In County Commission District 1 race, Hutchinson advocates for stricter controls on land development while incumbent Moran has taken in considerable amount of money from developers and real estate firms

With early voting set to begin, Moran has received about $13,000 more in campaign finance funds than Hutchinson

This is District 1 for the Sarasota County Commission. Image courtesy Sarasota County

With close to 125,000 vote-by-mail ballots having been sent out by the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office — and early voting getting underway on Aug. 8 — incumbent Mike Moran was ahead of his Republican challenger, Mike Hutchinson, by close to $13,000 in the latest campaign finance reports for the District 1 County Commission race.

As of the period covering July 18 to July 24, Hutchinson had raised $37,874.71, compared to Moran’s $50,779, according to documents filed with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Through that same week, the records show, Moran had spent $42,999.99, while Hutchinson’s expenditures totaled $25,072.96.

A Sarasota News Leader review of the data on the Supervisor of Elections Office website shows that, through July 24, Moran had received funds from 299 contributors. For the same period, Hutchinson had received 94 contributions.

On his campaign website, Hutchinson’s statements on a number of issues offer a contrast to Moran’s votes since Moran’s election to the commission in November 2016. For example, Hutchinson opposed the efforts of Sarasota businessman James Gabbert to construct a construction and yard waste recycling facility adjacent to the Celery Fields, while Moran cast one of the two board votes in favor of that project. (Gabbert has been one of Moran’s contributors in this campaign.)

Hutchinson also calls for protecting neighborhoods “from incompatible developments.”

Moran has cast numerous votes over the past three-and-a-half years in support of new projects — including Neal Communities’ Grand Lakes, to be built south of Clark Road and east of Interstate 75 — and the Siesta Promenade mixed-use development on close to 24 acres in the northwest quadrant of the intersection of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road.

Residents of neighborhoods next to both of those sites urged the County Commission not to approve the plans, citing issues ranging from lack of sufficient transportation access to the intensity of the proposals.

Siesta Promenade, with 414 apartments/condominiums, a 130-room hotel, 133,000 square feet of retail space and 7,000 square feet of office space, would be immediately adjacent to the mostly single-family-home community of Pine Shores Estates.

Graphics show the planned location of Grand Lakes. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Hutchinson has called for making certain any new developments have “adequate infrastructure in place” before homes are constructed. In the case of Grand Lakes, opponents pointed out that the county has no funding set aside or timeline projected for the construction of a new road critical to serving that community and others in the area.

Hutchinson and Moran are in agreement on the need to upgrade all the county’s wastewater treatment facilities. However, while the Public Utilities Department staff is at work on the conversion of the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility on Lorraine Road to Advanced Wastewater Treatment status, no schedule has been set for the transformation of the Venice Gardens and Central County water reclamation facilities.

Finally, Moran received considerable publicity in 2019 for his support of redrawing the commission’s district lines prior to the end of that year, instead of waiting on the 2020 Census results.

Moran was among the 3-2 majority that approved the new lines in November 2019. The action shifted the historically African-American community of Newtown in North Sarasota from District 1 to District 2, prompting a federal lawsuit.

In early May, the federal judge presiding over the case ruled in the county’s favor, saying he could find no evidence that the redrawing of the district boundaries was racially motivated.

More about Moran

As the News Leader previously reported, Moran says on his county webpage that he “is a self-made businessman who understands the struggles of meeting a payroll, paying taxes and dealing with governmental red tape.” He is a Certified Insurance Counselor, the webpage points out. “After selling his payroll and insurance firm in Michigan,” the webpage continues, “Moran moved to Sarasota in 2002 with his wife of more than 26 years, Lori, and their two children, Laina and Mike, Jr.”

Prior to his election in 2016 to the District 1 seat, he served on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Board, to which former Gov. Rick Scott had appointed him.

Moran also was a volunteer with the Guardian Ad Litem Program in the 12th Judicial Circuit. As its website explains, that program “recruits, trains, supports and supervises court-appointed volunteers” to represent children who have been removed from their homes because of allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment.

This is one of Commissioner Mike Moran’s mailers, as featured on his campaign Facebook page.

