New committee of Sarasota County Charter Review Board to study potential of adding Citizens Bill of Rights to County Charter

Discussion also to focus on possibility of adding at-large seats to County Commission

Charter Review Board member Alexandra Coe addresses audience members during the Oct. 20 meeting. News Leader image

At the suggestion of new Sarasota County Charter Review Board member Alexandra Coe of Sarasota, a committee of that board will research citizens’ bills of rights with an eye toward improving local government’s service to the public in Sarasota County.

Following an Oct. 20 discussion about the County Commission’s request for the Charter Review Board to revisit the Single-Member Districts county Charter amendment that voters approved in November 2018, Coe raised the issue.

Coe especially referenced the comments of Newtown Nation leader Valerie Buchand, who bemoaned the “kind of leadership that we have had” from the County Commission.

At one point, referencing alleged developers’ influence on commission decisions, Buchand said, “If they’ve got you in their pockets, you’d better jump out, because they have did nothing but corrupted our system of the wealthy. Everybody should be important. Everybody!”

Coe pointed out to those attending the Charter Review Board (CRB) meeting that night that the CRB had done exactly what Buchand and 18 other speakers had requested: The board had refused to pursue a review of the Single-Member Districts issue and, instead, send it back to the commissioners.

The Single-Member Districts system allows citizens to vote just for County Commission candidates who live in the same district where the citizens live. Previously, all the commissioners were elected countywide.

“We all know … people are not happy with their government,” Coe continued. “They don’t feel heard. They don’t feel represented.”

Coe added that she sees the Charter Review Board’s meetings as forums where “ we guide [the public]” in crafting new amendments to the Sarasota County Charter to enable county residents “to have the best government.”

Then Coe invited her Charter Review Board colleagues to research the charters of other Florida counties. For example, she pointed out, the City of Miami Beach has a Citizens Bill of Rights that addresses integrity in government.

This is the Citizens Bill of Rights in the City of Miami Charter. Image courtesy City of Miami

Moreover, she noted, the Sarasota County Charter “has a lot of outdated things.”

“People want to be heard,” Coe emphasized. They want government to be responsive to them.

Applause erupted in the County Commission Chambers at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice, where the meeting was taking place.

“That sounds like we should set up a committee,” Chair Joe Justice said. It can meet as often as its members want, he added, and the public may offer comments to its members.

Coe told him she would be happy to chair the committee, and member Deborah L. LaPinska of Venice offered to serve on it.

Ray Collins of Sarasota, another member who, like Coe, was just elected to the Charter Review Board in November 2020, suggested that those on the committee also could discuss the potential of expanding the County Commission so it includes representatives from at-large seats as well as persons elected by district.

After making that comment, Collins ended up agreeing to serve on the committee, as well.

Chair Joe Justice. News Leader image

Justice explained that the committee members can work with the Board of Records staff of Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller Karen Rushing to arrange for meeting space in county facilities. Then he asked that the members report back to the full Charter Review Board either at the conclusion of their work or whenever they want involvement of the full board in their initiative.

Coe thanked him for the suggestions.

Justice also pointed out that the members of only one other charter review board in the state are elected, as are those in Sarasota County. Further, he said, most of those boards meet much less often than the Sarasota group. “We’re very involved here,” he pointed out, “and that’s a good thing.”

The next Charter Review Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 19, 2022, he noted.