Chair of Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast appointed to county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee

Rhonda Deems to serve on board through April 2025

Rhonda Deems addresses the commissioners on Oct. 26, just before they voted to conclude a land acquisition deal with the Conservation Foundation. File image

Rhonda Deems of Casey Key, chair of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, in Osprey, has won an at-large seat on the Sarasota County Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee (ESLOC) through April 2025.

Deems will fill an unexpired, at-large seat on that advisory board and then keep the position for three more years, as noted in a county staff memo provided to the County Commission in advance of its regular meeting on Nov. 15.

Commissioner Michael Moran made the nomination. None of his colleagues offered the name of a second applicant for consideration.

The other person who figuratively had put his name in the hat for the seat was Clayton Taylor, also of Casey Key, agenda packet materials showed.

Following the appointment, Chair Alan Maio asked staff, to please tell Deems the news and that she would be working “at the current salary … which is zero dollars.”

He noted with a chuckle that he has been pointing out for some time that advisory board members are volunteers.

The ESLOC has 10 members, the county website says. They provide “a conduit for citizen input to the [commission],” make recommendations and provide advice on land protection within the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP).

In 1999, voters first approved a 0.25-mill ad valorem tax, effective through 2019, with the revenue dedicated to the acquisition, protection and management of environmentally sensitive lands, the county website explains. In 2005, voters approved an extension of the tax through 2029 and allowed for part of the funds to be used to purchase neighborhood parkland.

Jono Miller, retired director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida, is the chair of the ESLOC.

Following Deems’ Nov. 15 appointment, Maio added, “Now that COVID is over, were getting more and more folks applying to advisory boards,” and attendance at meetings of those boards has improved significantly, he indicated.

These are the most recent attendance records for the ESLOC. Image courtesy Sarasota County

(On Nov. 18, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — CDC — continued to classify COVID-19 infections at the “Moderate” level in Sarasota County. Nonetheless, the agency said that the positivity rate over the previous seven days averaged 2.32%. Conversely, the CDC noted that 155 new cases had been reported over the seven-day period through Nov. 16, for a rate of 35.74 per 1,000 people. The latter figure was up 1.31% from the previous seven-day metric, the agency chart said. The total number of fully vaccinated people in the county as of Nov. 18 was 65.1%, the CDC also pointed out; for those age 12 and older, the figure was 71.4%.)

This ‘Fun Facts’ box is on the county webpages dedicated to the county’s Land Acquisition Programs. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In her application for the ESLOC seat, Deems wrote that she is “a scientist by training,” with a doctorate in nutrition from Tufts University. “My career has been in medical management for over 20 years,” she continued, noting that she is a co-founder of Fyzical Therapy and Balance Centers, “a franchise business that began in Sarasota in 2012.

Deems added that she has served on the Conservation Foundation board since 2018.

In response to the application’s question about why she wanted to serve on the ESLOC, Deems wrote, “My family and I have lived in Sarasota for over 20 years. We love the beautiful area that the county offers — from the gulf to the marshes, the scrub palms and the oaks. We have a paradise that requires our protection and respect.”

In his application, Taylor said that he is a retired rancher and the manager of DeSoto Hay & Cattle LLC, whose principal address is in Arcadia. That company was just registered in May, the Florida Division of Corporations says.

He also is chair of ComRent International, he pointed out in the application. On its website, ComRent explains that it “provides expert solutions that enable companies to test their critical power generation systems with confidence and precision.”

In regard to why he wanted to serve on the ESLOC, Taylor wrote, “I would like to volunteer to serve and I enjoy contributing in meaningful ways. I am familiar with land acquisition and disposal for commercial, industrial and development. I have ordered and used environmental studies. I have ordered and utilized and can read survey plans. I believe we need to leave something for flora and fauna, [stormwater] collection, and open space for the County and its residents.”