Florida Panther Program Project spokesman and veterinarian the newest members of county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee

Four people apply for unexpired term while three seek three-year term on advisory board

With nominations only from Commissioner Michael Moran, the Sarasota County commissioners unanimously have appointed two new members to its Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee (ESLOC).

During the commission’s regular meeting on Oct. 11, Moran named Bill Samuels of Sarasota to fill an unexpired term on the ESLOC, through April 2025. He also nominated Wendy Ying as a business/development representative for a three-year term, effective through September 2025.

Chair Alan Maio asked Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, to inform those individuals of their appointments.

Samuels, a Sarasota resident, is a home improvements contractor, he wrote on his application; the name of his company is Bill Samuels Quality Painting.

Ying, who also is a Sarasota resident, is a veterinarian with Holistic Veterinary House Calls, her application says.

The purpose of the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Oversight Committee, as noted on its webpage, is to provide “a conduit for citizen input to the [County Commission],” and to make recommendations and provide advice on land protection through the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP).

In 1999, voters approved a 0.25 ad valorem tax that raises revenue for the county’s purchase of environmentally sensitive lands, so those properties can be protected in perpetuity. Then, thanks to a 2005 referendum, when citizens renewed the tax, part of the resulting funds also can be used to purchase parcels for new neighborhood parkland.

The tax is in effect through 2029, the county website points out.

The chair of the ESLOC is Jono Miller of Sarasota, the retired, former director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida. Miller long has been a member of that advisory committee. As shown in the ESLOC attendance records from August 2020 through August 2022, Miller was present for every session.

The ESLOC has 10 members divided as follows, the county website notes:

  • Three with experience/knowledge of business and development.
  • Three with experience/knowledge of the environment.
  • Three at-large representatives.
  • One representative of Students Taking Active Roles (STAR).

Three of the four persons seeking to fill the unexpired term on the committee submitted their applications in late August, a county document shows, while the fourth, Gina Vutera of Sarasota, turned hers in on Sept. 12.

For the business/development seat, Ying was the last to submit her application, the document notes. She provided it to county staff on Sept. 1. Achal Bhatt of Sarasota, a drug safety physician who is an Amazon Care Team manager, submitted his on July 19, while Jim Shriver of Sarasota, director of business development for Triage Partners in Tampa, had turned his in on May 27, the document notes.

On the homepage of its website, Triage Partners says it provides “[i]nnovative solutions to help you unlock value across your telecommunications and supply chain lifecycles.”

Application details

In her application, Ying wrote that she wanted to serve on the ESLOC because she is interested in land conservation and environmental issues in the county. She noted that she enjoys horseback riding and hiking in properties that have been preserved through the ESLPP.

In response to the question about why he wanted to serve on the committee, Samuels pointed out that he has “spent 30 years as the spokesperson for the Florida Panther Project, a Florida non-profit wildlife conservation organization. For nearly this entire time,” he continued, “I have preached habitat conservation and the need to conserve Florida’s wild lands. We used the term ‘greenways’ back in the [1990s],” he added, while “today’s buzzword is ‘Wildlife Corridor’ … I would like to use my experience and knowledge of these issues [on the ESLOC].”

Moreover, Samuels noted in his application that he has been a long-time coach, board member and “chief cook and bottle-washer at numerous Sarasota Youth sports organizations spanning more than 30 years.”

In regard to the other applicants for the unexpired term, Bruce Holst of Sarasota pointed out that he is a botanist at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. “I moved to Sarasota 27 years ago and developed a focus on environmental sciences in [Southwest Florida], especially the inventory and conservation of biodiversity in the region,” he added. “I would like to … share the benefits of having a healthy ecosystem with the citizens of our community,” Holst wrote.

On her form, Vutera noted that she is a professor of foreign language and “Environmental matters,” adding, “I am passionate about environmental issues.” She also wrote, “We live in a critical time for the planet — I want to help make a difference and safeguard the wild spaces and life we still have in [our] county.”

David Evans of Englewood, who also applied for the unexpired term, pointed out on his application that he is retiree who has lived in the county for 15 years. The reason he was seeking the appointment, he continued, was because of his concern about the “extreme pressure on land use,” especially in South County. He added that that situation calls for setting “aside land for preservation and the potential public use.”

Evans is a past chair of Keep Sarasota County Beautiful, and he previously served as a ranger at Stump Pass Beach State Park on Manasota Key, he wrote.

In Shriver’s application for an ESLOC seat, he pointed out, “It feels like Sarasota County is at a critical point in [its] growth. I’ve been a resident of Sarasota for over two years and I lived in Ft. Lauderdale for many years as well,” he continued. “As an avid outdoorsman,” Shriver noted, “I am acutely aware of the threats facing environmentally sensitive land. I live less than 5 miles from Myakka River Preserve and am concerned about the effect that over-development may have on the [wildlife] and the land itself.”

Bhatt wrote in his application that he “always had a keen interest in [the environment],” but he has not had an opportunity to serve on any board involved with such issues because of his time devoted to his education and work. Not only does he have a medical degree, he added, but he also has an MBA.