On his campaign Facebook page, Moran touts endorsements from the Suncoast Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, Florida Professional Firefighters, the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, Women 4 Trump of Sarasota, the Venice Area Board of Realtors, and the Christian Family Coalition (CFC) Florida.

A June 15 the post says, “The CFC was founded with the purpose of serving as a voice for the pro-family citizens of Florida to ensure that our religious liberties are protected from government intrusion.” Subsequently, a July 27 post from Moran adds, “I am unabashedly pro-life. It may not come up at the Sarasota County Commission meetings, but it goes to the core of who I am.”

A July 16 post shows a photo of President Ronald Reagan and includes a quote from Reagan: “Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.”

On July 21, the post noting the endorsement by Women 4 Trump points out that that group is backing Moran because of his support of President Trump.

More about Hutchinson

Mike Hutchinson. Image from his campaign website

Hutchinson says on his campaign website that he “came to Sarasota in 1973 to work for EMR Telemetry,” where his first job was as a software engineer. Later, he joined Harris Controls in Melbourne, where he worked on software used to monitor “large power grids,” his website continues. Hutchinson returned to Sarasota in 1999 to work on black box flight recorders at what was then L-3 Communications. He left the latter company in 2007, his campaign website notes.

Among other goals Hutchinson has announced, if he wins the District 1 seat, is to ensure that the county “stops dumping millions of gallons of sewage water into our Gulf.”

Last year, the County Commission approved a Consent Order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that included strict timelines for initiatives designed to prevent future spills of treated wastewater stored in a pond at the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility. The board members also agreed to a settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by several nonprofit environmental groups over illegal discharges from that pond and from other county facilities over a longer period than the FDEP Consent Order encompassed.

Additionally, Hutchinson calls for preserving jobs, as well as efforts to “help high tech businesses stay here.”

Further, he advocates for keeping taxes low, noting that the county has one of the lowest millage rates in the state. (The millage rate has fallen since the 2001 fiscal year, except for the citizens-approved levy to pay for the North Extension of The Legacy Trail and the Trail’s connection from Venice to North Port.)

Hutchinson also wants to see that proposed developments “pay their own way,” adding that taxpayers should not bear the burden of the expense of sewer lines and roads for new communities.

Finally, Hutchinson advocates for the county to “be transparent and open for all citizens,” his website says.

The County Commission race marks Hutchinson’s first campaign for office, the website notes.

Details of Moran’s later reports

In his latest campaign finance report, Moran listed a total of $600 in new monetary contributions, at $200 each — which is the maximum amount allowed by law.

Two of those were from developer John Cannon, who is a Siesta Key resident. One contribution came through a firm called CDCC Services LLC, which lists Cannon as the registered agent at a Siesta Key address; the other came from John Cannon Homes.

Moran’s biggest expenditure in that report was a $3,601 payment to Strategic Digital Services of Tallahassee for digital advertising.

By the end of April, Moran had amassed $43,009, his report for that month shows. He had two $200 contributions that month from Ambitrans Medical Transport in Port Charlotte; $200 each from Granchor LLC and Vencath LLC, both of the same address in Port Charlotte as Ambitrans; and $200 from state Rep. Michael Grant, owner of Ambitrans in Charlotte County. Grant Medical Transportation in Port Charlotte also was listed as a $200 contributor.

Although Grant Medical is shown with a post office box number, lists its address at the same one noted for Rep. Grant’s firms.

This graphic on Mike Moran’s campaign Facebook page shows a couple of his endorsements.

In his May report, Moran listed no contributions. However, his expenditures added up to $19,527.89. Among those was a payment of $9,435 to Strategic Digital Services of Tallahassee for digital advertising; $350 to Robinson Gruters & Roberts of Venice for accounting services [principal Eric Robinson is a member of the Sarasota County School Board, while principal Joe Gruters is a state senator); $3,101.93 to Campaign Graphics of Flagstaff, Ariz., for campaign signs; and $500 to The Thomson Group of Sarasota for public relations.

