Commissioner Detert dies at her home on April 5

Accolades pour in from community leaders and other residents

Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert died at her Venice home on April 5, the director of Sarasota County’s Communications Department reported in an email blast sent out at 8:13 p.m. that day.

The county statement said, “It is with deepest regret and sadness that Sarasota County and the Board of County Commissioners must acknowledge the death of our dear friend and colleague Sarasota County Commission Vice Chair Nancy C. Detert. Commissioner Detert passed away peacefully in her home on April 5, and no foul play is suspected, according to the Sarasota County (FL) Sheriff’s Office. Our focus right now is on supporting Nancy’s family and ensuring the continuity of government. Details regarding forthcoming memorial services will be made public as information becomes available. We ask that the community respects the privacy of Nancy’s family and friends at this time.”

Detert was 78.

As of the deadline for this issue of The Sarasota News Leader, no funeral or memorial service arrangements had been announced.

A Republican, Detert had served on the County Commission since November 2016, having won the District 3 election without opposition.

In 2020, she faced a Democratic candidate, Cory Hutchinson of North Port, but she prevailed in the General Election with 63.08% of the votes cast in the District 3 race.

Before she entered her first County Commission race, she served in both the Florida House and Senate. Her county government biography notes her term in the House ran from 1998 to 2006, while she was a member of the Senate from 2008 until 2016.

Detert actually began her public service on the Sarasota County School Board (1988 to 1992), a fact she referenced many times during her years on the County Commission.

Detert also remarked on more than a few occasions that she was a Chicago native. In recent years, she talked often of having relatives come from the colder Midwestern climate to visit her and her family in Venice during the height of tourist season.

Her county biography says she moved to Florida in 1978 with her husband and three sons — Mark, Bryan and Jamie.

“She started Osprey Mortgage Company and ran it for 25 years in Venice,” the biography continues — another fact that Detert never hesitated to tell her colleagues, especially during discussions related to efforts to spur more affordable housing developments in the community.

One unusual point of interest in the website biography is the fact that Detert was “related to Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.”

She was “the recipient of numerous awards and passed many bills [in the Legislature] but is most proud of passing a bill that extends Foster Care from age 18 to 21,” the biography adds. “The Senate President named it the Nancy Detert Caring and Compassionate Act.”

Visitors to the county website on April 6 saw a rotation of photos on the homepage that featured Detert.

An advocate for many county initiatives

As a member of the County Commission, Detert was a strong supporter of Commissioner Michael Moran’s proposal for the Mental Health Care Special District that the board members approved in 2021. She especially stressed the need for not only a bigger focus on funding for mental health care but also for substance abuse treatment.

In advocating consistently for more affordable housing units, she did not hesitate to criticize developers of new projects they called attainable, but which would have rents that she decried as too high for her to consider those dwellings to be affordable.

In December 2021, as the commissioners were debating how best to apportion $84.2 million that the county was expecting to receive through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Detert underscored the need to boost the amount that would be set aside for affordable housing. County staff had recommended only $5 million for that purpose.

Detert related an anecdote about someone calling her that morning to tell her that an 82-year-old woman had had to get a job bagging groceries at a Publix store because the woman’s rent had been raised and she no longer could afford it without a boost to her income.

“There’s very little in the way of low-income options” for seniors who do not have much financial wherewithal, Detert pointed out during that discussion.

She had been talking with leaders of the Loveland Center in Venice, Detert continued. Loveland already had constructed an apartment complex for “developmentally delayed, high-functioning individuals” who are able to live on their own, she said. The nonprofit would be willing to dedicate 8 acres of its property to a senior campus for 60 to 80 families, Detert added. “It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship,” she noted of seniors living near the developmentally delayed adults. “I think they would work together and actually help each other …”

As a result of that advocacy, she won her fellow commissioners’ approval for spending $5 million alone out of the ARPA money for that Loveland project.

By the time the commissioners took their final vote on the ARPA allocations — on March 29, 2022 — they had agreed to set aside $25 million altogether for affordable housing proposals. “This is a great day for affordable housing, frankly,” Detert said.

Detert also chided her colleagues a number of times over the years for approving Coastal Setback Variances that she found problematic. She often urged her colleagues to keep in mind — and adhere to — county policies and regulations designed to protect property owners from storm damage.

