed temporarily

Photo by Norman Schimmel

South Shade Avenue between South Pelican Drive and Novus Street will be closed temporarily beginning Monday, June 25, for railroad and sidewalk improvements, the City of Sarasota has announced.

The road is expected to reopen Monday, July 16, a city news release says.

During the closure, motorists are advised to follow the posted detour signs, the release adds.

Seminole Gulf Railroad will be replacing rails to allow for smoother and safer vehicle crossings, according to the news release. The adjacent roadway and sidewalk also will be improved.

Posted in City of Sarasota, Transportation | Comments Off

The charter crisis

For two years, the City of Sarasota has not had a bona fide city clerk and auditor. The charter is explicit: “The city manager, the city auditor and clerk … and the finance director shall each give bond with authorized corporate sureties, conditioned upon their faithful performance of duty.”

This month The Sarasota News Leader reported City Auditor and Clerk Pam Nadalini does not have a bond, as required by the charter, and she has not had a bond since she took the office, in spite of the requirements of the charter.

During the Monday, June 18, City Commission meeting, Mayor Suzanne Atwell asked City Attorney Bob Fournier, “Are we in non-compliance in regarding the bonding of our city auditor and clerk? I’d like an explanation.”

“Technically, and everybody knows now, the clerk does not have a bond,” Fournier said. “Yes, she is not in compliance with the charter.”

Five city commissioners sat there and learned officially that one of their “charter officials” was “not in compliance with the charter.” Not one of them said a word. When Fournier was finished, City Commissioner Paul Caragiulo asked whether an insurance policy was “functionally equivalent” to a bond. Fournier agreed that it was. And that was the end of the discussion.

The oath

Flashback to May 13, 2011 — the day three new city commissioners were sworn into office by Nadalini: “Would you please raise your right hand. I – state your name – do solemnly swear I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and government of the United States and the State of Florida and the Charter and the Ordinances of the City of Sarasota, Florida ….”

One of the explicit duties of the Office of Auditor and Clerk is to “administer oaths required or authorized under any law, the Charter, or ordinance of the city.” That’s in Section 5, “Powers and duties,” Subsection L.

That leads to puzzlement. If the person “authorized” to administer the oath was not a legitimate office-holder, is the oath valid? Are Vice Mayor Willie Shaw and City Commissioners Paul Caragiulo and Shannon Snyder officially sworn into office? Do their votes over the past year really count?

It gets worse. City officials have known for two years Nadalini could not get a bond, and they didn’t bother to tell the City Commission. And during that time, they lobbied to have the bonding requirement eliminated.

Former City Manager Bob Bartolotta told the News Leader that when Nadalini first failed to secure a bond, the situation led to a discussion about how to eliminate the requirement for a bond and substitute an insurance policy instead. First step: Get the insurance policy.

That was done, a $5 million policy in case any senior city staffer went off to Patagonia with the general fund receipts, for example. On the bond front, Bartolotta went before the city’s Charter Review Committee to lobby for elimination of the bond requirement. He did not mention Nadalini’s problem. Instead, the matter was presented as “housekeeping.”

The charter committee approved the “housekeeping amendment” unanimously, but gave senior city staffers a choice: either a bond or insurance. That plan passed the City Commission, also unanimously, and will appear on the November ballot for approval by city voters. But when voting on the change, the City Commission also didn’t know Nadalini had a bonding problem.

The friction

Was this a cover-up? Bartolotta doesn’t believe it was. “I don’t think that was the reason for the charter change,” he said. “I don’t think the two are related.”

But when the time came for Nadalini’s annual bond review and she failed again, Bartolotta was more forward. On Sept. 29, 2011, the city’s insurance agent of record – Paul Dawson – informed city staffer Larry Hobbs that Nadalini again could not get a bond, and Bartolotta was told about this. “When it came up a second time, it was ticklish,” he said. “So I documented it.”

Bartolotta sent Nadalini a memo: “Larry indicated that he was unable last year to obtain this required bond, and that he had given you the name of the insurance agent to follow up since the financial information upon which a bond is based is not shared with anyone other than the applicant.

“I am concerned that we are not following the required provision of the charter. I know that this provision in the charter is proposed to be changed but the soonest that can happen will be November 2012. In the meantime we have to figure out a way to get this resolved. I would suggest that you contact Paul Dawson immediately and find out what it would take for you to get the required surety bond,” his memo said.

By this time, the two charter officials were at odds. Eventually, Nadalini would engineer Bartolotta’s ouster. But it is worth noting, during this bureaucratic fight to the death, Bartolotta never once informed the City Commission that his adversary might not legitimately be a charter official.

The future

City Attorney Fournier on June 18 told the City Commission, “I don’t think that provision [requiring a bond] is self-executing. It would take action by the City Commission.” In other words, if there is a part of the charter you don’t like, you simply say it’s “non-executing” and ignore it.

When the city attorney says a charter official does not comply with the charter, can you simply sit quietly, in spite of having taken an oath to “support, protect and defend” the city’s charter? I was there, I heard them swear. And this week, I watched them hold their tongues.

Sarasota is about to select a new city manager, another charter official. And the city – not in a University of Florida sense – is a swamp. The city attorney argues the clerk and auditor is fine; the bond issue, all taken care of with an insurance policy. Our prospective city mangers are watching carefully: Just how loose are the rules in this city?

City commissioners think everything is fine because they don’t have any questions about their charter official’s legitimacy, when even their oath of office might be illegitimate, because the person who swore them in was not qualified to do so.

Make no mistake: The charter is the constitution of this city. This is not about personalities. This is about the citizens’ mutual compact with their government. Those citizens must comply with city laws and regulations or face the consequences. When you take a job with the city that says you must have a bond, are the rules different for you? For the past two years, they have been for Nadalini, and especially for those who have sought to cover up that fact.

Posted in City of Sarasota, Commentary | 2 Comments

I survived the Outback

I know: You’re probably thinking I took three airplanes and spent two days in the air to eventually land on the Australian coast, most likely in magnificent Sydney. And, from there, I took an in-country plane to the Outback, located in the hot, dry, desolate central region of Australia.

But, no. You are absolutely wrong. What I really mean to say is, I survived the Sarasota Outback — on Father’s Day, at 6 p.m. What were my son and my husband thinking? I know they are devout carnivores, and they probably dream about juicy, red steaks, perfectly grilled, accompanied by their favorite baked potato stuffed with butter and sour cream. I agreed to go along with their restaurant choice, knowing it was their first choice and also knowing there wasn’t a prayer that we would be eating broiled lobster and oysters on the half-shell.

The Outback doesn’t take specific reservations (probably too large a venue to manage them), but if you call ahead and request an arrival time, you will be put on a preferred list. I wasn’t taking any chances, so I called four days ahead, for the 6 p.m. feeding.

Upon arrival, my son miraculously found a parking space nearby. I jumped out of the car, ran into the Outback and excitedly told the hostess that we were scheduled for 6 and had called ahead. She gave me the beeper and moved on to her next customers. The noise of what seemed like a jubilant crowd reminded me of being in a disco with a friend and trying to be heard but losing out to the loudest music on earth.

A minute later, I spotted an assistant hostess who told me our wait for a table would probably be at least 30 minutes, “depending on the flow.” I wondered about the customers who hadn’t called ahead.

And then came the revelation that changed my life. This wonderful, helpful girl told me that the bar area (including tables) is all first-come, first-serve, and all I had to do was watch for people leaving, then run down and secure the table. Thirty seconds later, our wish was granted. As we sat down to eat, we all were still stunned by our incredibly good luck.

I like to say that my timing was impeccable. Surviving the Outback on Father’s Day, without waiting in line for an hour, was truly a miracle.

By the way, we all had the steak — and we loved it.

Posted in Sarasota People | Comments Off

Celebrating the solstice at Curry Creek Preserve

Officially it’s the solstice, but summer has long since come to the pine flatwoods.

