Alpert wins mayor’s post on 3-2 vote

City Commissioner Ahearn-Koch elected vice mayor

Mayor Liz Alpert (left) and Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch pose after their elections on May 11. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

During a special meeting on May 11, Sarasota Vice Mayor Liz Alpert was elected mayor on a 3-2 vote, while Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch unanimously was elected vice mayor.

Commissioner Willie Charles Shaw had nominated himself for the top post, to succeed Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie. After Ahearn-Koch nominated Alpert, Alpert addressed her colleagues, asking for their vote “on the most senior commissioner who has not had the opportunity to serve as mayor …”

Alpert and Freeland Eddie both were elected to first terms on the board in 2015. Shaw has served on the commission since 2011.

Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Hagen Brody were elected to the board in May 2017.

When City Auditor and Clerk Pamela Nadalini prepared to conduct the votes on mayor, commissioners indicated they preferred she let them make their decisions electronically instead of by voice.

She agreed to use the electronic system, pointing out, “I can detect a little bit of discomfort.”

Brody then joined Shaw in voting for Shaw, while Freeland Eddie supported Alpert for mayor.

When Nadalini asked for nominees for vice mayor, Ahearn-Koch’s name was the only one put forth, and that was on a motion by Shaw.

Freeland Eddie told Alpert and Ahearn-Koch she would be available to offer them assistance. She also thanked Shaw for mentoring her after she became mayor in 2017, and she made note of the fact that he had made a number of introductions for her on the state and federal levels.

Appearing to read from a prepared statement, Alpert said, “I’m truly humbled by this opportunity to serve as mayor. … This is an extremely exciting time to be serving on the City Commission.”

So many decisions ahead, she continued, have “the potential to dramatically change our future.” The most visible ones, she suggested, will be those associated with the proposal for new public and arts and cultural amenities on 53 bayfront acres, most of which are owned by the city. The nonprofit organization The Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) is expected to offer its final recommendations for a conceptual plan and funding mechanisms during the City Commission’s Sept. 6 regular meeting, Managing Director Bill Waddill said last week. The project is called The Bay Sarasota.

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie addresses her colleagues on Jan. 2. File photo

Waddill, SBPO Chair A.G. Lafley and representatives of the Watertown, Mass., design team the SBPO hired — Sasaki — are scheduled to present an update to the City Commission on May 21.

Alpert also noted the fact that city staff is at work on a new master plan for parks and recreation and on a number of transportation improvements.

During her remarks, Ahearn-Koch referenced a review of accomplishments that Freeland Eddie had reported on during her State of the Cityaddress that afternoon. One Freeland Eddie did not mention, Ahearn-Koch said, was “getting the packets early.” Ahearn-Koch had been the primary advocate for having city staff release the agendas and backup reports more than a week ahead of each City Commission meeting, instead of just days in advance.

“I want you all to know that that didn’t go unnoticed,” she added of the effort staff put into making those earlier releases of the agendas possible.

The backup material for the May 21 meeting is 6 inches, Ahearn-Koch noted. She had sought the earlier timeline, she said laughingly, “so that our meetings are not until midnight.”

The board members had discussions earlier this year about how late their regular meetings were lasting, with a number of those sessions extending past midnight.

In her final remarks as mayor, Freeland Eddie also pointed to the fact that serving as a city commissioner is a part-time job “in name only,” prompting chuckles from Shaw. For her, as an attorney, she added, handling the responsibilities as mayor had been a challenge. Nonetheless, she said, “My goal was to serve with knowledge and excellence to the best of my ability.”