Rainford wins County Commission support for staff research into how to fill vacant Planning Commission seats more quickly

He also calls for review of process for naming chair and vice chair of advisory board

Having served on the Sarasota County Planning Commission for more than three years prior to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointing him to the County Commission in June, Neil Rainford this week called his colleagues’ attention to a couple of concerns related to the Planning Commission.

During his report to his fellow county commissioners as part of their regular meeting on July 11, Rainford asked for their support in directing county staff “to take a look at the appointments process” for the Planning Commission.

He understood that it took some time to fill the most recent seat that was open, he continued. “It’s important that we meet the quorum on there,” he emphasized. “It potentially could be an issue down the road,” with more terms expiring.

The Planning Commission is considered the county’s most influential advisory board, as it considers land-use issues and modifications to the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides growth in the county. It has nine voting members, plus a representative of the Sarasota County School District. The terms are for four years.

A Sarasota News Leader review of the member roster this week found that the term of Planning Commissioner Andrew Stultz expires on Aug. 31 of this year. Two other terms will end on Jan. 31, 2024. Those seats are held by Justin Taylor and Emmalee Legler. Another five terms conclude on Jan. 31, 2025.

The list then notes the vacant seat.

Rainford was appointed to the Planning Commission in January 2020.

Additionally during his July 11 remarks, Rainford asked that county staff review the process for naming the chair and vice chair of the Planning Commission.

When Chair Ron Cutsinger asked for clarification about whether Rainford was seeking a way to expedite appointments to that advisory board, Rainford replied, “It’s a little bit broader than that.”
Current county policy, Rainford said, calls for advertising an opening on the Planning Commission for 30 days. In the meantime, Rainford added, if two or more seats were left open after the expiration of terms, “You could potentially delay a constituent” who needs a decision from the Planning Commission before moving on to a County Commission public hearing.

Then Rainford reiterated his desire for a staff review about how the Planning Commission officers are selected.

Commissioner Joe Neunder, who also had served on the Planning Commission prior to seeking a County Commission seat, asked Rainford to remind him how the chair and vice chair win those offices.

Rainford explained, “Currently, you just move up the next person as they came to the Planning Commission. I have my own personal thoughts on that,” he added. Some members have far more experience on the board than others, Rainford noted.

“The process does not allow for [the chair and vice chair] to be elected,” he said. That is why he would like for staff “to bring various options to us.”

Nonetheless, Rainford stressed, the issue of the vacancies is “even more critical.”

When Cutsinger asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis how it would be best to proceed, Lewis suggested that staff look into those points and prepare a report to the County Commission. (Those reports typically take 30 days.)

Lewis characterized the first priority as working “to ensure … that there’s mechanisms in place to help ensure, let’s say, ‘fast filling,’ for lack of a better term right now …”

Then, Lewis added, staff could delve into the issue regarding how the chair and vice chair are named.

After looking at his colleagues, Cutsinger told Lewis he had commission consensus for the assignment.