Because of Postal Service problems, Save Siesta Key straw incorporation ballots mailed later than planned

Nonprofit schedules community update on Dec. 6 at Siesta Key Chapel

In early November, both the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) advised their members that the nonprofit organization working for the incorporation of most of the barrier island would be conducting a straw poll via mail-in ballots.

The leaders of Save Siesta Key are hoping to show the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation that they have strong support for a referendum on incorporation — which would be scheduled only if the Legislature and then Gov. Ron DeSantis approve a local bill necessary to create the new municipality. (See the related article in this issue.)

The ballots, which would be going out to registered voters on the Key, would need to be returned to a Lakewood Ranch law firm by Dec. 8, the SKA and the Condo Council noted in their email blasts.

However, in a Nov. 28 email, Save Siesta Key board Chair Tim Hensey explained that a U.S. Postal Service snafu had resulted in weeks of delay in getting those straw ballots into the mail. As a result, he wrote, he and his fellow board members expect island residents will not receive the ballots until the week of Dec. 5. Thus, Hensey added, “[W]e are extending the return deadline to December 30, 2022.”

In the meantime, the nonprofit is continuing to raise funds to pay for the consultants it hired to prepare the documents required by legislative leaders before state House and Senate members could consider whether to allow the incorporation initiative to proceed. Save Siesta Key also has hired lobbyists, as Hensey has noted in comments in recent months to Siesta Key Association members.

A Sarasota News Leader check of the nonprofit’s website on Nov. 29 found that it had collected a total of $60,128 from 181 donations, with $100,000 as the goal. On Nov. 30 — the day after Giving Tuesday — the total had risen to $65,112 from 201 contributors.

On Nov. 27, a Save Siesta Key email blast invited supporters to a Nov. 30 “Elite Patron” fundraiser at the home of John Davidson, founder of Davidson Drugs, and his wife, Rita. The minimum donation to attend that gathering was $1,000, the email pointed out.

Davidson was the original chair of Save Siesta Key.

“Those who don’t support our efforts are firmly against allowing residents the right to choose their own destiny and the opportunity to vote on the matter,” that email added. “We all deserve the right to have our voices heard through the voting process. This is what Save Siesta Key is all about.

We NEED the Elite Patrons of this community to stand up with us,” the email pointed out.

“Please help Save Siesta Key defend our democracy!” it said.

Additionally, the directors have scheduled a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 at Siesta Key Chapel to provide an update on its efforts.

“Your support has never been more important,” a flyer for that event points out.

The heading on the flyer says, “Siesta Key residents deserve the right to vote on their future.”

Siesta Key Chapel is located at 4615 Gleason Ave.

The Save Siesta Key leaders are asking attendees to bring unwrapped toys for children ages 2 to 12, to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Englewood and Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Disaster Recovery toy Drive.

Englewood suffered considerable damage from Hurricane Ian, Sarasota County leaders have explained.

Postal Service problems

The Nov. 28 email about the straw ballots notes that earlier communications from the nonprofit told Siesta voters to expect those ballots the week of Nov. 14. “This was indeed our projection and goal,” the email added.

“Unfortunately, we encountered an unanticipated delay with the US Postal Service, that was beyond our control,” the email explained.

“From a technical standpoint, bulk mail requires a permit be issued by the Postal Service,” the email said. Save Siesta Key’s directors learned from their consultants, who “have orchestrated hundreds of bulk mailings,” that permits normally are issued with 48 hours of receipt of the application, the email continued.

“However,” the email pointed out, “our permit took 14 business days. We are told this extended timeline was likely due to the Postal Service being understaffed” on the heels of the Nov. 8 General Election, which followed “thousands of bulk mailings” about candidates, plus the Thanksgiving holiday, the email said.

The Save Siesta Key directors finally received their permit on Nov. 25, the email pointed out. The ballots are being processed, it noted, with the expectation that they would be “in the possession of the Postal Service” on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

“As bulk mailings take slightly longer than regular mail,” the email said, “we expect the ballots will be received by the roughly 7000 registered voters of Siesta Key the week of December 5, 2022.”

Therefore, the email added, “to comply with standard state ballot procedures and to allow for as much participation as possible, we are extending the return deadline to December 30, 2022.”

Nonetheless, the email pointed out, “Please note that the changed timeline in no way impacts our ability to [deliver] the straw vote results to our local delegation ahead of their January meeting.” The directors also plan to send the results to legislative staff before the 2023 session begins in March, the email said.

“Your straw ballot will arrive with a preaddressed, postage prepaid envelope, making it very easy for you to return it by mail to the law firm in Lakewood Ranch that will tally the votes,” the email noted.

Anyone wishing to return a ballot in person may do so at Save Siesta’s Key’s Dec. 15 community gathering at Siesta Key Beach Pavilion — “(south of the playground),” the email added. That event will run from 4 to 7 p.m., the email said.

Save Siesta Key leaders have been conducting monthly “Thirsty Thursday” sessions at various locations to provide news about their incorporation efforts. For example, on Oct. 20, the event was conducted at 1265 Old Stickney Point Road. The first session was held on Aug. 18 at the Siesta Key Wine Bar in Davidson Plaza in Siesta Village.

“Thank you for your understanding and continued support,” the email concluded above the signature of Chair Hensey.

On its website, Save Siesta Key adds the following beneath a copy of that email:

  • “A straw vote is an unofficial ballot conducted to gauge support of a future referendum.
  • This straw vote will determine whether a majority of registered voters in unincorporated Siesta Key want an official referendum on incorporation to create the Town of Siesta Key.”
  • “You will receive a straw vote ballot, a pre-paid return envelope, and instructions for returning your ballot.
  • “This straw vote ballot will read just like the future referendum: ‘Shall the town of Siesta Key be created, and its charter adopted?’
  • “This straw vote is extremely important to show legislators Siesta Key is serious about having the right to vote on creating a town in 2023.”

The Dec. 6 meeting flyer asks that registered voters on the island who have not received their ballots by Dec. 8 call 941-822-7840.