Young pine trees stand out against the blue Florida sky. Photos by Fran Palmeri

By 10 a.m. it’s hot. I’m in Venice at Curry Creek Preserve to visit the longleaf pines, unusual in this area. They’re one of the southernmost remnants of the once grand pine forest, which blanketed 150,000 square miles in the Southeast before European settlement. In Florida, longleaf pine merges with south Florida slash pine and is known for its large cones and long needles in bundles of three. Slash pine cones are half the size; their needles come in bundles of two or three.

To settlers, the pines seemed endless. The settlers turpentined trees for tar and resin. Others were logged to build the ships of the world’s navies, as well as houses, furniture, sewing machines, cradles and coffins. Only 2% of the original forest remains. Gone are the ivory-billed woodpeckers that once thrived in these evergreens, though the pines are still favored by eagles that nest in their branches.

Roserush

We think of woods as dense dark places. Pine savannahs were sunny and open. In the mid-1700s on his travels through the Southeast, William Bartram rode through a “vast forest of the most stately pine trees” dotted with numerous shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers. Curry Creek Preserve is a scene recreated from Bartram: pines spaced apart with an understory of saw palmetto, wax myrtle, staggerbush and fetterbush, plus a few oaks.

Clumps of wiregrass, bracken ferns, grape and greenbrier vines and wildflowers make up the ground cover. Clouds drift overhead, mirroring the shapes of the trees.

A gopher tortoise

As I pass by, a gopher tortoise pokes his head out of his burrow, preparing to forage among grasses which have greened up in the recent rains. A cardinal flies across the trail, letting the world know this place belongs to him. Off in the distance, another male claims his stake.

I stop by the creek to check out a cardinal airplant. A little blue heron flaps, off squawking loudly.

Roseling blooms brightly.

Across the way, neatly mowed lawn comes down to the water and philodendron grows up the oaks.

My side’s a tangle of greenbrier, saw palmetto, cabbage palms and oaks slathered with Spanish moss and air plants. Since when did we equate beauty with order?

A dragonfly

As always it’s the small things that captivate: mushrooms, a lacey winged dragonfly, the pale pink blooms of beautyberrry, a dainty sulfur butterfly no bigger than my fingernail, bees nectaring on goldenrod, the gorgeous red and white blooms of tarflower.

Though the sun has moved up the sky, I’m oblivious of the time. At midday I stand on my shadow.

A mushroom stands out against the dark groundcover.

Tarflower adds beauty to a path through the woods.

This “paradise’ didn’t just happen. Taxpayers made it possible for these “environmentally sensitive“ lands to be acquired by Sarasota County. Land managers such as Jeff Weber and other Natural Resources employees keep them as close to the “real Florida” as possible.

Alicia beckons lovers of flora.

The gray hairstreak butterfly rests on a leaf.

Visit the Sarasota County website for park locations, hours and events such as free nature walks led by naturalists. Or call the county at 941-861-5000 for information.

Posted in Environmental News, Parks and Recreation, Sarasota County | Comments Off

School district staff explains middle-school math changes

Photo by Norman Schimmel

Through a concept called “differentiated teaching,” middle school students in the Sarasota County Public Schools will be able to get the specific type of instruction they need in math, but fewer teachers will be necessary to provide that instruction, administrative staff explained to the School Board during the board’s June 19 workshop.

Al Weidner, the Sarasota district’s deputy chief financial officer, and Superintendent Lori White explained that the budget for math instruction in the district’s 2013 fiscal year was lower as a result of the changes being made. Instead of focusing on classroom needs, they said, teachers will be focusing on the individual students.

This “equity in mathematics” form of teaching offers more flexibility for each student to advance according to how quickly the student understands the concepts taught, White pointed out.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2006, 80% of U.S. high school seniors continue on to college. However, nearly half of those students eventually drop out within their first year. This study, titled Toolbox Revisited, said inadequate mathematics preparation was the reason for the high dropout rate. Colleges and universities expect freshmen to exhibit a certain level of mathematical comprehension, the report says, but many of these college freshmen are not properly prepared in high school to meet those expectations.

The new “equity” approach to teaching math in grades kindergarten through 12th grade is a response to that study, school officials say. Schools across the United States are adopting this style of teaching, through which students with varying degrees of comprehension are no longer placed in the same class. Instead, the instruction is focused on the needs of the individuals. This approach better targets each student’s intellectual potential, education experts say.

It is essential for students’ success that they not only master basic math skills but that they also understand the concepts behind them, education research shows.

Math instruction at the elementary school level is remaining essentially the same, according to national reports, as that is the level where basic skills are taught and learned. However, once a student matures into middle school, studies show mathematical comprehension begins to change from student to student.

Posted in Sarasota School Board | Comments Off

Southwest Florida less colorful today

Photo by Norman Schimmel

One of Southwest Florida’s most colorful characters died Monday night.

The word’s getting around that Stan Gober is dead.

He came to Goodland, near Marco Island, to open a bar and restaurant in the tiny fishing village 30 years ago. The business went through several name changes, but one thing was constant: It was always Stan’s “Something,” and it was unique.

It ended up as Stan’s Idle Hour restaurant. Over the years, the annual Mullet Festival and Buzzard Lope Queen contest drew thousands to the town and the bar. Wild costumes were recommended, with none wilder than Stan’s feathery buzzard suit with mask and crown of dyed dove feathers.

The event enabled Goodland to reach the stratosphere of publicity every January, as Stan and his wild buzzard crew captured the smiles of thousands. Newspapers ran photo galleries of all the really zany people doing what they knew best – how to party.

Every county in Florida has its old-time, hard-core local eccentric. As these folks pass away, the peninsula gets a little less like Florida every day. It’s safe to say the entire village of Goodland is in mourning.

If you want to say goodbye, it’ll be in standard Stan fashion. This Sunday, June 24, the celebration starts at noon at the Idle Hour. Stan will be there in a casket on stage. At 2:30 p.m., the box moves to the Marco Island cemetery for burial next to his wife, Faye.

Posted in Florida people | Comments Off

Suspect in Siesta runner’s death released on bond

Signs at the Siesta Public Beach concession advertise alcoholic beverages, which are legal on the beach. Photo by Rachel Hackney

The 23-year-old Bradenton man charged in connection with the January death of a Siesta Key runner was released from the Sarasota County Jail on Wednesday, June 20, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

Blake C. Talman had been in jail since Jan. 7, the day he allegedly was driving drunk when he struck Donna Chen, 53, as she ran along the sidewalk of Midnight Pass Road with her dog.

Talman was charged with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, four counts of DUI property damage and one count of leaving the scene of an accident. His bond totaled $118,000.

According to terms of the release, Talman must remain under house arrest with a GPS system allowing law enforcement officers to track his location at all times. He also was ordered not to consume alcohol or use drugs.

Additionally, Talman was ordered to wear a SCRAM device, which measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s respiration, according to law enforcement officials. The tamper-resistant equipment fits around a defendant’s ankle.

The bond conditions were imposed in an order signed April 3 by 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Rick De Furia.

Talman’s trial most likely will be scheduled for early 2013, Amanda M. Gambert, assistant state attorney, told the News Leader.

Contacted June 21 by the News Leader, Dinise McPhail, Chen’s sister, said the State Attorney’s Office had informed the family of Talman’s release. She had no other comment, McPhail said.

On April 25, the Mallard Law Firm of Sarasota announced its intentions to bring suit against the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office on behalf of Chen’s family, “for negligent actions resulting in her death.”

Deputies had confronted Talman and two companions prior to his leaving the beach and driving along Midnight Pass Road, a news release from the law firm said.

Damian Mallard, lead attorney in the case, said in the news release that the deputies directed “these gentlemen to drive home under the influence, and unfortunately, at the cost of my client’s life.”

