Majority of County Commission decides to seek a wider applicant pool for two positions on the Public Facilities Financing Advisory Board

Commissioner Charles Hines votes against the motion

The County Commission sits in session on Jan. 25. File photo

It was listed as No. 15.A. and B. on the May 23 Consent Agenda of routine business items for the Sarasota County Commission, but it sparked a discussion that ultimately led to a delay in action.

As the staff memo in the agenda material for that meeting explained, the recommendation was for the commission to appoint two applicants to two unexpired terms on the county’s Public Facilities Financing Advisory Board. The positions would be in effect through January 2019, the memo noted.

The two vacancies had existed on the board since 2015, Matthew Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained in the May 23 memo. Member Matthew Swanson resigned in May of that year, and Dorothy Domeika submitted her resignation in October of that year.

A chart provided to the commission shows the attendance records of the advisory board members. ‘A” stands for ‘Absent.’ Image courtesy Sarasota County

The vacancies were advertised on the county’s website, Osterhoudt continued. The two applicants — Lourdes Ramirez of Siesta Key and Keith Johnson of Sarasota — “are qualified to serve on the advisory council in accordance with the governing document [of that board], and are Sarasota County residents, as verified by Thomas Polk, Impact Fee Administrator,” Osterhoudt added.

Johnson would be able to fill the open position for a financial professional representative, Osterhoudt noted, while Ramirez would serve as a civic organization representative.

When Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo asked on May 23 whether anyone wanted to pull an item from the Consent Agenda for discussion, Commissioner Michael Moran pointed to No. 15.

“We have two vacancies on this and two applicants,” Moran said. “I’m struggling that this is fair from an applicant pool.”

Perhaps the county should re-advertise the positions, Moran suggested.

County Administrator Tom Harmer. File photo

“Obviously, board discretion,” County Administrator Tom Harmer replied. “You could ask we advertise further to identify interest in those positions.”

It also is helpful, Harmer continued, if the commissioners “help get the word out” about advisory board positions that are open.

“It’s an ongoing problem with everybody,” Commissioner Nancy Detert pointed out. “We have so many advisory committees. … We’re basically turning down two people … I think that’s kind of insulting,” Detert added. “I don’t see how you can say we don’t want these two volunteers … We have so many positions to fill, we’re lucky we have any volunteers.”

Even when people who have applied for certain council positions are appointed to them, she continued, those people do not always prove to keep good attendance records.

“I do agree very much on everything you’re saying,” Moran told her. However, he understood that this particular board has stable attendance, he said. “We’re not taking a step backwards. In fact, I suggest that we might raise the bar, rather.”

Then Moran made a motion to re-advertise the two vacancies, and Commissioner Alan Maio seconded it.

“This isn’t singularly the only time we’ve done this,” Maio pointed out of seeking more applicants for an advisory board with open positions. “We’ve pushed back and said we need more applications in the past.”

Furthermore, Maio continued, “this is a big important board [and] we’re not leaving [it] short of a majority of members [or] leaving [it] with an even number of members,” which could pose the potential of tie votes.

The county’s website explains that the Public Facilities Financing Advisory Board advises and makes recommendations “to the County Commission on impact fees, other funding sources, the fiscal impacts of levels of service and other issues relating to the provision and financing of public facilities.”

Among the board’s current members are Board are Kevin Cooper, president and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce; former Sarasota County Administrator Jim Ley; and former e Planning Commission member Roland Piccone.

Keith Johnson. Image from the SunTrust website

The advisory council’s governing document calls for it to have three representatives of public facilities and/or financial professionals; three representatives of civic organizations; and three representatives “of development, building and construction,” the website notes.

Its meetings are held on the second Wednesday afternoon every other month or on an as-needed basis, the website adds. Polk is the staff liaison to the council.

“Especially considering the importance of the board,” Maio told his colleagues on May 23, he felt a small delay in filling the positions was warranted. “Naturally, these folks [who have applied] are free to apply [again].”

However, Maio said, if the re-advertisement of the positions resulted once more in just two applicants, he would not “push the issue.”

After hearing those comments, Detert said, “That’s fine; got it.”

Then the motion passed 4-1, with Commissioner Charles Hines opposing it.

The applicants

On her application, Ramirez wrote that she is an entrepreneur whose business is called Siesta Key Community Inc. She is on the board of the League of Women Voters, she noted, and she has owned small businesses since 1999. Additionally, she wrote, she has an MBA “with extensive experience in finance while working for a variety of businesses.”

Lourdes Ramirez. Contributed photo

Ramirez further noted that she has served “on the boards of various political and civic organizations,” including the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA).

She remains a member of CONA, she pointed out, and she is a member of Control Growth Now and the Better Government Association.

In response to a question about why she wanted to serve on the Public Facilities Financing Advisory Board, Ramirez wrote, “I strongly believe the county must be fiscally accountable to the citizens. The community needs [a] civic minded advocate to ensure impact fees are appropriately applied to ensure … new development pays its own way.”

Her application was dated March 22.

In his application — also dated March 22 — Johnson noted that he is a client advisor and vice president of banking and financial planning with SunTrust Bank in downtown Sarasota. He has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA from Georgia Tech University, he added.

In response to the question about why he wants to serve on that advisory council, Johnson wrote, “Community Involvement.”

1 thought on “Majority of County Commission decides to seek a wider applicant pool for two positions on the Public Facilities Financing Advisory Board”

  1. If two political cronies appear and are appointed, the rationale will be clear, if it’s not already.

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