In fact, in late January, she criticized two partners with the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota, who had called for more lenient restrictions for construction of housing and accessory structures in the county’s coastal areas. She told William Merrill III and Matthew Brockway to consider running for County Commission themselves. “Then you get to sit here and rewrite our rules,” Detert added. “Otherwise, I think we’ll do that ourselves.”

Detert did find herself in the minority on a number of votes over the years, winning plaudits from Siesta Key residents, for example, in opposing two high-rise hotels planned for the barrier island. (See the related articles in this issue.)

She also voted against the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development planned on approximately 24 acres in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41.

On the other hand, she readily championed initiatives she saw as boons to the community.

She was an enthusiastic supporter of The Bay Park in downtown Sarasota, for example. Detert talked laughingly on one occasion about being there with out-of-town family members and encountering a representative of the Tallahassee research firm that the county’s tourism office, Visit Sarasota County, uses for monthly reporting on visitors’ experiences and spending.

She also welcomed Mote Marine Laboratory’s plans for its Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) on property between the Mall at University Town Center and Benderson Park. She readily voted in favor of a county pledge to dedicate $20 million in Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue to that project. It was Detert who first talked of a vision of drivers on Interstate 75 spying the Aquarium and finding themselves drawn to visit it.

In January 2019, when the commissioners voted unanimously to approve an omnibus agreement with Mote to clear the way for the plans to proceed, Detert said, “I feel it’s going to be so startlingly impressive that we’ll probably have to put a scenic overlook on I-75, because people are going to say, ‘What is that?’ and want to pull over.”

Reflections on Detert’s legacy

A number of county leaders wrote Facebook posts about Detert after learning of her passing.

Additionally, the News Leader reached out to individuals who had known her through her community service, to ask for their comments. Those statements follow:

  • Sarasota County Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates — “I’ve known and admired Nancy Detert for over 40 years. All she ever wanted was to make a difference. She served on the school board, as a state representative, senator and county commissioner. No matter what those in power wanted her to do, she voted for what she believed was best. That independence made her the definition of a public servant. She will be missed!”
  • Karen E. Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller —“I have known Nancy since the early days when she ran for the school board many years ago. She will be remembered for her candid remarks — to call it like she sees it. She will no doubt be missed by many in our community.”
  • Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for community leadership at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and former county commissioner — “When it comes to independence as a decision maker, Senator Detert set the high-bar the rest of us aspire to attain. She was, and will continue to be an inspiration, and I miss her already.”
  • Sheriff Kurt Hoffman, via Facebook — “The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is saddened by the news that we lost a true public servant today. County Commissioner Nancy Detert passed away peacefully at her home in Venice. I have many fond memories of Nancy over the years and considered her a true friend. She cared more about her community than anyone I know and her many years of public service as a school board member, senator, state representative and county commissioner will be a notable part of her legacy. We ask that you please keep Nancy’s family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
  • Christine Robinson, who held the District 3 commission seat before Detert, via Facebook — “I am so sad to hear of the loss of Senator-Commissioner Detert. She was the definition of a public servant, she loved her community and the people in it. Witty, smart, firm in her beliefs, and dedicated to causes like Loveland Center, she has left an indelible stamp on the county. My condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, and the county.”
  • Mark Pritchett, president and CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation — “I had the highest respect for Nancy Detert as a public official because she was fair and sensible — especially when it came to helping foster children and individuals with special needs. And when Nancy Detert made up her mind, you knew exactly where she stood and how she would vote on an issue.”
  • Norman Schimmel of Sarasota, vice chair of the county’s Tourist Development Council, which Detert chaired the past couple of years, via Facebook — “THE WORLD LOST A CHAMPION, LAST NIGHT. I lost a good friend and wonderful, brilliant, Senator/Commissioner of Florida and Sarasota County. Nancy Carroll Detert was the model of one devoted to and working for EVERY resident of Florida and Sarasota County in particular. … She is responsible for so much here that one posting can’t begin to handle. R I P Nancy, you will be missed forever, by all who knew you, and all who you represented. A sad, sad day, here.”
  • The Republican Party of Sarasota via Facebook — “The Republican Party of Sarasota County deeply mourns the loss of friend and long-time community leader Nancy Detert, who has been a stalwart working on behalf of the people of Sarasota County for 30 years, as a member of the Sarasota County School Board, the Florida Legislature and the Sarasota County Commission. She is well-known and respected by people in both parties who agreed and disagreed with her. Nancy did her homework, knew the issues and knew the people in her community. She was always an honest broker, doing what she believed was right, even if it hurt her politically. She was a beloved mother, grandmother and friend to so many. Nancy leaves a legacy of caring, fighting for the people in her community, and being a quiet friend to countless people. Her passing on Tuesday leaves a huge hole, not just in the Republican Party or in politics, but in our community.”