However, the Sheriff’s Office reported after Chen’s death that while deputies spoke on three occasions Jan. 7 with Talman and his eventual passenger in the crash, David J. Brewer of Sarasota, the last time they saw Talman and Brewer, the pair was walking to the Siesta Public Beach.

The Sheriff’s Office also reported that the deputies ran a check for warrants on Talman, Brewer and their companion, Michael E. Blakey of North Port, after the first encounter, but the check turned up nothing.

Even though witnesses had reported seeing the men drinking alcoholic beverages, the deputies arrested only Blakey, on a charge of disorderly conduct. The deputies said neither Talman nor Brewer displayed rude behavior, so they had no grounds to arrest them.

Under Sarasota County’s ordinances, it is legal to consume alcoholic beverages on Siesta Public Beach.

Blakey’ arrest was recorded at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 7. The Florida Highway Patrol said Chen was killed about 1:10 p.m.

Posted in Crime & Law Enforcement, Sarasota County, Siesta Key | 1 Comment

And then there were four: Lipscomb drops out of contention

Photo by Norman Schimmel

One of the five finalists for Sarasota city manager has dropped out to take a similar job at another city.

Barbara Lipscomb, the only woman in the group, was city manager of Casselberry. From 2004 to 2007, she was assistant city manager of Gainesville.

Sarasota Interim City Manager Terry Lewis said Lipscomb would be taking another city manager job at an as-yet unnamed municipality.

Her withdrawal leaves four men still in the competition: Rich Chafin of McKinney, Texas; Thomas Barwin of Oak Park, Ill.; Ed Mitchell of West Palm Beach; and James Chisholm of Daytona Beach. Chisholm was in the audience at Monday’s Sarasota City Commission meeting.

On Friday, June 29, residents may meet the four finalists at the Robert Taylor Community Complex between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. On Saturday, the candidates will be quizzed first by a citizens’ panel, then the City Commission, from 8 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. at City Hall. The session will also be televised live on Access Sarasota and streamed live on SarasotaGov.com.

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FDOT turns down request for safety measures in Midnight Pass Road curve

A caution sign alerts eastbound drivers to lower their speed as they approach a curve residents call dangerous on Midnight Pass Road. Photo by Rachel Hackney

The Florida Department of Transportation has turned down a Sarasota County Commission request for a reduction in the speed limit and installation of reflective pavement markers along a Midnight Pass Road curve that residents say has been the site of numerous accidents.

However, District One Secretary Billy Hattaway wrote in a June 15 letter to commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson that FDOT would add reflective sheeting to the supports of the signs warning motorists approaching the curve from both directions to reduce their speed.

“That treatment will effectively supplement the chevrons along the curve,” Hattaway added.

Regarding the reflective pavement markers, Hattaway wrote, “Similar treatment used at another location along Midnight Pass Road was criticized by residents in the vicinity due to the noise generated by cars riding over the markers.”

During an interview June 20, Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key, told The Sarasota News Leader, “I’m disappointed [about Hattaway’s response], but I don’t think there’s a whole lot we can do at this point.”

Patterson said she understood FDOT had certain standards to which it had to adhere in judging how to respond to requests. The county had its own standards for road issues, she added.

“We’re certainly more flexible [than FDOT] when we’re familiar with the situation,” she said, but “I was surprised he wasn’t flexible about the reflectors [on the road].”

SKA President Catherine Luckner was traveling out-of-state and could not be reached for comment.

The curve is in the area where runner Donna Chen was killed by an allegedly drunken driver on Jan. 7. It is near the Shadow Lawn Way intersection and St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.

“Our review of the crash data did not find a pattern of crashes involving motorists leaving the roadway because of the curve,” Hattaway wrote in the June 15 letter.

“The crash referenced in your letter involved a motorist traveling at a high rate of speed,” he added, referring to Blake C. Talman, 23, of Bradenton, who has been charged with vehicular homicide in Chen’s death. “Our review of this segment of Midnight Pass Road confirmed the current 40 mph posted speed is appropriate.”

The FDOT caution signs facing traffic heading into the curve indicate a 30 mph speed limit.

Wendy Rose, community affairs manager for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, said in February that deputies had told her that because those are official FDOT signs, a deputy could write a speeding citation to a driver exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.

During the Feb. 3 Siesta Key Association meeting, residents requested the county seek improved safety measures for that portion of the road. Steve Grantham, treasurer of the Siesta Cove Association, said his neighborhood had been “profoundly affected by [Chen’s death], and we think something has to be done.”

He sought the SKA board’s support for the installation of radar signs facing vehicles on both approaches to the curve, to remind drivers to slow down.

Patterson, who was present at the SKA meeting, told the audience the County Commission already had requested that County Administrator Randall Reid work with the county’s engineering staff and FDOT “to see what can be done.”

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key, Transportation | Comments Off

Polling places will change in August

A reduction in the number of Sarasota County's precincts is expected to save about $100,000 per election, according to Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent. Map courtesy of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections.

Blame the writers of the U.S. Constitution. They wanted a census every 10 years, and before anybody knew it, the results were used to draw up electoral boundaries. Sometimes the drawings were more creative than representational.

The exercise is called redistricting, and the entire United States is going through it —  including the City and County of Sarasota — based on the 2010 Census. Politicians draw and approve their own boundaries, sometimes with wild results.

But the nitty-gritty detail of where people vote is left up to the local supervisor of elections. In Sarasota County, that’s Kathy Dent. On Tuesday, June 19, she held a public meeting at the Selby Library to explain why lots of voters will be casting their ballots in a different place this year.

In the interest of efficiency, she’s slashed the number of polling places by a third, to 85 from 127. And she has cut the total number of precincts in the county by a similar fraction – to 98 from 156. In County Commission District Two, which covers much of the City of Sarasota, the number of polling places was cut to 15 from 28.

Will this cause confusion? You bet, which is why Dent is on the road with a number of public meetings to help with the transition.

The countywide redistricting was a huge endeavor, because the politicians were busy drawing their boundaries. Two Sarasota County Commission districts were radically restructured, only to have one of the incumbents eliminated from re-election because the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of county commission term limits in charter counties, such as Sarasota.

The city district map was redrawn, the congressional district was redrawn and the Florida House and Senate districts were redrawn. And because the county Charter Review Board follows County Commission districts, its members, too, were affected.

With all this drawing, Dent had to make sure each of the 85 precincts was in only one district per office. In other words, a voter would be voting in the correct district for Congress, Florida House and Senate and County Commission, plus the nearly 80 special districts for lighting, fire protection, stormwater and other micro-local boards.

The exercise was a race for Dent, because Florida was the second-to-last state to get its redistricting approved by the U.S. Department of Justice (a bureaucratic holdover from the days of segregation). The DOJ approval came on April 30, and she had until May 8 to get a reprecincting plan before the County Commission.

With that done, Dent is cautioning voters to be alert for the changes. All of them will be tested on Aug. 14, during the primary election.

In the next 10 days, all registered voters should be receiving a new voter registration card. It will give the address of the correct, and perhaps new, polling location. There is a fair chance you won’t be voting at the old place anymore.

If you are a registered voter and don’t get your card in the mail by mid-July, you need to get in touch with the Supervisor of Elections Office. The phone number is 861-8600. Or you may use the internet to find www.sarasotavotes.com or you may email Dent at kdent@sarasotavotes.com

If you would like to vote by mail, you may use the same number, website or email to make your request, and the elections staff will guide you from there. The old regulations – “tell me why you can’t vote in person” – no longer apply. Just ask, and you’ll receive a mail-in ballot.

If you are not a registered voter, you have until July 16 to fill out a form and get registered. Thanks to a court decision, it is again possible for civic groups such as the League of Women Voters and others to hold registration drives.

More and more people are taking advantage of early voting, with upwards of 40 percent of the electorate casting ballots by mail or in government buildings before Election Day, Dent says.

