Meeting planned in County Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota
The Sarasota County Legislative Delegation will meet on Thursday Jan. 12, 2023 in downtown Sarasota to consider issues for the 2023 session of the Florida Legislature, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Among those topics expected to be on the agenda is the proposed incorporation of most of Siesta Key, as leaders of the nonprofit Save Siesta Key have discussed during updates for residents over the past months. (See the related article in this issue.)
The new chair of the four-member Delegation is Rep. James Buchanan, R-Osprey. A real estate broker, Buchanan is the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.
Last year, Rep. Will Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, headed up the six-member group. Redistricting necessitated by the results of the 2020 Census forced him out of the Sarasota County Delegation and reduced the number of Delegation members.
In a Nov. 23 email, Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for Sarasota County, alerted Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown to the Delegation meeting date. Brown then shared the information with the city commissioners.
The formal notice from state Rep. Buchanan points out, “This annual public meeting is an opportunity for citizens, elected officials, local governments, and other organizations to address the Delegation before the start of the  Legislative Session.”
All speaking request forms must be turned in by 5 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5, “to be placed on the printed agenda,” Buchanan’s notice said.
In early January of this year, the Delegation split 3-3 in voting on whether a local bill calling for the creation of the Town or Village of Siesta Key could to be filed in the 2022 legislative session. Buchanan was among those in opposition to it.
However, Tim Hensey, chair of Save Siesta Key, has told members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) that he is optimistic that his organization will win sufficient support from the newly constituted Delegation for the incorporation effort to go forward next year.
That local bill would have to be approved in both the Florida House and Florida Senate, and then Gov. Ron DeSantis would have to sign it, before a formal referendum could be conducted for registered voters on Siesta Key to determine whether they want to see the majority of the island become a new municipality.
The Jan. 12 Delegation session has been scheduled from 1:30 to 5 p.m. in the County Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota.
Typically, representatives of local government bodies appear during the Delegation meetings to try to make their cases for initiatives they would like to see the Legislature approve in a given year.
The Delegation has released a form that individuals and groups may use to request time to address the three House members — Buchanan; Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota; and Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte — plus state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota. Each presentation “will be limited to three minutes,” the form says.
Both McFarland and Gruters — who championed the proposal for the local bill in 2021 — faced re-election challengers this year. Gruters won another term during the August Republican Primary, capturing 67.13% of the votes cast in the Senate District 22 race. His opponent, Michael Johnson, faced criticism for not being a full-time resident of the district.
McFarland won on Nov. 8 with 56.26% of the 92,066 votes cast in the race for the District 73 seat. Her Democratic opponent was Derek Reich, a Sarasota native, who teaches a 12th grade class at Sarasota High School that focuses on United States Government and economics.
McFarland, who had been prepared to introduce the Siesta Key incorporation bill in the 2022 legislative session, is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. She served on active duty for eight years, her campaign website noted.
“In her civilian capacity,” that website added, she “worked as a consultant with the global business management consulting firm McKinsey and Company …” She “served clients across media, consumer goods, manufacturing, and advanced technology industry, among others, consulting directly with senior executives of Fortune 500 to help them solve business and operations challenges,” the website said.