Procedure for electing chair and vice chair of Sarasota County Planning Commission changes

Commissioner Rainford proposed modification of governing ordinance for advisory board

Commissioner Neil Rainford. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Sept. 12, almost exactly two months after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the Sarasota County Commission, Commissioner Neil Rainford brought up an issue regarding the Planning Commission, on which he had served prior to joining the County Commission.

The long-time practice for that advisory board, Rainford told his colleagues, is to elect the chair and vice chair on the basis of what Rainford called the “next up” status of the members. In other words, as he explained it, the chair was the next most senior person on the commission after the person who was completing a year-long term as chair.

He felt it would be better, Rainford continued, to allow the Planning Commission members to elect their chairs and vice chairs from among themselves, instead of maintaining that practice.

“I know most of us here have served on the Planning Commission,” he pointed out.

Commissioner Mark Smith is the only one of the five county commissioners not to have done so. Rainford won his Planning Commission seat on a 4-1 County Commission vote on Jan. 15, 2020.

During the Sept. 12 discussion, Chair Ron Cutsinger sought clarification that what Rainford was seeking was a move to having the majority of the planning commissioners choose their new chair and vice chair each year.

Rainford responded that that was correct.

When Cutsinger then looked to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis for comments, Lewis said that staff would have to prepare the appropriate document for the County Commission to approve, to adjust the governing procedures for that advisory board, so the process could be implemented as Rainford had proposed.

Then, after checking with his colleagues, Cutsinger told Lewis he had board consensus to pursue the necessary steps.

On the County Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting agenda, the election of Planning Commission members was listed as a public hearing with Presentation Upon Request. No board member sought staff comments on the issue, and no one had signed up to address it. Commissioner Smith made the motion to approve the ordinance, and Commissioner Joe Neunder seconded it. The motion passed on a 5-0 vote.

The revised ordinance governing that board says the following: “At the first public hearing in December of each year, the Planning Commission shall select a Chair and a Vice Chair from among its members by majority vote. and The Planning Commission may also create and fill such other offices as it may determine necessary by majority vote.”