Former County Commissioner Thaxton snubbed again in appointments to Planning Commission

Mast wins second term, with two new members named

Jon Thaxton. Photo from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation website

Once again, former Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton has lost out on a bid to gain a seat on the county’s most influential advisory board, the Planning Commission.

That board is charged with advising the County Commission on land development applications and changes to the Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the community.

Although Commissioner Nancy Detert nominated Thaxton on Jan. 15 for one of three open seats, she was the only member of her board to cast a vote in his favor.

Thaxton, who had to step down from the County Commission in 2012 because of term limits, has made four attempts to join the Planning Commission over the past six-and-a-half years. He served on that advisory board from 1996 to 2000, prior to his election to the County Commission, he noted in his application.

In May 2019, Detert also unsuccessfully nominated Thaxton to a Planning Commission seat.

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.

In response to the Planning Commission application question about what he believes “are the most admirable traits for an individual to successfully perform the responsibilities [of a member of that board],” he wrote, “Objectively implement and adhere to Sarasota County’s land development codes when reviewing petitions. I have demonstrated this practice when previously charged to do so.”

On Jan. 15, the commissioners unanimously reappointed Teresa Mast of Sarasota to another four-year term. She was nominated by Commissioner Alan Maio, who noted that she has served one term on the advisory board “with distinction.”

Detert concurred, calling Mast “an excellent volunteer who’s very knowledgeable.”

Teresa Mast. Contributed photo

Then, on another nomination by Maio, the board also unanimously appointed Justin Taylor of Venice, vice president and chief operating officer of MRT Lawn and Garden Center.

The final seat went to Neil Rainford of Sarasota, senior project executive with Mullet’s Aluminum Products. That vote was 4-1, with Detert in the minority. Maio nominated Rainford, too.

A staff memo provided to the County Commission in advance of the Jan. 15 meeting pointed out that while Mast was seeking a second term, the other two seats were open as a result of the expiration of Robert Morris’ term and the resignation of Ron Cutsinger.

A Republican who lives in Englewood, Cutsinger filed in December 2019 for the District 5 seat on the County Commission. Term limits are forcing Commissioner Charles Hines, who first was elected to the District 5 seat in 2012, to step down from the board this year.

County regulations require any person who is running for County Commission to resign from any county advisory board on which that person serves, Maio explained.

The Jan. 15 appointments

Mast is owner of The Davin Group in Sarasota, she noted on her application. “My degree is in Business Management,” she wrote. “I am majority owner and President of a construction company of 27 years. I worked for Sarasota County for over 10 years in Neighborhood Services, and Economic Development. I know the knowledge I have attained throughout my career in both public and private sectors greatly benefits understanding the [county’s] comprehensive plan, the [Unified Development Code, which combines the county’s zoning and land development regulations] and multiple facets of what it takes to be a Planning Commissioner,” she added.

Justin Taylor. Photo from his LinkedIn account

In his application, Taylor wrote the following response to the question asking why he wanted to serve on the advisory council: “I want to serve on the planning commission because I believe that I will bring a new perspective to the planning commission. I am always looking for new ways to give back to my community, and it is my belief that this is the best way for me to do that. I have always had a keen interest in the process at which Sarasota County was developed after seeing it change so much in the 24 years that I have been a resident of it. Being a member of the planning commission has been something that I have wanted to do for a number of years.”

Taylor also noted that he earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and economics and a master’s degree in American politics and policy. He was an intern in the Florida Senate during two legislative sessions, he added.

He is vice chair of the Sarasota Young Republicans and a member of the Sarasota County Republican Executive Committee, he wrote. Further, he is a 2018 graduate of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation Leadership Institute, Taylor noted.

Rainford wrote in his application that he holds the District 1 seat on the county’s Charter Review Board. The Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office’s website shows that Rainford won 53.76% of the votes cast for that seat during the November 2018 General Election.

Rainford is also co-chair of membership for the Republican Executive Committee, he added on his application.

The other applicants

Altogether, nine people applied for the three open seats, county documents show.

After Chair Michael Moran declared Mast, Rainford and Taylor the new appointees to the Planning Commission, Detert said, “I’m certainly very welcoming to Neil Rainford. … It’s just a difference of opinion.”

Referring to the new additions to the Planning Commission, she continued, “I think it’ll make a very nice board.”

Mark Hawkins previously served on the Planning Commission. File photo

Maio, Detert and Moran all talked about the intensity of work for the Planning Commission members. Both Maio and Moran served on that advisory board before winning election to the County Commission.

At the outset of the Jan. 15 discussion, Maio noted the “huge amount of reading, huge amount of prep” required of Planning Commission members. “People that serve need to really be thanked.”

“This is a volunteer position,” Detert said. “And the amount of time they put in is amazing.” To have nine applications, she added, “is commendable to our community.”

Along with Thaxton, the others who did not win an appointment were Douglas Christy of Sarasota, an attorney with the firm of Becker & Poliakoff; James DeNiro of Sarasota, a retired sergeant of the Sarasota Police Department and a licensed Realtor; Mark Hawkins of Sarasota, a past member of the Planning Commission, who owns a general contracting firm, Hawk’s Nest Construction; Bruce M. Iorie of Osprey, a retired electrician; and Dr. Ellen D. Silkes of Sarasota, a retired surgeon.

Christy, Hawkins, Iorie and Silkes also submitted applications for the May 2019 opening on the Planning Commission.

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