There will be early voting from Aug. 4 through Aug. 11 at the Terrace Hotel at the intersection of U.S. 301 and Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota; the North County Library; the Gulf Gate Library;  the R.L. Anderson Administration Building at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice; and Biscayne Plaza in North Port. The locations will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For the general election, early voting will be from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 at the same locations, plus Fruitville Library. Hours of operation will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Posted in City of Sarasota, Political News | Comments Off

Walmart to hold neighborhood meeting on Ringling Center plan

Plans call for another new Walmart on Ringling Boulevard, while work proceeds on the Walmart on North Tamiami Trail (above). Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota’s Development Review Committee met Wednesday, June 20, on a preliminary review of Walmart’s plans to build a 98,000-square-foot Supercenter on Charles Ringling Boulevard. The company would raze the existing Ringling Plaza Shopping Center, said Joshua Bryant, an engineer retained by Walmart to supervise the project.

Bryant said, “We intend to have a voluntary neighborhood meeting” with the public to lay out the plans and hear neighborhood concerns.

Because underlying commercial zoning is in place, no re-zone or land-use change is required. The only opportunity for public comment that had been scheduled was a site-plan evaluation in front of the city’s Planning Board. Only if that board turned it down would the issue go before the Sarasota City Commission.

Since The Sarasota News Leader broke the story of the proposed downtown Walmart, there has been great interest in the project from the two adjoining neighborhoods. The Alta Vista neighborhood to the south of the site will review the project at its next meeting. The Gardens of Ringling Park Neighborhood Association to the east appears dormant.

Lenny Scherry with the city’s Engineering Department brought up two issues during the meeting this week. At the intersection of Ringling and Lime, there are a number of utility and signal masts for signs, wires and traffic lights that might be impacted. Scherry suggested Bryant keep an eye on those. He also said the project would need to make improvements in the curb, gutter and sidewalk along the south side of Charles Ringling Boulevard.

The Development Review Committee is composed of senior and mid-level staffers who check developers’ plans for compliance with city requirements – fire hydrant spacing, landscaping, tree preservation, mass-transit options, stormwater treatment and a host of other facets. The system is designed to prevent late-breaking surprises for developers and their representatives.

Scherry brought up the only substantial challenge to the plan – truck access. The original plan calls for trucks to enter the northwestern corner of the property, then drive down the western side of the property to access the rear of the store. However, the entrance appears to infringe on railroad property, he said.  “Could Walmart [trucks] use the regular public access?” asked Scherry.

“”We’ve been re-evaluating since we received your comment. It was an existing access point,” said Bryant. “Was it grandfathered?”

Sherry said any new development would have to be in full compliance with the regulations and therefore would not eligible for any grandfather provisions.

“We’re now looking at direct access from Fruitville; we’re exploring that right now,” said Bryant. “We’d come up Lime and eliminate any turning movements on Ringling.”

All the basic infrastructure is in place from the days of the Ringling Shopping Center. Nonetheless, new fire hydrants will be required, and an easement must be obtained for the store to tap into a 10-inch watermain.

Gretchen Schneider, the general manager for Neighborhoods and Development Services, asked for more specifics to soften noise and other irritations at the rear of the store. “I’ll need to know more about your mitigation to the rear to absorb some of the activity going on,” she said.

The current plan calls for the building to face Ringling, fronted with a large parking lot. Urbanist design would put the building much closer to the street, with parking to the south. But that complicates the mechanics of trash and recycling material removal, restockng and resupplying.

Walmart has a variety of options for building design. So far no “elevation drawings” have been offered to give the committee or the public an idea of what the final structure will look like.

Planner Courtney Mendez said elevation drawings will be required as part of the application for site-plan review. “We’re especially interested in the design features to minimize the appearance of large, blank walls,” she said. “We favor windows in the front, as well as other architectural treatments to improve the appearance of the building.”

“We understand setbacks and design constraints prevent the building from being placed close to the street,” she said. “But maybe some treatment with the stormwater area might enhance the view along Ringling Boulevard. This is a gateway coming into the downtown area.”

Apartment complex unveiled

Before turning to the Walmart project, the development review committee spent time addressing a 150-unit apartment complex. This would require a change to the city’s comprehensive plan’s future land-use map to unify the zoning.

The parcel, located at 4644 N. Tamiami Trail, is commonly known as “the Asian Museum property.” In addition to the apartments, the developer would like to provide commercial space on the ground floor, facing U.S. 41.

“I feel there is a tremendous need for market-rate apartments to service downtown,” said developer Frank Genasi. “We know it’s not downtown, but there’s good bus service here.”

Posted in City of Sarasota, Neighborhoods | Comments Off

Brace for city water and sewer rate hikes

Sarasota City Commissioner Shannon Snyder has been a proponent of exploring new options for city revenue. Photo by Norman Schimmel

June 19 was the date for the annual “State of the Utilities” workshop for the City of Sarasota. To prevent long-term debt from increasing, the city commissioners tentatively agreed to a 4% rate increase in water and sewer rates in 2013 and 2014. They will come on top of 4% increases in 2011 and 2012.

The decision is not final until the public is notified, two public hearings are held and the commissioners vote. Public hearings are scheduled on July 16 and Aug. 20 for the proposed rate increases.

But Wednesday’s discussion is a strong indicator the rates are headed up. It came after almost two hours of review by staffers and consultants on the physical and fiscal health of the utility system.

The bulk of the presentation was an overview of the city’s freshwater and wastewater systems. Stormwater, which is a county responsibility, was not addressed.

“Sarasota has a full-service utilities system for fresh- and wastewater,” explained Interim Utilities Director Bill Hallisey. “We have our own sources of water, and did not participate in the water wars.”

By contrast, Sarasota County still buys millions of gallons per day from Manatee County.

It was Hallisey’s first appearance before the City Commission since his appointment as interim director following the resignation of Javier Vargas late last month. “We had a difference of opinion on leadership expectations,” Interim City Manager Terry Lewis explained about Vargas’ leaving. Hallisey was called back from retirement, as he was the city’s former utility director.

On June 19, Hallisey and utility staffers figuratively walked the commissioners through the system for nearly two hours, explaining about compliance with state permits, the mechanics of deep-well injection of brine produced by the reverse-osmosis purification system, the use of new technology and the pace of work.

“We have about 20,000 work orders every year,” said Hallisey. “About 15,000 are preventive measures.”

In addition to producing potable water from two well fields (downtown and at Verna), the city collects wastewater for advanced treatment and eventual re-use for irrigation. The city is in negotiations with Lakewood Ranch to sell reclaimed water, and for possible use of the ponds there for storage of reclaimed water in the summer.

The city also is in conversation with Manatee County about the two local governments working together on treatment of “bio-solids,” the semi-solid residue remaining after wastewater treatment. By shutting down the city’s 1970s-era system, an estimated $1.5 million would be saved (including savings from discontinued operations at the Hi-Hat Ranch).

After all the pumps and pipes were accounted for, talk turned to finance. Consultant Andrew Burnham with Burton and Associates had examined the city’s utility bond indebtedness and the impact of rate changes. He reported that if the City Commission maintained the 4% annual increase in water and sewer rates, no additional bonds would be required for ongoing and proposed utility projects.

And the city could pay back $27 million of the $61 million in total utility debt over the next decade. He said, “That’s a sizeable pay-down over the next 10 years.”

He reported other cities are boosting their user rates, too. Fort Myers, he said, has an automatic 5% boost, while Cape Coral’s rates last year jumped 5.5%.

“Staff recommends a rate increase,” said Hallisey.

There was some discussion about moving any extra income from the utility system into the city’s general fund. “That’s what Tallahassee does with its electric rates,” said Commissioner Shannon Snyder. “They pay a higher rate than FP&L.”

