City Commission deals with speed bumps, vagrants and charter amendment

The Sarasota City Commission tackled a number of issues on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the first meeting for new Manager Tom Barwin:

The bad bumps of Webber

Neighbors want to keep the new speed bumps installed by Southside Elementary School on Webber Street. Photo by Norman Schimmel

This wasn’t an example of the wheels of government. It was an example of the airplane propeller of government, it happened so fast.

On Sept. 4, three people who live on a one-block stretch of Webber Street west of the Tamiami Trail spoke at the beginning of the City Commission meeting. During the “open to the public” time, the three pleaded for city officials not to correct an error made on the height of two new speed bumps.

On that section of Webber, the city installed bumps 6 inches in height, which is standard for a street with a 15 mph speed limit. But that one-block section of Webber is a 25 mph zone, which calls for a 4-inch bump.

The three speakers live on the south side of the street. To the north is Southside Elementary School. Webber dead-ends at a traffic light on Osprey on the west end of the block; the east end of the block stops at another traffic light, on the Tamiami Trail.

“We’re a cut-through between Osprey and U.S. 41, with a grade-school playground on one side,” said Ann Lippett. “Speed bumps are the only deterrent that works between one light and the next.”

“It’s a drag strip between 41 and Osprey, with cars going 40 mph or more when they see a green light at either end,” said Wendy LaHood. “We were told the bumps were not appropriate. But before we tear it up and undo what has been done, we should step back and review this one block. Safety has to be the first priority.”

The three not only wanted the 6-inch speed bumps retained, they also wanted the city to reduce the speed limit to 15 mph for that block. In effect, the action would serve as a double-whammy in traffic control.

“We ask for a speed reduction similar to Hillview and Main streets,” said Kim Rich.

During commissioner comments later that afternoon, Commissioner Paul Cariguilo asked staff about the prospect of lowering the speed limit on the one-block stretch of Webber.

“Lowering the limit may be easier than lowering the 6-inch bump to a 4-inch bump,” said Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown.

“Signs are cheaper than the thousands of dollars to change the bumps,” said Commissioner Shannon Snyder.

Vagrancy push is on

Despite some ambiguities in local ordinances, Sarasota city police officers are “putting the arm” on downtown vagrants. City Police Capt. Wade McVay told the city commissioners officers had arrested 55 people in the past 24 days for crimes including disorderly intoxication, panhandling, open-alcohol containers and illegal lodging.

“Our Street Crimes Unit did an undercover operation in the area, we’ve appointed a homeless coordinator and we have a zero tolerance for people sleeping in front of offices,” said McVay.

Lt. Randy Boyd reported, “We’ve seen an improvement in the past few weeks. The trespass program is there now, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Sarasota’s trespass ordinance originally was modeled on St. Petersburg’s effort, which was ruled unconstitutional because it lacked a due process clause. Both cities have since revised their trespass rules to include a provision allowing people who are cited as violators to appeal, although Sarasota is working to make the new ordinance enforceable.

“It needs to be reworded and reworked so we can prosecute,” said Boyd. “If we can’t figure it out, how can a young officer on the street apply it?”

The issue was kick-started by Mayor Suzanne Atwell, who complained during the Aug. 20 commission meeting, “I’m not comfortable going downtown anymore.” She repeated the statement on television.

The commission asked for a briefing on the matter “by the police command staff” at every regular commission meeting.

Charter amendment edited

The petition-initiated amendment to the city charter concerning the city auditor and clerk’s duties was hastily and successfully amended on Sept. 4 and again two days later.

This is the first time in living memory that the language of a citizen-sponsored amendment has been changed by the City Commission. However, part of the language was based on words contained in another proposed charter amendment that was fully examined and approved by the clerk’s office, the City Attorney’s Office, the city Charter Review Committee and the City Commission. After all that, the language still was found later to put firefighter pensions at risk.

The commission earlier changed the language in the other amendment that will be on the November ballot. During Tuesday’s meeting, it also amended the wording of the petition-sponsored amendment.

“The bottom line, if you can put the firefighters at ease before the election, I think you can do that,” said City Attorney Bob Fournier.

The motion passed unanimously, with a second reading of the ordinance set for 36 hours later, at an 8 a.m. special meeting on Thursday. The haste was required because the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office needed the exact and specific language by Friday, Sept. 7.

The amendment would restructure the City Auditor and Clerk’s Office.

Barwin introduces himself

New Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin (left) gets settled in for his first City Commission meeting on Sept. 4. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Tuesday, Sept. 4, was Tom Barwin’s first day on the job as Sarasota’s latest city manager. He is the seventh person to hold the job since it was created in 1945.

Barwin comes from Oak Park, Ill., where he was village manager of the Chicago suburb.

As the City Commission meeting opened, Mayor Suzanne Atwell introduced him and asked if he would like to say a few words. (The comments came just after the opening of the meeting. Visit and click on the Regular City Commission Meeting for Sept. 4.)

Sarasota holds on to city managers longer than national average, but the tenure has been diminishing since 1987 when Ken Thompson was forced down after 38 years in the job. Barwin replaces Bob Bartolotta, who lasted five years.