Cooper reappointed to Planning Commission

Detert once again offers nomination for Thaxton but ends up withdrawing it

(Editor’s note: This article was updated on Jan. 26, 2021 to correct the figure for the number of times former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton had sought appointment to the Planning Commission.)

Kevin Cooper. Image courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

On a unanimous vote this week, the Sarasota County Commission reappointed Kevin Cooper of Sarasota to the county’s Planning Commission.

Formerly president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Cooper joined the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium staff in early 2019 as vice president for communications and strategic initiatives.

Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion during the County Commission’s Dec. 9 regular meeting, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded it.

Following Maio’s action, Commissioner Nancy Detert put forth the name of former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, “just for historical purposes” she said.

Detert has nominated Thaxton in the past, but other applicants always have won out.

“Kevin has done a great job,” Maio said. Additionally, a review of his attendance record for the Planning Commission meetings over 2019 and this year showed him present about 92% of the time, Maio noted.

“He’s done a great job,” Maio said of Cooper. “I’d like to see him stay.”

Ziegler voiced great respect for Cooper’s work at the Chamber and the fact that Cooper is a combat veteran, as well as “a young man with a young family” who has a long-term commitment to the community. “Can’t support him enough.”

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger talked of his “incredible privilege” in having served with Cooper on the Planning Commission before Cutsinger resigned to run for the County Commission’s District 5 seat.

Cooper is “exceptionally qualified,” Cutsinger continued. “I was very glad to see him reapply.”

At that point, Detert asked whether the Planning Commission seats have term limits.
“I don’t know that we have term limits on any of our advisory boards,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis responded.

County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht added that he was not aware of any, either, but he would check into that and let the county commissioners know his findings.

Commissioner Nancy Detert. File image

Following that exchange, Detert announced with a chuckle that she would withdraw her nomination for Thaxton, “since I can count.” Moreover, she said, “I wouldn’t want Kevin Cooper to think I have anything against him.” She added that anyone who has served in the military most likely has good skills in dealing with the public.

“I couldn’t agree more with the comments related to Mr. Cooper,” Chair Michael Moran said.

“The pool of talent … just can’t be ignored,” Moran pointed out, referring to the other four applicants.

“All of the applicants were excellent,” Detert concurred. One, Chris King, is a former Englewood resident, she indicated. “I do hope, going forward, we will give some more credence to people that far south,” she continued. “That’s certainly a growth area, and we should have more representation from south South County.”

Cooper first was appointed to the Planning Commission in September 2015. At that time, he was a vice president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.

Each Planning Commission term is for four years. Cooper’s new term will run through January 2025, according to a staff memo provided to the county commissioners.

The other applicants

A 31-year resident of the county, King noted in his application that, prior to his retirement, he “ran a health professional business for 18 yeas acting as a health care provider and business administrator with multiple employees.”

He also pointed out that he is a past chair of the Planning Commission, past chair of the Sarasota County Myakka River Planning Advisory Committee and past president of the Englewood Cape Haze Area Chamber of Commerce.

(A Sarasota News Leader search found that King served on the Planning Commission from 2008 to 2012.)

In response to the application’s question regarding “the most pressing planning and land issues in Sarasota County,” King wrote, “Southwest Florida’s population will continue to grow at a comparatively rapid rate for years to come due to [the region’s] attractiveness as a place to live and work. Proper planning and implementation will be required to ensure the quality of life we currently enjoy in the future. Due to rapid growth, the county will face many potentially unforeseen issues and questions. The county should continue to establish and refine its core values and abide by them.”

Jon Thaxton. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

An Osprey resident, Thaxton is senior vice president for community investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice. He won respect on the County Commission as an environmental advocate, including serving as a champion of the endangered Florida scrub jay. He also was one of the primary proponents of the county’s ban on nitrogen-based fertilizers during the rainy season each year, an effort to reduce the runoff of those nutrients. Researchers consider nitrogen the biggest source of fuel for red tide blooms.

With the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Thaxton has been prominent in community discussions regarding measures to help reduce homelessness and to create more affordable housing stock.

This week marked the fifth time in approximately seven years that Thaxton has failed to win a seat on the Planning Commission. Detert last nominated him in early May 2019 when two seats were open on the Planning Commission.

Two of the other applicants — Bruce M. Iorie of Osprey, a retired electrician; and Dr. Ellen Silkes of Sarasota, a retired physician — also have applied in the past for Planning Commission seats.

In her new application, Silkes wrote that she was interested in the appointment so she could be “involved in shaping the community in which I reside.” She is a 32-year resident of the county, she added.

Iorie noted in his application, “I have a lot to offer the county in regards to the Building Trades, road construction, traffic signals, street lighting, hi rise building construction, and bridge construction/maintenance.” He wrote that he has been a county resident for 10 years.