Using utility rates to support the general fund would allow the city to get revenue from the approximately 25% of property that is exempt from property taxes. “If it makes revenue, I’m OK with that,” said Snyder.

“We have competitive rates,” said Hallisey. “Water demand is picking up, and our customer base is solid.”

Posted in City of Sarasota, Utilities | Comments Off

Procurement director criticized by commission before resignation

Photo by Norman Schimmel

After less than 10 months on the job, Sarasota County Procurement Director Mark Thiele turned in his resignation June 19.

County Administrator Randall Reid said the action “emphasizes the county’s commitment to additional integrity and transparency in the procurement operation, along with the need to institute, enforce and follow the new professional procurement process being implemented by the county,” a county news release said.

“That process emphasizes accountability to gain public trust and provide exceptional procurement services,” the news release added.

Thiele’s first day on the job in Sarasota County was Aug. 29, 2010. Prior to that, he was the manager of procurement for the City of Cape Coral, according to county records.

Deputy County Administrator Bill Little will temporarily serve as the procurement official while the county conducts a search to fill the position, the news release noted.

“Little has overseen procurement system changes both for former Interim County Administrator Terry Lewis” and for Reid, the release pointed out.

The announcement about Thiele’s resignation came exactly a month after he appeared before the Sarasota County commissioners to concede that a roadside mowing bid he had recommended they approve in January — despite numerous reservations they voiced — had proved problematic. Thiele told the commissioners on May 22 that the county was terminating the contract with the firm.

Commissioner Joe Barbetta questioned Thiele extensively again on June 5 in regard to the evaluation of firms bidding for the construction management services contract for the new Gulf Gate Library.

Barbetta took no issue with awarding the bid to Willis A. Smith Construction Inc., but he queried Thiele on what he called a big disparity among scores given to one firm by members of the evaluating committee. Barbetta suggested perhaps a better scoring system was needed.

During Thiele’s last appearance before the commission — his department’s budget presentation on June 13 — Thiele said his staff was “bidding and quoting everything we can” to save the county money on projects.

Referring to the 2011 scandal in the department, which predated his employment, Thiele said he had addressed all 151 recommendations the county had received after the commission requested the National Institute of Government Purchasing review the department’s practices.

Thiele also mentioned the county’s new eProcure system, which went online in May. “The feedback we’re getting so far is 99.9% [good]” from vendors, he said.

Additionally, Thiele said he hoped users would find the county’s new Procurement Code “simpler and easier to follow,” and that he and his staff were drafting a new employee handbook for his department, which he expected to be “very user-friendly.”

The county news release about Thiele’s departure said, “Reid emphasized that the county has made extensive changes to its procurement systems and processes and will continue to strengthen staff and procurement policies.”

Additional reporting by Cooper Levey-Baker

Posted in Sarasota County | Comments Off

National Register listing expected any day for Sarasota High buildings

Building 4 at Sarasota High School, designed by Paul Rudolph, is awaiting a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota County and state preservationists could find out as early as this week whether the Paul Rudolph addition to Sarasota High School will be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

Barbara Mattick, the deputy state historic preservation officer for survey and registration, told the News Leader June 20 that she had calculated the timing on the basis of when the materials were submitted.

Mattick said the National Register publishes a weekly activities report with all the new buildings on its list; the update also is posted on the National Register’s website.

Sarasota County officials had told the News Leader last week that they anticipated notification by July 15. However, Mattick said her office sent the application by Federal Express on May 8. Once the National Register receives an application, she said, staff members have 45 days to log it in, “and they usually take 45 days, because they have things pouring in from all over the country.”

Mattick said she was encouraged that the SHS addition, with the structures known as Building 4 and the West Gymnasium, would make it onto the list, because someone generally called her office if National Register staff encountered a problem with an application. “If we haven’t heard anything by now,” she said, “it’s looking pretty good.”

Caroline Zucker, chairwoman of the Sarasota County School Board, told the News Leader June 19 that she had been unaware of Sarasota County History Center staff having pursued the National Register listing.

Nonetheless, she said, “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to highlight Paul Rudolph’s work, especially as it pertains to our school.”

Rudolph, who went on to become chairman of the Yale University Architecture Department, is known internationally as one of the principal architects of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

The National Register application says, “The Sarasota High School addition was the last major commission Paul Rudolph completed in Sarasota.”

Scott Lempe, the Sarasota Public Schools’ chief operating officer, told the News Leader he was made aware of the nomination about five years ago. The School Board was afforded an opportunity to oppose the nomination, he said, but “we certainly weren’t going to say, ‘No.’”

The owner of any building nominated for the National Register legally has to be notified about the process, Mattick said. If the owner of private property objects, the process halts, she said.

With a publicly owned building, she added, the owner can object, but that would not prevent the process from going forward.

Asked whether inclusion on the National Register had any bearing on renovations to a building, Mattick said, “Basically it doesn’t prevent an owner from doing what they want with the property.”

However, if any state or federal permitting is necessary for such renovations, she said, “our compliance review section has to be given an opportunity to comment.”

Nonetheless, Mattick said, “We don’t have any police authority.”

A National Register listing for the SHS structures “doesn’t change what we’re doing,” Lempe told the News Leader.

Building 4 and the West Gymnasium have been in the spotlight over the past months, as the School Board has been preparing for a rebuilding of the Sarasota High School campus to modernize facilities and make the property more secure. The National Register application notes that those buildings were constructed in 1958-59. The gym is separated from Building 4 by a covered walkway.

Preservationists initially were alarmed when the architect hired by the School Board, Harvard Jolly, issued tentative renderings of how Building 4 could be redesigned, with glass encasing the front of the building and the walkways.

Because of those concerns and continuing disgruntlement among preservationists about the School Board’s demolition of the original Riverview High School building, also designed by Rudolph in the late 1950s, Sarasota school district staff held a two-day charrette early this month, so any interested community member could participate in the planning process for the SHS rebuild.

Sarasota architect Joe King, known as an authority on Paul Rudolph, smiles during the June 19 Sarasota County School Board meeting. To his left are proposed options for the SHS rebuild. King was a participant in the SHS charrette. Photo by Rachel Hackney

Lempe told the News Leader last week he was pleased and surprised that 100% of the charrette participants voted for a plan dubbed “Option 5,” which preserves the exterior of Building 4.

Lempe discussed the outcome of the charrette with the School Board during its workshop on June 19. “Lots of teachers, lots of students, lots of parents” participated in the sessions, he told the board.

Although district staff had put a $26.5 million estimate on the SHS rebuild, Lempe said, going with Option 5 would raise that cost to $30.5 million. Still, he pointed out, none of the six options the charrette members reviewed could have been undertaken for $26.5 million.

Lempe also noted the $30.5 million figure wasn’t final, as it was too early in the process to ask the general contractor, Tandem Construction of Lakewood Ranch, to put a price tag on its work.

“You’re also going to tell us where the [extra] money’s coming from, right?” Zucker asked Lempe.

He replied that the district’s capital budget did have sufficient funds to support a higher cost while permitting the School Board to pursue other projects members had identified as having a high priority.

Lempe added that he asked the charrette participants to vote between the two options that were closer to the original estimate of $26.5 million, but, he joked, “I almost thought that I was going to have to run to the parking lot. … They were having none of it.”

The walkway to the West Gym has proven a popular spot for birds and squirrels. Photo by Norman Schimmel

With the decision not to glass in the walkways, Zucker said, she was worried about how staff was going to be able to handle the problem of bird and squirrel waste matter, which had accumulated in those structures over the years.

Lempe said staff already was planning to remove wiring strung through those walkways, as birds and squirrels were used to sitting on that wiring. Getting rid of the wires should help, he added, but supplemental options would be considered to prevent the waste problem from recurring.

The School Avenue question

Although district staff had been operating on the assumption that they would be unable to close the section of School Avenue that runs through the SHS campus, Lempe said June 19, he had learned that residents of the adjacent Alta Vista neighborhood might welcome such a change.

