Benson appointed to fill unexpired Planning Commission term

Former School Board member is a real estate broker in Venice

Laura Benson. Image from the Michael Saunders & Co. website
Laura Benson. Image from the Michael Saunders & Co. website

With a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota County Commission appointed former Sarasota County School Board member Laura Benson to the Planning Commission, to serve out the unexpired term of Michael Beaumier.

A Venice resident, Benson is a real estate broker with Michael Saunders & Co. She was one of five people to submit applications for the position; her term will expire on Aug. 1, 2017.

Commissioner Christine Robinson nominated Benson.

After the vote, Chair Al Maio said that if Benson were watching the meeting, he wanted her to know that a member of the staff would be in contact with her soon “to tell you about the 500 hours a month you’ve now committed to.” His comment prompted some chuckles.

“The time commitment is immense,” Robinson agreed.

Maio and Robinson are former Planning Commission members.

“This was an incredible list, quite honestly,” Robinson said of the applicants. Adding that it took her two attempts to win an appointment to the advisory board, she encouraged the other four persons to keep their applications active. “We really need to make sure that we have good people available [for seats on that commission],” she pointed out.

Concurring with Robinson, Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo noted that sometimes few people apply for board appointments. “The quality of the applications was very, very solid. Now we have some in the hopper, so to speak.”

As noted on the county’s website, the Planning Commission “is obligated to advise the County Commission on the adoption of and amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, as well as land use applications filed, pursuant to state statute or existing county ordinances.”

In her application, Benson wrote that she has served in the real estate industry as a mortgage specialist, a residential construction manager, a real estate paralegal and a licensed real estate broker. She was on the School Board from 2002 to 2006, she added, “and in that capacity I served on the [county’s] Value Adjustment Board and as a member, and chairperson, of the School Readiness Coalition.”

She also pointed out that she was a charter member of the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, which was “tasked with developing a statewide vision of sustainability.”

In her application, Benson continued, “Sarasota County is beautiful and that hasn’t happened by accident. There have been generations of citizens who have taken the thoughtful time to produce a vision for the community that, if we all accept that, current citizens have an obligation to promote. I believe that new ideas and opportunities will always present themselves and when they do, they must be vetted through a lens that is simultaneously looking back to those visions and seeing the possibilities of the future. The Planning Commission is that first step. As a former public official, I have had ample opportunity to hear from those who care deeply about where we live and provide a respectful forum for their ideas and


The other applicants

Jordan Letschert. Image from
Jordan Letschert. Image from

The other applicants were as follows:

  • Robert Fletcher of Sarasota, who has his own firm, Fletcher Appraisal Services, which handles real estate matters.
  • Jordan Letschert of Sarasota of TTJ Investments LLC. After his graduation from the University of Central Florida with a degree in hospitality management, he wrote in his application, he became general manager of Café L’Europe on St. Armands Circle. He later opened his own establishment, Fred’s Restaurant, he added. In 2008, he continued, he “made a dramatic departure from his career path” and joined the police force of Richardson, Texas, on which he served for three years before returning to Sarasota. TTJ Investments — which he established with his brother, Trudo, he wrote — initially concentrated on purchasing foreclosed residential properties and improving them as needed before selling them. The firm also has invested in Crunch Gym franchises, he added, and he and his brother have acquired a partnership in the Galleon Resort and Marina in Key West.
  • Joseph Neunder of Nokomis, a chiropractic physician who is the owner and president of Sarasota Spinal Mechanics. He noted on his application that he is a member of the boards of the Sarasota YMCA and My Choice Pregnancy Center, and a parishioner at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. He was director of education and dean at Meridian College from 2009 to 2010, he added.
  • Colin R. Pember, a Siesta Key resident, who is a commercial real estate agent with Michael Saunders & Co. He also is a member of the Florida Bar, he wrote on his application, having earned a degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich. Further, he noted, he was a member of the board of in Sarasota, which worked with the Florida Legislature “on an offshore oil drilling bill” and with the American Petroleum Institute and with the U.S. secretary of the interior. Pember also is the owner of Centric Commercial Cleaning in Sarasota.