September the earliest SANCA representatives can begin regular presentations to County Commission

In May, the county administrator said the updates on the 2017 World Rowing Championships would begin June 8

Rowers compete during the 2013 USRowing Masters Championships at Benderson Park. File photo
Rowers compete during the 2013 USRowing Masters Championships at Benderson Park. File photo

As the Sarasota County commissioners prepared to begin their approximately month-long summer break at the end of last week, Commissioner Carolyn Mason took the opportunity to reprise a matter she had raised in May: The board should be hearing regular updates from the two key people heading up the preparations for the 2017 World Rowing Championships.

She brought up the issue during the board members’ reports on July 12, calling it “one little burning issue.” Referring to a top official of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA), she told her colleagues, “There are some things that … I need to hear from that board president.”

SANCA manages the events at Nathan Benderson Park, the county-owned facility where the 2017 international event will be held Sept. 23-30.

Mason’s similar comment on May 11 followed a presentation to the commission by Meredith Scerba, director of the 2017 World Rowing Championships, and it came on the heels of the April resignation of Paul Blackketter, who had been the SANCA president for several years.

Commissioners Al Maio, Christine Robinson and Charles Hines supported Mason then, stressing that the presentations needed to begin before the board started its summer recess. Just as they were concluding that discussion, Harmer told the board it appeared the first of the monthly updates could be scheduled for June 8.

Commissioner Carolyn Mason. File photo
Commissioner Carolyn Mason. File photo

However, with none having been made thus far, Harmer explained on July 12 that he had spoken the previous week with the chair of SANCA. Because of “travel and other reasons,” Harmer continued, “he cannot make [an appearance before the County Commission] until the September board meetings.”

The chair is Bill Robinson, co-owner of Fit2Run, according to the Nathan Benderson Park website.

Therefore, Harmer added, he was trying to schedule a presentation for one of the commission’s first meetings in September. “We’re working on confirming that date now.”

Harmer added that Bill Robinson had offered to schedule one-on-one sessions with the board members. He had told Robinson, he pointed out, that while the commissioners might be interested in those, the private meetings would not replace a public presentation.

He added that Robinson would update the board on the transition with staff leadership and the business plan for the World Rowing Championships.

“Thank you,” Mason replied. “That’s good.”

In the meantime, in May, Harmer and Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, reminded the commissioners that SANCA is providing quarterly reports in writing. The board members did receive another update in late June from Scerba. Harmer forwarded it to them by email sent at 8:44 p.m. on June 26. He wrote, “As discussed at her previous presentation before the Board monthly public updates will begin in September as we reach … the one year mark from the event.”

Harmer added, “Also, at the Budget Workshop last week there was a request to make sure that SANCA is coordinating with the Sheriff’s Office on the public safety/security plans for the event. Assistant County Administrator Lee Ann Lowery and our Emergency Services Director Rich Collins [have] confirmed that the Sheriff’s Office is an active participate in that working group.”

Mason also had made the request for that action.

The latest from Scerba

Meredith Scerba. File photo
Meredith Scerba. File photo

The June update from Scerba reported that the SANCA board had formally approved the World Rowing Championships budget of $9.7 million and that “meetings with prospective sponsors & local foundations are underway.”

In May, Scerba told the commission the revised budget was $9.3 million, but she emphasized that no additional money was expected from Sarasota County or Manatee County, with each already having committed $2.78 million from Tourist Development Tax revenue.

On Sept. 23, she continued, a ceremony at Nathan Benderson Park will feature the unveiling of public art “that will incorporate a Countdown Clock for the [2017] event.” That artwork will be a permanent installation “as a legacy of the games.” After the event, the memo says, “the clock will be replaced with a plaque.”

The memo added that Harmer “will see the final design options before submission for approval.”

A local artist had been commissioned to do the work, the memo noted.

Furthermore, the update says that the World Rowing Championships co-chairs have been named. They are Rod Hershberger, chair and CEO of PGT Industries, representing Sarasota County; and Ed Chiles, CEO of The Chiles Group, for Manatee County.

The memo ended with the note: “Monthly Updates to the [County Commission] will begin in September.”

A contract amendment

Carolyn Brown. News Leader photo
Carolyn Brown. News Leader photo

In a related matter, the County Commission on July 12 unanimously approved increasing its annual reimbursement to SANCA from $200,000 to $254,500 for routine park maintenance.

That action came as part of the board’s approval of its Consent Agenda of routine business items.

A July 12 memo from Brown, the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department director, explained that in March 2014, SANCA and the county entered into a licensing and operating agreement to give SANCA full authority to host events at Nathan Benderson Park and to maintain the facilities.

Since then, Brown continued in the memo, “maintenance of [the park] has proven to be more costly than anticipated” — especially in terms of dealing with invasive vegetation — so SANCA requested the increase. On July 14, 2015, the board voted to give SANCA an extra $54,500, the memo notes. The amendment before the board on July 12 “provides additional funding in the approved amount beginning October 1, 2015 and continuing through the term of the Agreement,” the memo says. The original agreement says the term will end on Sept. 30, 2019; however, it can be extended another 10 years beyond that date.

The July 12 vote also calls for SANCA and county staff, by Aug. 1, to “develop a brand standards guide” for all signage at the park and promotional materials related to events there. The memo explains that all of the materials must include the park logo in a prominent location, but the county logo is not mandatory. Nonetheless, the memo adds, “The location of all events at the Park shall be solely identified as Sarasota County unless otherwise agreed upon by [Brown].”

Paul Blackketter. File photo
Paul Blackketter. File photo

Finally, the amendment “includes language regarding employee and representative conduct” that is part of “various County agreements,” Brown notes in her July 12 memo.

The new section says, “SANCA agrees that all of its officers, employees and representatives shall conduct themselves in a professional manner and shall communicate with County employees and members of the public in a civil manner whenever in the Park or conducting Park business.”

Prior to former SANCA President Blackketter’s resignation, a YouTube video of an angry exchange between him and another man — filmed at the park — went viral. In it, Blackketter used foul language. Blackketter apologized to the SANCA board and vowed to get professional help to manage his anger issues.

1 thought on “September the earliest SANCA representatives can begin regular presentations to County Commission”

  1. For the citizens’ sake, I hope this arrangement will work to benefit Sarasota and the athletes, but the path has been worrisome. Having been asked to make reports on issues to the top levels of government, with 24 hours or less notice, I do not like the “smell” of this.

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