Because of the Charter Board’s self-imposed convoluted procedures, this proposal took a mere two years to go from an idea to a formal ballot question. And it represents the pinnacle of Sarasota County bipartisan spirit. The lone Democrat on the charter board – yes, it’s a 10-person partisan board – suggested the November ballot idea two years ago to save money, appeal to more voters and streamline a tangled process.
That Democrat – Debbie Trice – declined to run for re-election and was replaced by a Republican, making the Charter Board all-Republican once again. It’s hard to get bipartisan in Sarasota County when the only elected Democrat is the tax collector, and she’s not a policy player, to say the least.
Charter Board Vice Chairman Charles Cooper introduced the measure June 6 by saying, “This is a pretty fundamental change.” But no copies of this “fundamental change” were available for the public to read at the meeting. Ten people showed up, plus five children.
Wednesday marked the board’s final step before voting to send a measure to the voters. It was the penultimate public hearing for the proposal, and two people spoke. Both thought they were speaking on another topic.
“I’m shocked there is no controversy over this,” said Cooper after the comical public hearing closed. “But perhaps that’s OK; it means that we’ve done a good job.”
Of course, it could also mean nobody knew about the meeting. A glance at the county’s calendar on the website (www.scgov.net) did not find the Charter Board’s meeting. The clerk did confirm the meeting was duly advertised in agate type in a newspaper of regional circulation.
The vote to move the issue to the ballot was actually a close call, because one of the Charter Board’s self-imposed rules calls for seven of the 10 members to give final approve to a proposal. Two members of the 10-person board were absent Wednesday, so the 8-0 vote was barely over the minimum.
One absence caught the attention of member Steven Fields. “We have one member who has been absent, Mr. [David] del Purgatorio. I’m concerned he might be ill or dead. I’ve never seen him.”
Chairwoman Cathy Layton said the mysterious del Purgatorio was alive and well, just not in attendance. “One would think if one would run for this office, they would serve,” she said of her fellow Republican.
“Well I wish he’d shown some respect to respond to the telephone and emails we’ve sent,” said Fields.
The other absent member was Matthew Fountain.
The Charter Board would be comical if its role weren’t so critical. It is the custodian of Sarasota County’s home rule charter. The board became controversial decades ago as a watchdog over County Commission activity, and it became a political target for neutralization. Hence the belabored internal procedures and lethargic pacing. Yet, it remains the only place to talk officially about “big picture” issues.
For example at the next meeting – did I mention the board doesn’t meet very often, either – is on Oct. 16, when the members will mull over single-member County Commission districts. To use Cooper’s phrase, that would be “a fundamental change.”
Meanwhile, you can keep an eye out for the Charter Board’s first proposed amendment in some years. Coming this November on a ballot near you.