Moran’s report for the period of June 27 through July 10 lists another $900 in contributions. His colleague Commissioner Christian Ziegler gave him $200 during that period, as did land developer Genmark Property Group of Sarasota; and Lancaster Partners VII Ltd. of Sarasota, a real estate firm whose registered agent is Piero Rivolta. Moran’s most recent campaign finance report also lists a $200 contribution from Rivolta as an individual.

That May report listed another payment of $3,601 to Strategic Digital Systems, plus another $500 to Robinson Gruters & Roberts.

The report covering the period of June 13 to June 26 lists 14 contributions of $200 each from a variety of companies with the address of 5800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., which is home to Neal Properties. Former state Sen. Pat Neal, who heads up the homebuilding company, has appeared before the County Commission numerous times since Moran was elected, including the Grand Lakes public hearings.

That June report also listed a $5,178.08 payment to Political Ink of Washington, D.C., for campaign cards, plus mailing and shipping expenses.

From July 11 to July 17, Moran listed $1,910 in new contributions and expenditures of $1,316.92.

Among the contributors were Commissioner Charles Hines ($100); Ande Properties LLP, a real estate holding firm in Sarasota ($200); Aaron Gingerich, co-founder of Ande Properties whose profession ($200); and Daiquiri Deck restaurant group owners Matthew Grover ($200), Russell Matthes ($200), Matthes’ wife, Rachel ($200), and Troy Syprett ($200). Additionally, Siesta residents Charlie and Jim Syprett, who own a number of properties in Siesta Village, gave Moran $200 each.

That report’s largest expense was listed as another $1,290.72 to Political Ink in Washington, D.C., for mailers and postage.

Hutchinson’s contributions and expenses

In his report for the period of July 18-24, Hutchinson listed six contributors with amounts ranging from $25 up to $200. Among the persons listed in that report were Rory Martin, president and CEO of the Sarasota County Agricultural Fair Association.

Hutchinson’s biggest expense for that period was $4,112.55 to Modern Mail & Print Solutions of Clearwater for production of a mailer.

Hutchinson raised most of his money by the end of May, campaign finance reports show. The total as of May 31 was $34,240.71. Of that, $10,000 was a loan Hutchinson made to the campaign, that report notes. He also provided two in-kind contributions: separate entries of $55.49 and $17.12 for campaign materials.

Of the other 24 contributions itemized in the May report, Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, president of the nonprofit Control Growth Now, and Lobeck’s law firm — Lobeck & Hansen — gave Hutchinson $200 each.

Sarasota family law attorney Michael Resnick, president of the prominent firm Syprett, Meshad, Resnick & Lieb, also gave Hutchinson $200, the report says

The smallest amount on the list was $25.

Hutchinson’s report for the period of June 1-12 lists eight monetary contributions adding up to $780, along with $1,572.98 in expenditures. The largest of the latter was a $936.25 payment to Sun Graphics Technology of Sarasota for signs, the report says. He also paid $250 to a Tampa firm called Web Elect for a database, as noted in the report, plus $315.23 to Lowe’s of Sarasota for sign posts.

For the period of June 13-26, Hutchinson reported $1,274 in monetary contributions and $67 in in-kind contributions. He spent $13,674.03 during the same two weeks.

This is one of the photos Mike Hutchinson features on his campaign Facebook page.

Ten of his 13 contributions were from individuals or couples, ranging from $25 to $200. Four of those persons were identified as retirees. Another $200 came from Control Growth Now that month, the report shows.

As for the in-kind contributions: Hutchinson paid $47 for food for a campaign session, the report indicates, while Jeff Rigby of Sarasota provided $20 for office expenses.

Hutchinson’s two largest expenses identified in that report were $5,042.50 to Grapevine Communications of Sarasota and $4,075.01 to Modern Mail & Print Solutions in Clearwater.

From June 27 through July 10, Hutchinson accepted another $375 in monetary contributions and $34.24 in in-kind contributions — the latter of which he provided, that report says.

The monetary contributions ranged from $25 to $100.

From July 11-17, Hutchinson added $530 in cash and checks, plus $120.11 from four in-kind contributions. His biggest expenditure for that period was a $513.60 payment to Sun Graphics Technology of Sarasota for campaign signs.