Former Commissioner Thaxton again loses out on bid for seat
It took barely more than 1 minute on the morning of Jan. 26 for the Sarasota County commissioners to vote unanimously to reappoint two members to the county’s Planning Commission — Colin Pember, who is serving as chair of that advisory board; and Drew Peters.
The terms are for four years, a staff memo noted.
The decision also marked the sixth time in approximately seven years that the county commissioners have denied attempts by former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton to win a seat on the Planning Commission.
Thaxton was considered as an applicant on two occasions in 2020. Commissioner Nancy Detert nominated him in January 2020 and in December 2020, but she withdrew Thaxton’s name during the latter discussion, saying, “I can count.” Her comment followed statements from several of her colleagues in support of reappointing Kevin Cooper of Sarasota to the Planning Commission.
In January 2020, Detert also gained no support when she put forward Thaxton’s name. Three Planning Commission seats were open at that time.
An Osprey resident, Thaxton is senior vice president for community investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice. Before stepping down from the commission in 2012 because of term limits, he became known for his environmental advocacy. Not only has he been a champion of the endangered Florida scrub jay, but he also has been a strong proponent of measures to improve water quality. He was one of the primary proponents of the county’s ban on nitrogen-based fertilizers during the rainy season each year, an effort to reduce the runoff of those nutrients. Researchers consider nitrogen the biggest source of fuel for red tide blooms.
In his latest application, which he submitted to county staff in October 2020, Thaxton wrote that wanted to serve on the Planning Commission “[t]o offer my historical and institutional knowledge to current planning decisions.” Replying to another question, he added, “I have 40 years of Sarasota County land use and planning experience, and offer a distinctive perspective that will bring a greater diversity of opinions to the Planning Commission.”
Thaxton further noted that he served for four years on the Planning Commission prior to his three terms on the County Commission.
County Planning Division Manager Todd Dary pointed out to the commissioners on Jan. 26 that both Pember and Peters had sought reappointment to the Planning Commission, and five more people had figuratively thrown their names into the hat.
Commissioner Michael Moran nominated Pember and Peters, and Commissioner Christian Ziegler seconded the motion.
Hearing no other nominations, Chair Alan Maio told Dary with a chuckle, “Inform Mr. Pember and Mr. Peters that their high-paying jobs are good for another term.” (No county advisory board members are paid for their service.)
“I will,” Dary replied.
In his application, Pember, a Sarasota resident, noted that he handles land acquisitions for the Pulte Group in Bonita Springs. He further pointed out that he is a member, “[i]n good standing,” of the Florida Bar.
He was seeking another three-year term on the board, Pember added, so he could “continue serving the public for the greater good and future of Sarasota County. Furthermore, I want to continue utilizing my education in land use law and experience in real estate to make appropriate recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners.”
The Planning Commission members conduct public hearings on land-use issues and then vote on whether to recommend that the County Commission approve the applications.
Also a resident of Sarasota, Peters is senior vice president for wealth management with LCM Capital Advisors, he wrote in his application. “I would like to serve on this advisory board because Sarasota County was a wonderful place to grow up in, and now as an adult, I would like to give back to the county that has become the place where my young children will be raised,” Peters added.
In response to an application question about other boards on which he serves, Peters listed the fact that he is treasurer of the Republican Party of Sarasota and that he is a member of the board of Faith Baptist Church.
Attendance records for the Planning Commission in 2019 and 2020, provided to the county commissioners in their Jan. 26 agenda packets, noted that Peters was present for 83% of the sessions in 2019; 89%, in 2020.
For Pember, the 2019 attendance level was 94%; in 2020, it was 84%.
The other applicants
Along with Thaxton, three other persons were making another attempt this week to win a seat on the Planning Commission were as follows:
- Chris King of Englewood, a retiree, wrote in his application that he is a past chair of the Planning Commission, past chair of the Sarasota County Myakka River Planning Advisory Committee and past president of the Englewood Cape Haze Area Chamber of Commerce.
(A Sarasota News Leader search found that King served on the Planning Commission from 2008 to 2012.)
In response to the application’s question regarding “the most pressing planning and land issues in Sarasota County,” King wrote, “Southwest Florida’s population will continue to grow at a comparatively rapid rate for years to come due to [the region’s] attractiveness as a place to live and work. Proper planning and implementation will be required to ensure the quality of life we currently enjoy in the future. Due to rapid growth, the county will face many potentially unforeseen issues and questions. The county should continue to establish and refine its core values and abide by them.”
- Dr. Ellen D. Silkes of Sarasota, a retired physician, wrote that she was seeking an appointment so she could “be involved in shaping the community in which I reside.” In response to the application question regarding what she believes “are the most admirable traits for an individual to successfully perform the responsibilities of a Planning Commission member,” and how she meets that definition, she wrote, “The most important trait is to listen and be able to see both sides of an issue. My training as a doctor, advising patients, uniquely qualifies me in that regard. In addition, I have executive experience on … various committees and Boards … which taught me how to make decisions that will guide Sarasota into the future.”
Silkes recently was elected president of the Regency House Condominium Association, she noted, and she is a member of Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Doctors Hospital of Sarasota committees.
- Bruce M. Iorie of Osprey, a retired electrician, wrote in his application that he anticipates Sarasota County in 10 years will be a “modern cosmopolitan city [sic] with open spaces, proper infrastructure to meet future needs and also including public transportation. A safe environment for all.” In response to a question about what he believes are the most pressing planning and land issues in the county, Iorie wrote, “I have found that safety issues have been a concern overall with the community during all the construction downtown. It is more than the plan that is important,” he continued, “it is the planning. I would like to see tighter land use regulations on all projects that are submitted to the Planning Commission.”
The solitary new applicant was Les Nichols of Sarasota, regional director of the Castle Group in Lakewood Ranch. “I have always … had a sense to serve,” Nichols wrote, “and other than being elected this is the best way to do so.”
A member of the county’s Citizen Tax Oversight Committee, he added that he was an active duty Marine from 1996 to 2000. For the past 20 years, he added, he has “been in the property Management industry.” He has been a county resident for almost nine years, he noted.
Nichols submitted his application on Nov. 30, 2020, according to a chart staff provided the county commissioners in their Jan. 26 agenda packet. That was the latest date for all the applicants except Pember and Peters, who filed their materials in December 2020.