The Alta Vista Neighborhood Association will hold its next meeting June 28, Lempe said; district administrative staff has asked to be on the agenda to discuss School Avenue.

He also planned to initiate discussions with City of Sarasota staff on the topic, he said.

“I am very concerned with School Avenue,” School Board member Jane Goodwin said.

“Let us spend some time talking with the neighbors, talking with the city staff and report back to you,” Lempe told her.

Board member Carol Todd suggested that staff include the topic of tennis courts for SHS when those discussions were held.

Referencing email they had received about that matter, board members said they were interested in options for tennis courts on the SHS campus.

Lempe said Superintendent Lori White already was working with a small group on the prospect that courts could be placed on the east end of the campus.

Details of Option 5

Material Lempe provided to the School Board members listed the following features of the rebuild plan approved by charrette participants for Sarasota High School:

• Leave the entryway at the top of the grand stairway of Building 4 open. Security measures will be provided, but not in the form of glassed-in space.

• Use the entry to Building 4 as the primary entryway to the campus.

• Rehabilitate Building 4 to provide 21st Century Learning opportunities.

• Rehabilitate the West Gymnasium to accommodate the programs housed in Building 42, which is close to the original 1926 Sarasota High building on U.S. 41.

• Build a new gym to the northeast of the current West Gym.

• Convert the current media center to a cafeteria/kitchen.

• Convert the current administration area to media.

• Relocate a portion of administration to the east side of Building 4.

• Create a social networking space in the courtyard.

Lempe noted that relocating school programs from Building 42 would move students closer to the center of the campus and reduce the security perimeter.

Posted in Neighborhoods, Sarasota School Board | Comments Off

New pain clinic ordinance to be targeted at methadone

Sheriff’s Office warns about abuse of addiction-treatment drug

A year after winning plaudits for passing landmark ordinances regulating pain management clinics, the Sarasota County Commission has asked for a new measure to crack down on methadone clinics.

On May 10, Sheriff Tom Knight wrote the County Commission to express his concern “regarding the recent determination by Sarasota County staff that treatment facilities which dispense and prescribe opiates such as methadone and suboxone shall not be regulated under the two recent Sarasota County pain management ordinances.”

The Commission approved those ordinances on June 7, 2011.

Knight added, “The exclusion of such facilities … from regulation by Sarasota County is not only perplexing given the plain language definition of pain management contained in the ordinances, but it also seems to contradict the intent.”

Knight noted, “One of the trends that this agency has identified is the rise in the number of people taking methadone as a substitute for other opiates, such as oxycodone. This trend is largely attributed to the multi-purpose use of methadone,” including addiction recovery.

“It appears the proliferation of methadone is occurring because of the ‘umbrella of legitimacy’ put forth by the drug’s detoxification attributes,” Knight added. “However, many patients only switch to methadone as their opiate of choice, and not to lessen their addiction.”

“We’re not opposed to addiction recovery in any sense,” Maj. Kevin Kenney of the Sheriff’s Office’s Law Enforcement Division told The Sarasota News Leader June 19. However, he added, “there’s mounting evidence [about] the lethality of the drug. … Methadone is a very dangerous drug.”

Kenney added, “Painted with a recovery brush, it’s even more difficult to battle.”

The Sheriff’s Office is concerned, Kenney said, that people who are abusing pain medication “are effectively exchanging one opiate for another,” and methadone quickly is becoming that new go-to drug.

In an interview, Chuck Henry, executive director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, told the News Leader that methadone has been used to treat surgical pain for more than 40 years. However, he noted, physicians long ago discovered it could be used to treat drug addiction. It “satisfies that addiction … without some of the same effects as illegal drugs.”

During the County Commission’s budget discussions last week, Henry said a separate ordinance probably would be necessary to handle the methadone clinics, because it would be “just impossible to manage” certain aspects of those clinics’ operations through the existing ordinances.

Referring to the action taken last year, Wayne Applebee, the county’s criminal justice policy coordinator, told the commission, “We really never had any discussions about methadone clinics. … We never intended to have methadone clinics in the pain clinic ordinance.”

Kenney told the News Leader the Sarasota County Attorney’s Office was working on a new ordinance “specific to methadone clinics that will provide the Sheriff’s Office and local agencies more oversight.”

The commissioners had asked whether that ordinance could be ready for review before they begin their summer break in late July, he said, but “we certainly wouldn’t be able to craft any such ordinance … prior to that,” because of its complexity.

Henry told the County Commission on June 13 that one methadone clinic already had opened in the county, and another had submitted an application to open.

Kenney said the Sheriff’s Office also was concerned about the potential volume of medication distributed at those clinics. “[It] is just astronomical,” he said.

The clinic that opened about two weeks ago is authorized to dispense the drug to 250 patients a day, Kenney said.

Henry told the News Leader that methadone is mostly distributed and consumed on-site at a clinic. “They do some take-home meds,” he said, “but very few.”

Along with the two clinics Henry mentioned to the County Commission, Kenney said, he had heard two more were preparing applications to open.

In a June 9 email to Patterson, a resident of Pine Shores Estates, north of the Stickney Point Road intersection with U.S. 41, wrote that she was concerned because the first methadone clinic had opened on the border of her residential area. It operates seven days a week, she wrote, “and the patients are able to loiter around outside.”

The writer continued, “It’s only been operating for a week and we have found cans used for pipes and a needle on the ground.”

Additionally, no one in the neighborhood was notified before the clinic opened, the resident wrote.

“I don’t think we have a choice on what type of office business or medical facility can go into an area zoned for commercial or office property,” Patterson responded in an email to the resident.

However, Patterson added, “We do regulate pain clinics with a pretty strict ordinance which might take care of some of the issues you mention.”

Patterson did note, though, that the Sheriff’s Office and staff at the Health Department were engaged in “an ongoing dialog … with regard to this.”

Patterson added, “[W]e may not have the ability by law to regulate this to the degree that you might like.”

Posted in Crime & Law Enforcement, Neighborhoods, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Big Water Fish Market celebrates a grand opening

(From left) Scott Dolan, owner of Big Water Fish Market, cuts the grand opening ribbon as his general manager, Brian Brainerd, and Mark Smith, president of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, look on. Photo by Tatiana Staats

On Saturday, June 16, owner Scott Dolan cut the ceremonial “Grand Opening” ribbon at Big Water Fish Market. General Manager Brian Brainerd and Mark Smith, chairman of the board of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, looked on.

Big Water opened its doors on Veterans Day last year. The grand opening might have been celebrated sooner had not early success intervened.

The immediate public response to Siesta Key’s only fish and seafood market was so great that Scott decided to delay the grand opening until after high season. “Demand was well above expectation,” he said.

Despite the success, Scott is surprised by “how many locals still don’t know we’re here.”

SKCC is helping to put Big Water squarely on the key’s commercial map. In addition to promoting members’ businesses, SKCC Executive Director Kevin Cooper explained that the work of his organization is somewhat different from that of its traditional counterparts: SKCC also functions as a de facto visitor’s center for Siesta Key. That function expanded over the past 12 months as the result of Siesta Beach having been named the 2011-2012 “No. 1 Beach in the U.S.”

Of SKCC’s approximately 460 members, roughly one-quarter belongs to the accommodations industry sector. SKCC receives some 20,000 telephone calls annually from prospective tourists seeking recommendations for hotels, motels and rental properties. SKCC additionally mails some 5,000 brochures promoting Siesta Key as a vacation destination and handles a large number of tourist walk-ins.

Siesta Key businesses are subject to municipal codes, such as those regulating business signage and frontage, which are not in effect in other parts of the county. SKCC provides a helpful interface between shop owners and regulators when disputes arise, ensuring that a “certain aesthetic charm” is maintained on the key, so the experience of visitors and residents alike is predictably pleasant.

