Morgan wins seat on county’s Planning Commission, with Legler and Taylor reappointed

Nominated by Commissioner Smith, Thaxton fails to win more than solitary vote

Justin Taylor. Photo from his LinkedIn account

On unanimous votes this week, the Sarasota County Commission approved the reappointments of two members of the Sarasota County Planning Commission: Emmalee Legler and Justin Taylor.

However, Cullen Morgan of Venice — the newest member of that advisory board — won his seat on a 4-1 vote.

Commissioner Neil Rainford, who served on the Planning Commission until Gov. Ron DeSantis named him in June as the new District 3 commissioner — following Commissioner Nancy Detert’s passing in April — nominated all three individuals who were appointed during the County Commission’s regular meeting on Nov. 14.

After he named them, Commissioner Mark Smith told his colleagues that he wanted to nominate former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, senior vice president for community development with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which is based in Venice.

Yet, for the ninth time in the past 10 years, Thaxton failed to win a Planning Commission seat.

To the best of his recollection, Thaxton told The Sarasota News Leader, he has been turned down a total of about 20 times for a Planning Commission appointment — counting his applications both before he served on the County Commission and subsequent to his having to step down in 2012 because of term limits.

The News Leader was able to obtain a copy of a Nov. 15 email in which Thaxton responded to the formal notification from a county staff member that he had failed to win a seat once more. He wrote, “My hope is that one day my unmatched 45 years of hands-on experience with Sarasota County planning and public policy will be a qualification of merit. Of note however is the fact that I got nominated this time by Commissioner Smith! Commission Smith joins a distinguished alumni of former County Commissioners who have nominated me in the past, including R.L. Anderson, Shannon Staub, Nora Patterson, and Nancy Detert. Interesting that all four of them have county buildings named after them.”

Then Thaxton asked the staff member to please keep his name in the active applicant pool, as she had offered to do.

The new member, the returning planning commissioners and other applicants

Cullen Morgan. Photo from the Sarasota County Young Republicans website

Morgan, a site acquisition consultant who works remotely for Centerline Communications in Massachusetts, will fill out the term of former Planning Commissioner Martha Pike, as noted in a county staff memo included in the agenda packet. His term is effective through Aug. 31, 2025.

In response to the application question about why he wanted to serve on the Planning Commission, Morgan wrote, “I believe my background in Residential and Telecommunications Land Use Planning, Permitting and Zoning will benefit the County. I believe that encouraging smart, sustainable and legal land use planning and zoning methods is imperative as our county’s population continues to grow at very high rates.”

He also noted in his application that he is vice chair of the Florida Young Republicans and president of the Sarasota County Young Republicans.

The terms of Legler and Taylor will expire on Jan. 31, 2028.

Taylor is vice president and chief operating officer of the MRT Lawn and Garden Center in Venice, while Legler is director of marketing and operations of the Jon F. Swift construction company in Sarasota. Taylor first was appointed to the advisory board in January 2020. Legler won her seat in April, as the commissioners voted to replace Planning Commissioner Teresa Mast, who had resigned from the advisory board — as required — to seek the District 1 County Commission seat during the 2024 election.

It is routine for the county commissioners to reappoint advisory board members who wish to retain their seats.

Along with Morgan, Thaxton, Legler and Taylor, five other people had applied for the three openings on the Planning Commission. One of them was property manager Les Nichols of Sarasota. A Republican, he also is seeking the District 1 County Commission seat, which Commissioner Michael Moran will give up in November, as a result of term limits.

The other applicants were as follows:

  • Diane Mitchell of Sarasota, a retired real estate broker. In response to the question about why she was seeking an appointment, she wrote in her application, “Interest in Sarasota’s development.”
  • Ryan Murphy of Sarasota, a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton. Responding to the application question about his interest in an appointment, Murphy wrote, “I have over 10 years of local government experience; the majority of that with Sarasota County. I served on the Development Review Committee as County Archaeologist from 2013-2015. Sarasota County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Responsible planning for continued growth will ensure the success of the community for generations. I firmly believe that my experience and education will be an asset to the community.”
James Piatchuk. Image from his LinkedIn account

The Development Review Committee comprises county staff members with expertise in land-use regulations. They review development applications and then offer guidance to project team members to ensure that the undertakings would comply with all of the applicable county regulations and policies, before any public hearings are conducted on the proposals.

  • James S. Piatchuk of Sarasota, who heads up his own architecture firm. He responded thus to the question about service on the Planning Commission: “I would like to be engaged and active in the development affairs of my own hometown and bring what professional abilities as an architect that I can to improve and add to the quality of an area that already has so much to offer.”
  • Thomas Sacharski of Sarasota, an urban planner and project manager with RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture in Bradenton. “As a former municipal planner for the City of North Port and City of Sarasota,” he wrote in his application, “I have spent … the past few years providing analysis to aid the decisions of local planning agencies. As a private sector planning professional, I look forward to any opportunity to give back to the community and help establish progressive urban policies that lead to sustainable and smart growth.”