After city commissioner raises concern about the number of architects and planners on advisory boards, commission votes 3-2 to delay new appointments

Willie Shaw calls for in-depth discussion on how to achieve better balance of representation on the boards

The Sarasota city commissioners vote on a motion on June 4. At far left is City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini. At far right is City Manager Tom Barwin. News Leader photo

On a split vote this week, the Sarasota City Commission continued until July 16 appointments to seven of the city’s advisory boards.

Commissioner Willie Shaw made the motion during the June 4 meeting, voicing concern about the number of architects and planners who already are serving on the city’s 18 advisory boards, with more people from those professions included among the latest set of applicants.

The appointments on the June 4 agenda were for the Board of Rules and Appeals, the Historic Preservation Board, the Nuisance Abatement Board, the Planning Board, the Sarasota Housing Authority Board of Directors and the Sarasota County Stormwater Environmental Utility Advisory Committee.

Shaw told his colleagues that 9% of the 123 members on the city’s advisory boards are architects and planners. If all those boards are “run by one section or one portion of the city,” he said, “we tend to taint the truth of the process.”

“I would like to see a fair balance,” Shaw added, with advisory board members representing a cross section of city residents.

Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie joined Shaw in approving his motion for the continuance. Mayor Liz Alpert and Commissioner Hagen Brody opposed it.

Commissioner Willie Shaw addresses the mayor and Commissioner Hagen Brody on June 4. News Leader photo

When Alpert reached the board appointments on the June 4 agenda, Shaw immediately raised his concern about the “loading of particular professions” on those boards, which “may, in some way change the scope of the future of the City of Sarasota, if we’re not very careful …”

Shaw asked that the appointments be continued until the commissioners could conduct an in-depth discussion of the issue.

Freeland Eddie then asked City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini whether delaying the appointments would lead to a lack of quorum for any of the boards on the agenda.

“To my knowledge,” Nadalini responded, “it wouldn’t cause … much more difficulty than we’ve faced in the past.” The City Code does allow a board member to keep serving, even when his or her term has expired, until a replacement can be appointed, Nadalini explained.

Moreover, Nadalini continued, she would work with City Manager Tom Barwin and City Attorney Robert Fournier to ensure no difficulty with quorums would result from the delay. If it appeared any problems would arise, she said she would let the commissioners know.

The reason so many appointments were on the agenda that day, she added, was because the City Code called for those to be handled in June. However, she said, the commission could delay the process.

However, Nadalini pointed out, “The next meeting agenda is quite full, quite frankly.” Therefore, she suggested the appointments be added to the agenda for the commission’s second meeting in July.

“I definitely respect the commissioner’s request,” she said, referring to Shaw. “I think it’s important that you all have that opportunity to discuss your concerns.”

Freeland Eddie responded that she just wanted to make certain that the discussion Shaw was seeking would occur before July 16.

Then Brody told his colleagues he felt they should proceed with at least some of the appointments on the June 4 agenda. “Generally, I like to give deference to commissioners that want continuances,” he added. Yet, he pointed out, “I just think we have far too many boards” and seriously should consider consolidating some of them. He added that several have not even held meetings this year.

A section of the City Code explains facets of appointments to the Board of Rules and Appeals. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Brody also noted that many applicants for the advisory boards are planners and architects “because this is what they’re interested in. … I don’t frown on architects and planners,” as their professions are long-established ones, he said. Many young architects, he continued, “really look at their profession as a craft … I don’t think it’s fair to pin them or kind of put them in a corner to just assume that they will vote a certain way…”

“I think they bring a level of expertise” to the advisory boards, Brody added, and that is what he wants of advisory boards. He does not want any of them to be “just a political body,” he said.

The commission should not delay the appointments, he pointed out, “if you just don’t like [the applicants] because they come from a particular profession.”

“With all due respect,” Alpert replied, “I’m going to agree with Commissioner Brody.”

A section of the City Code explains facets of the Historic Preservation Board appointments. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In reviewing the lists of applicants, she continued, she found several who met the criteria specified for certain board seats, adding that she felt the commissioners should not be worrying about their professions.

For example, the Board of Rules and Appeals calls for seats to be filled by a licensed engineer and a licensed plumbing contractor, Alpert noted. City staff has been working hard to advertise for applicants, she added. “To me, it serves no point to delay these appointments.”

“I truly appreciate both of you,” Shaw told her and Brody. However, he said, 10 architects and two planners already are serving on the city’s 18 advisory boards. It would concern him just as much, he stressed, if the commissioners were entertaining applications of 10 veterinarians, for example, or 10 people from one neighborhood. “We’re a city of the people, the whole, not a piece, the whole, and we shouldn’t be driven by a piece.”

Then Shaw made his motion, which ended in the 3-2 vote for approval.