Cooper added that Siesta Key enjoys a large number of third- and fourth-generation family visitors who have specific expectations with regard to the appearance of the business district.

Asked about his vision for SKCC’s future, Cooper answered that he hopes to have all merchants on Siesta Key as SKCC members. He estimated that presently 80% to 85% of all businesses on the key are SKCC members. “We purposely keep the basic annual membership dues low – $237 – because we want to get everybody involved,” Cooper said.

That may be easier said than done. One Siesta Key merchant, typical of several interviewed who wish to remain anonymous, said he dropped membership in SKCC some time ago because, in his opinion, the SKCC’s focus is exclusively on supporting businesses in Siesta Key Village. Businesses such as his that are located outside the Village, he added, receive scant attention from SKCC. “I really wouldn’t mind paying the membership dues if I got something out of it,” he said.

Scott Dolan is unperturbed. Big Water is thriving; he’s pleased to be part of the Siesta Key business community and looks forward to building a lasting enterprise here based on providing high-quality products and service.  A Michigan native, Dolan had been coming to Siesta Key on family vacations since childhood and knows the key well. “This is home,” he said.

Big Water Fish Market is located at 6641 Midnight Pass Road. The phone number is 941-554-8101.

Posted in Business, Siesta Key | Comments Off

Judge refuses to dismiss Brown’s third lawsuit against the county

Chris Brown filed suit against Sarasota County in 2011, after the parking assessments rose dramatically that year for The Hub Baja Grill, The Cottage and Blu Que Island Grill — three of his properties in Siesta Village. Photo by Norman Schimmel

At the conclusion of a 20-minute hearing on June 18, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Lee Haworth refused to grant a motion by Sarasota County to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit Siesta Village property owner Chris Brown filed against Sarasota County in October 2011.

Brown’s lawsuit claims that the county lowered the 2011 parking assessments for 74 other Siesta Village properties in the Parking Improvement District at the same time it raised the assessments on three of his properties. The lawsuit calls that action discriminatory and a violation of Brown’s civil rights.

However, Haworth did dismiss two of the original counts in the lawsuit: that the court direct the county to repeal those contested parking assessments for Brown’s parcels and that the court declare that the use of a “measuring wheel” to determine the patron area of Siesta Village restaurants violated Brown’s constitutional rights.

“We’re very pleased that the judge has allowed us to go forward on our complaints, as this has been an ongoing problem,” Brown’s attorney, Morgan Bentley of Bentley & Bruning, told The Sarasota News Leader after the hearing.

“Having said that,” Bentley added, “we’re hopeful that we can work this out with the county in some amicable way.”

Brown declined to comment.

Assistant County Attorney David Pearce told the News Leader he also had no comment on Haworth’s ruling.

The lawsuit originated in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, but the county was successful in October 2011 in moving it to U.S. District Court in Tampa, because of its allegations of civil rights violations.

However, a U.S. District Court judge in January sided with Brown’s assertion that the case belonged in the Circuit Court and ordered it remanded. Judge Susan C. Bucklew ruled that the case involved a county tax matter, noting that the county had not contested the fact that the parking assessment was a tax.

The lawsuit filed Oct. 4, 2011, in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court says the parking assessment for Blu Smoke — now Blu Que — Island Grill on Avenida Messina went from $138.25 in 2010 to $2,059.65 in 2011, an increase of almost 1,500%.

The assessments for The Hub Baja Grill and The Cottage almost doubled from 2010 to 2011 — from a total of $3,351.41 to $6,382.95.

Pearce argued during the June 18 hearing that, according to a county ordinance, after the County Commission adopts the annual assessment roll, a property owner has 20 days to appeal an assessment. In Brown’s situation, Pearce said, the County Commission adopted the final assessment on Sept. 12, 2011. However, Brown did not appeal the assessments on the three properties within the 20-day timeframe before he filed suit, Pearce said.

Bentley argued that a U.S. Supreme Court case provides for a four-year statute of limitations in civil rights cases. He added that if Haworth agreed with the county’s interpretation of the law, Haworth would be saying the county’s 20-day statute of limitations “trumps a United States statute on civil rights violations …”

At the outset of his arguments to the court, Bentley provided background in the case, saying, “This has been a bit of a soap opera with [The Hub] property.”

He told Haworth that then-Sarasota County Zoning Administrator Tina Crawford first offered one interpretation of the Siesta Village parking ordinance when Brown was remodeling two properties to create The Hub in 2007. Then she reversed herself, Bentley said. That decision resulted in a months-long delay of The Hub’s opening.

The county paid Brown to settle a lawsuit Brown subsequently filed against it in that matter, Bentley said.

Nonetheless, two years later, county staff changed the manner in which it measured Brown’s parking assessment, Bentley added, leading to a second lawsuit. The county settled that case with Brown in June 2011, with the county refunding Brown about $2,500.

Three weeks after that settlement, Bentley said, the county sent Brown his 2011 bill showing those big increases in the assessments for three of his Siesta Village properties.

Bentley said that at this point, Brown is not asking that the 2011 assessments be voided. Brown had paid those assessments, Bentley added. “We’re asking for damages.”

Moreover, Bentley said, “we’re not challenging the county on the methodology” for determining the assessments. Instead, he said, Brown is challenging the county over the way the methodology was applied to those parcels.

“We’re saying there’s affirmative wrongdoing by the county,” Bentley added.

Posted in Sarasota County, Siesta Key | Comments Off

Public art big and small gets boost at City Commission meeting

The Sarasota City Commission has accepted the donation of John Henry's 'Complexus,' located just east of the U.S. 41/Gulfstream Avenue intersection. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Sarasota City commissioners agreed to accept the donation of a gigantic piece of sculpture at their Monday evening session, June 18. “Complexus” by John Henry (a different kind of steel-drivin’ man) is on its way to becoming part of the city’s public art collection.

If you’re waiting at the traffic light at John Ringling Causeway and U.S. 41, “Complexus” is the huge scarlet steel sculpture coming out of the ground to the east. The Sarasota Public Arts Fund is negotiating with the artist and the Season of Sculpture to purchase the piece.

The Public Arts Fund will cover the details – copyright, 10-year guarantee on maintenance, two-year guarantee on structural integrity, insurance – and make the formal donation to the city after a deal is struck. The deal needed commission approval for the sculpture to remain on its current public site; the commissioners unanimously approved an extension of the lease to allow completion of the deal.

‘A walk through time’

Earlier in the afternoon, the commissioners were also supportive of a permanent display of historical photographs in the City Commission chambers. Sherry Svekis, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Board, asked for money to make that happen. She had $1,0000 already from the Downtown Improvement District to display more than 30 photographs ranging from images of the homesteading days of the late 1800s to a 1966 shot of Cub Scouts marching down Main Street.

Most of the photos feature downtown; in Svekis’ words, “The built environment is an artifact. It reflects changing values and tastes.”

Some of the photos will come from the collection of Pete Esthus, the city’s amateur historian and archivist who died recently. Jetson Grimes, president of the Greater Newtown Community Redevelopment Corp., had been consulted, and Jeff LaHurd at the Sarasota County History Center, too, she said. City Historian Clifford Smith says it will be a museum-quality exhibition, with the potential to change as more images become available.

Commissioners will have to live with this exhibit, but it may give them a sense of perspective as they make challenging decisions in a room where challenging decisions are meant to be made.

‘A Child’s Journey’

Things were not nearly as smooth in the afternoon when Public Art Committee Chairman George Haborak reported an impasse with a “steering committee” working on another commission. “There is a disconnect,” he said. “The steering committee doesn’t understand why the Public Art Committee won’t support their proposal. They have no details, only generalizations.”

However, there was also ambiguity in the Public Art Committee’s votes. On May 9, the steering committee presented a plan for an interactive series of nine small bronze sculptures around downtown with the narrative theme of “Diverity of the Arts: A Child’s Journey.”

