County commissioners end county employees’ payroll deductions for United Way contributions and forbid use of county funding for organizations that provide ‘referrals for abortion services’

Unanimous votes taken on April 23

Commissioner Michael Moran. File image

On unanimous votes this week, the Sarasota County Commission approved separate resolutions that will end county employees’ voluntary payroll deductions to charitable organizations and forbid the allocation of any county funding “to organizations that provide referrals for abortion services.”

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, Chair Michael Moran called for the action during remarks to his colleagues as part of their regular meeting on April 9.

Moran and Commissioner Neil Rainford both have protested the fact that operators handling the 211 helpline overseen by United Way Suncoast, which is based in Tampa, would refer people to Planned Parenthood.

Bronwyn Beightol, chief impact officer of United Way Suncoast, had confirmed that in response to a question that Rainford posed to her in March.

Moran subsequently learned that county employees had been allowed for decades, apparently, to have contributions to United Way Suncoast deducted from their paychecks. Such contributions were common for years with other local governments and businesses, including the Sarasota County School Board. Nonetheless, during the April 9 County Commission meeting, Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, talked of having found no documentation that authorized the county practice. However, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis noted that he was very familiar with it, as he has served with a number of local government jurisdictions in his approximately 30-year career.)

Prior to the first vote on April 23, Moran announced that county staff had provided updated resolutions to the board members for consideration that day.

Turning to the one involving payroll deductions, Moran said, “The resolution really speaks for itself.”
Rainford made the motion to adopt the resolution, and Commissioner Joe Neunder seconded it.

“Any county employee that wants to contribute privately, I encourage them to do that, just like I would in my private capacity.” Rainford said.

Neunder declined to offer any comment.

After that motion passed 5-0, Moran introduced the second resolution, pointing out that it would take effect immediately upon adoption.

Rainford made the motion to adopt that one, as well, and Neunder seconded it.

“I think our job is to protect people,” Rainford said, “and this gets right after that.”

“This is a no brainer for me,” Neunder added.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Moran responded.

Then that motion passed 5-0.

This is the revised version of the abortion amendment that won approval on April 23. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the Open to the Public comment period at the start of the April 23 meeting, Sally Nista, a member of the Sarasota County Republican Assembly Chapter, commended the commissioners for their plans to address the resolutions that day.

Nista also had offered plaudits for Moran and Rainford on April 9, for championing the action.

On April 23, she said she wanted to express support for the resolution “that would stop the funding to any organization that provides referrals for abortions. I do not want my taxpayer money to be spent on encouraging someone to kill a baby.”

Nista also thanked the board members for “representing the majority of Sarasota County taxpayers’ beliefs that organizations who make referrals for abortion services are not an appropriate agency for our taxpayer money.”

Conversely, the Sarasota County Democratic Party decried the approval of the two resolutions.

Daniel Kuether. Contributed image

In an April 24 press release, Daniel Kuether, chair of the party, pointed out, “To penalize an outstanding national charity used by millions of Americans is extremist, mean-spirited, and reactionary.” He added, “It’s nothing more than a cheap political trick to score points with the Republican MAGA base.”

The Sarasota County Democratic Party press release explained, “United Way, represented in Sarasota by United Way Suncoast and United Way of South Sarasota, traces its roots to 1887 when an ecumenical group of religious leaders in Denver founded the Charity Organization Society. Until 2015, United Way was the largest nonprofit organization in the United States by donations from the public.”

The release added that Kuether questioned how “five Republican men would dare to speak for the values of almost 463,000 Sarasotans,” and it noted that Sarasota voters were among citizens across Florida who “signed the petition to place the initiative for a constitutional amendment on reproductive freedom on the November ballot by one of the largest margins in the state.”

Kuether offered further criticism in the release, saying that “the Republican county commissioners have failed to meet residents’ long-standing needs regarding skyrocketing home prices, an insurance crisis, rampant development, or providing affordable housing.”

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