Just after 1 p.m. on April 6, the News Leader counted 93 personal posts on the Sarasota County Government Facebook page, expressing thoughts about Deter and condolences. Among them was this comment: “As a younger women she was inspiring to me this is heartbreaking to hear.”

Another person wrote, “Nancy was a lifelong advocate for those who needed her most.”

A long list of accolades

The following awards and honors that Detert received are listed in her county website biography:

  • City of Venice, Pillar of the Community Award, 2015.
  • Florida Chamber of Commerce, Distinguished Advocate Award, 2015.
  • Florida League of Cities, Legislative Distinction Award, 2014.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters, Legislator of the Year Award, 2014.
  • Guardian ad Litem, Children’s Champion, 2014.
  • Sarasota County Community Youth Development, Leadership Award, 2014.
  • Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, Arts Education Leadership Award, 2014
  • Florida PTA’s Legislator of the Year, 2013
  • Florida Bar Trial Lawyers Section Champion of Justice Independence Award, 2011
  • Sarasota County Bar Association Distinguished Service Award, 2010-2011
  • Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., FL Gulf Coast Chapter, ABC “Free Enterprise” Award, 2010.
  • Florida Music Educators’ Association, Friend of Music Education Award, 2010.
  • Florida Art Education Association, Friend of Art Education Award, 2009.
  • Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., Friend of Free Enterprise, 2009.
  • Florida School Boards Association Inc., Legislator of the Year, 2009, 2002, 1999.
  • Florida Association of Conventions and Visitors Bureaus, Legislator of the Year, 2004.
  • Florida Economic Development Council Inc., Legislator of the Year Award, 2004.
  • Florida Housing Coalition, Legislator of the Year, 2004, 2003.
  • National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Florida Chapter, “Florida Heroes Awards,” 2004.
  • Sarasota Office of Housing and Community Development Award, 2004.
  • Florida Association of Museums, Museum Service Award, 2003.
  • Florida Bankers Association, Leadership Award, 2003.
  • Florida Boys and Girls Club, Recognition of Service, 2002.
  • Florida Funeral Directors, Legislator of the Year, 2002.
  • Funeral and Cemetery Alliance of Florida, Outstanding Legislator of the Year, 2002.
  • Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers, Legislator of the Year, 2001.
  • Florida Association of Technical Educators, Legislator of the Year, 2001.
  • Ranked by The Miami Herald as one of the Top 25 State Legislators for her “sound policy objectives and behind the scenes work.”
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters, Legislator of the Year, 2000.
  • Florida Association of School Administrators, Legislator of the Year, 2000.
  • Girls Inc., “She Knows Where She’s Going” Award, 2000.
  • Gulf Coast Marine Institute, Legislator of the Year, 2000.
  • Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association, Legislator of the Year, 2000.
  • Florida Association of School Social Workers, Legislator of the Year, 1999.
  • Women of Distinction, Award for Finance, 1998.
  • Venice Area Chamber of Commerce, Small Business of the Year Award, 1993.

3 thoughts on “Commissioner Detert dies at her home on April 5”

  1. We are going to miss Nancy Detert. She was a breath of fresh air in a fetid crowd. She was the only commissioner I can recall in the last 15 years (along with Jon Thaxton and Nora Patterson. Mark Smith is too soon to tell) who actually worked for the benefit of the community rather than a handful of big-time developers.

    What I have not seen is what happens next: An interim or replacement commissioner appointed? Special election? Proceed with a reduced BOCC?

  2. Excellent story. While one could disagree with some of Commissioner Detert’s goals, it is no exaggeration to say that Nancy Detert was the only elected member of the BOCC to display even the slightest awareness that they are supposed to represent the public and the public sector. It is to be expected that the Governor will appoint someone in line with his authoritarian approach to governance. If so, that person will join a Board where they will feel right at home.

  3. I was saddened to learn of Nancy Detert’s passing. I first met her when I came to Sarasota 12 years ago when I visited her venice office to discuss a program for helping poor single mothers return to school. She gave me the time, and while that program did not take off, I have been in touch with her over the years on other human services issues. While we did not always agree, she was honest and forthright and leaves an important legacy in her legislative initiatives to protect the elderly, foster children, people with disabilities and so much more. She will be missed!

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