After the presentation, Haborak passed the gavel and moved to reject the concept; his motion passed 5-1. Andrew Maass then moved “to support the inclusion of a sculptural aspect of the interactive art project.” After more discussion, member Trulee Jameson amended the motion “to support the concept of a visual component to be approved by the Public Art Committee.” That passed 5-1, with Haborak in the minority. The quotes are from a city summary of the action.

What has led to the art committee’s flip-flopping? “The project will consist of a children’s book, scavenger hunt where participants search for the art objects, and other marketing tools as part of an integrated marketing campaign to be developed by the Downtown Improvement District, Downtown Sarasota Alliance, [Greater] Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Sarasota County Arts Alliance as a collaborative partnership with the city public art program,” according to a steering committee document.

The city has budgeted $55,000 for the project, which will cover the sculptures. The rest – the children’s book, marketing campaign, merchandise, interactive components – would come from the partners listed above.

The nine sculptures proposed would be small renditions – a foot high or less – of a ballet dancer, opera singer, visual artist, theater actor, circus performer, orchestra musician, marine scientist, filmmaker and writer. But nothing’s final.

Sprinkled around downtown, perhaps swapping positions, the figurines would provide excellent scavenger hunt targets.

Staff urged the City Commission to move forward. Smith, the staff member assigned to the Public Art Committee, said, “Staff is requesting to go forward with the project as directed, working with the partners on the selection committee that have approved and bought into this project.”

It’s been tough going for the project since its inception on Aug. 10, 2011, when the Public Art Committee voted 3-2 to proceed. However, Mayor Suzanne Atwell was not willing to delay the initiative. “I’m not prepared to wait any longer; we need to get this project moving,” she said.

At that point, a member of the steering committee came to the dais. Virginia Hoffman-Meketon said, “The steering committee has been enthusiastic and ready to get working on it,” she said. “If you have any fears about the success of this project, you will still have the opportunity to see who the artist is, and what the art may look like.”

Discussion was proceeding under a motion by City Commissioner Shannon Snyder to table the mess for a month. But after Hoffman-Meketon spoke, that was defeated 5-0, with both the maker of the motion and the second voting it down. A second motion by Snyder to accept the Public Art Committee’s report was also unanimous. And a third motion by Snyder to tell the steering committee to move forward was a trifecta – three 5-0 votes on the issue.

There’s much more work to be done before we see nine wee statutes peering out around downtown. But the fundamental decision is done. From the dominating “Complexus” to elf-sized bronze artists to our vanished sepia past, Sarasota keeps adding to its public collection of art that keeps us on the map.

Posted in City of Sarasota, Downtown Sarasota, Visual Arts | Comments Off

Former staffer confirms existence of Urban Forestry Master Plan

A Sarasota County staff presentation from the June 5 County Commission meeting includes this PowerPoint slide on the value of trees.

Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta was right: The county does have an Urban Forestry Master Plan.

Demetra McBride, who had served as the county’s manager of urban forestry before she left Sarasota in October 2010, emailed county staff June 11, confirming comments Barbetta had made during the commission’s June 5 meeting.

In fact, McBride wrote in her email, the Urban Foresty Master Plan she had completed had “earned the County a number of state and national acknowledgements and awards. As a technical document, it is extensive and substantive, and identified by the Florida (Department) of Agriculture & Consumer Services, (Division) of Urban Forestry as a primary model and exemplar for the State.”

At the conclusion of a June 5 staff presentation that included a proposal for the development of an Urban Forestry Master Plan, Barbetta was quick to suggest that staff investigate the work McBride had undertaken.

He was concerned “that we don’t reinvent the wheel,” he said, especially as the cost of creating a plan was estimated at $50,000, according to Rachel Herman, a project scientist in the county’s Natural Resources Department.
In her email, McBride wrote that two members of a Sarasota County civic group had contacted her about the commission’s June 5 agenda.

She wrote that the Urban Forestry Master Plan, “which was formally adopted by the [County Commission] in a 2006 meeting, [was] operationalized by a 5-Year Strategic Plan formally adopted by the Board in 2007.”

Referring to the June 5 discussion, McBride continued, “Your current Board item represented the 5-Year Strategic Plan as a successor of sorts to the Master Plan, and noted [the strategic plan’s] expired term (2007-2011). But to clarify, the Urban Forestry Master Plan was developed as a technical and policy guide, and the 5-Year Strategic Plan was the implementation blueprint for the Master Plan.”

In an interview last week, Sarasota County Administrator Randall Reid told The Sarasota News Leader, “I’m always disturbed to find we have a plan that no one knows about.”

He added, “I’d expect my staff to know something I could google myself.”

Barbetta told the News Leader he also “was a little surprised” that current staff did not know about McBride’s work.

In her email, McBride pointed out that, because of the accolades the plan received, “the County’s urban forestry department served as a consultant to a number of other cities and counties in the State.”

She also noted in her email, “There has not been a great deal of urban forestry research following [the plan’s] adoption, so it is still relevant and quite current with technology on arboriculture and urban forestry masterplanning.”

Moreover, McBride wrote, “The 2006 Urban Forestry Master Plan is also quite complete regarding ecosystem services of the urban forest, whether environmental, social or economic. Again, the majority of research in these areas was conducted between 1994 and 2006, so the County’s Plan should still be relevant and current in this area.”

McBride, who is the director of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Action for the County of Santa Clara, Calif., added that she would be happy to talk with Herman about the plan. She added, “All records and files on the [Urban Forestry] Program were left in clearly-marked file boxes when I left the County, and I hope they may have found their way to you or were kept in the Department.”

Barbetta told the News Leader he did not know who had contacted McBride, but “I’m glad they did.”

Posted in Environmental News, Sarasota County | Comments Off

Kids Summer Beach Runs begin again this week

Photo by Norman Schimmel

Sarasota County Parks and Recreation’s popular Kids Summer Beach Runs are returning to Siesta Public Beach and Venice Beach this week, the county has announced.

The 1-mile beach runs are offered Tuesdays at Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Road, Siesta Key, and Wednesdays at the Venice Fishing Pier, 1600 Harbor Drive, Venice, through Aug. 15. The runs are presented by Sarasota County Parks and Recreation and New Balance Sarasota.

Registration at each location begins at 5:30 p.m. Each run starts promptly at 6:30 p.m., according to a county news release. Registration at Siesta Beach is at the picnic shelter near the playground, while registration at Venice Beach is at the entrance to Sharky’s on the Pier.

A one-time registration fee of $1 permits children to compete in as many beach runs as they wish.

Youngsters who complete four runs receive a free T-shirt and a 50%-off voucher for a pair of New Balance Kids shoes. The runs may be completed at either location, the county news release notes. All runners receive a ribbon and a free ice-pop each time they participate.

For more information, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 861-5000, or visit www.scgov.net.

Posted in Parks and Recreation, Siesta Key | Comments Off

Gulf Coast League play begins today at Ed Smith Stadium

The iconic Baltimore Oriole sits atop Ed Smith Stadium. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The Orioles Gulf Coast League team begins its 2012 season at the Ed Smith Stadium complex today, June 18, at noon versus the Twins.

The GCL, which includes 14 teams in Florida, gives recently drafted or signed players their first experience in professional baseball, a Baltimore Orioles news release points out.

A link to the season schedule is available online at www.orioles.com/sarasota.

The Gulf Coast League began operations in 1964 as the Sarasota Rookie League, according to www.baseball-reference.com. In 1966, the name changed to Gulf Coast League. All games that year were played in Sarasota, the website notes.

The Orioles GCL home games, which run through August, are open to the public at no cost. Parking also is free and is located in the east lot.

Spectator access is through the backfield entry south of the parking area, which is located on 12th Street just west of Tuttle Avenue.

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