Atwell declines to seek a third term
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Dec. 28 to correct information about Martin Hyde’s business background and to provide information the News Leader failed to find earlier when searching for his campaign finance reports.
Sarasota City Commissioner Susan Chapman filed on Nov. 30 as the only incumbent to seek re-election to the board in 2017.
She joins Tahiti Park Neighborhood Association President Jennifer Ahearn-Koch and small business owner Martin Hyde in the race for two at-large seats on the commission.
The board’s other at-large incumbent, Commissioner Suzanne Atwell, announced this week that she had chosen not to seek another term. Atwell originally was elected in 2009.
During a brief interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Chapman said she was surprised by Atwell’s decision, especially in points Atwell wrote in a guest column for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune this week, in which Atwell cited her disappointment with “the tendency of some commissioners to mistake the well-meaning and passionate voices of the few as the sentiment of the community.”
Atwell and Commissioner Liz Alpert were in the minority on two prominent, controversial issues this year: a decision to deny — on an appeal — a building permit that had been issued to the Woman’s Exchange for an expansion project on Rawls Avenue in the Laurel Park neighborhood; and approval of a stripped-down update of the city’s transportation chapter of its Comprehensive Plan, following an outcry among members of the public and the new group STOP! over how the city should handle traffic studies and impact fees.
“We have a pretty collegial body right now,” Chapman told the News Leader on Nov. 30. “Sometimes you disagree and sometimes you agree.”
Because of her concern about institutional knowledge on the board going forward, Chapman added, she felt compelled to seek another term.
An attorney, Chapman has been regarded as a champion of neighborhood issues since she first was elected to the commission in 2013.
Hyde, who was the first to file for one of the at-large seats that will be decided next year, has appeared regularly before the commission to offer public comments in the past months. Most recently, on Nov. 21, he criticized Chapman for refusing to settle a Citizens for Sunshine lawsuit over a meeting hosted by business owners in downtown Sarasota to discuss issues related to homelessness.
The City Commission agreed in early September to allow its attorneys to fight Citizens for Sunshine’s appeal of a 12th Judicial Circuit Court ruling in Chapman’s favor. As of Sept. 8, City Attorney Robert Fournier told the News leader, the total of attorney’s fees paid to defend Chapman at that point was $353,563.28.
Along with her leadership in Tahiti Park, Ahearn-Koch also served for six years on the city’s Planning Board, stepping down in May 2015. Additionally, she is second vice chair of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations.
Ahearn-Koch is the founder of JAK Consults, which provides consulting services to businesses and nonprofit organizations needing assistance with creating professional marketing strategies, according to her LinkedIn profile. From 2004 until July of this year, she was the marketing and public relations director for Mattison’s Restaurants and Catering in Sarasota.
Hyde is president of Gulf Business Systems, an information technology and services firm established in 1972 that he purchased in 1999, according to his LinkedIn profile. He bought Gulf Business Systems after selling his family firm in the United Kingdom to a public company, he told the News Leader.
Hyde filed for one of the at-large seats on Sept. 9. His campaign financial report for the period of Nov. 4 to Nov. 30 shows a total of $7,744.50 in contributions and $5,247.02 in expenditures, according to the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk, which handles the city election records. As of that point in his campaign, Hyde had received a total of $22,638.40 in contributions, and he had spent $12,222.45, the financial report says.
The City Commission election is scheduled for March 14, 2017. If necessary, a runoff will be held on May 9, 2017.
The qualifying period opens at noon on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 and ends at noon on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.
The annual salary for a city commissioner is $26,495.32, according to the 2017 election packet prepared by the Office of the City Auditor and Clerk.