Smith, Neunder win seats on County Commission

Smith beats Atkins by 401 votes, while Neunder wins 59.41% of District 4 votes

Siesta Key architect Mark Smith and Nokomis chiropractor Joe Neunder will be the two new members of the Sarasota County Commission come Nov. 22, based on the unofficial results of the Nov. 8 General Election.

Both are Republicans.

Smith prevailed by 401 votes in the District 2 race, beating former Sarasota Mayor and City Commissioner Fredd “Glossie” Atkins, a Democrat, of Newtown. Smith took 50.53% of the votes to Atkins’ 49.47%, the unofficial results show.

Altogether, 37,849 votes were cast in that race.

In an email response to The Sarasota News Leader, Smith wrote, “Extremely grateful for all the non-Republican voters that believed I was the best candidate to get things done. I couldn’t have won without them.”

Neunder won 59.41% of the votes in the District 4 race, while his Democratic opponent, Daniel Kuether of Sarasota, captured 40.59%.

A native of Ohio, Kuether has spent a decade working in real estate industries, from property management and development to real estate tech, he noted when he announced his campaign in early June.

The unofficial results show that 47,153 citizens cast votes in the District 4 race.

Smith and Neunder will be sworn in during a 9 a.m. ceremony on Nov. 22, which will be conducted in the County Commission Chambers of the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.

This was the first year that candidates in Districts 2 and 4 were elected through the Single-Member District system that voters approved in 2018 and reaffirmed in March, after the Sarasota County commissioners tried once more to defeat the Sarasota County Charter amendment.

Under the Single-Member Districts system, citizens can cast ballots only for candidates who live in the same districts in which they live. Previously, all commission races were countywide, except for a two-year period in the early 1990s when the Single-Member Districts voting method also was in effect.

The County Commission districts have been redrawn twice in the past three years; first, at Commissioner Nancy Detert’s suggestion, to ensure that the numbers of residents were balanced as evenly possible among the districts. That action came in the wake of the 2018 General Election vote on Single-Member Districts.

The commissioners late last year approved modified district boundaries once again, following the release of the 2020 Census data.

Siesta Key is split into Districts 2 and 4; the northern portion is in District 2.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who won the District 2 seat in 2018, chose not to seek re-election. He said he would focus on helping his wife, Bridget, win re-election this year to the Sarasota County School Board; she was successful in that campaign.

Christian Ziegler also is the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

Local political pundits contended that Ziegler would have had a hard time keeping the District 2 seat anyway, since the 2019 redistricting initiative moved most of Newtown into that district. At the time, that move was seen as an effort of the commissioners to help District 1 representative Michael Moran keep his seat during the 2020 election. Speakers who addressed the commissioners during public hearings pointed out that Newtown residents typically vote for Democratic candidates.

During the 2021 redistricting initiative, Ziegler voted for a proposed map that would have flip-flopped Districts 1 and 2. However, none of his colleagues supported that idea.

Smith told The Sarasota News Leader this spring that Republican Party leaders in the county encouraged him to run and that he had talked with Ziegler before filing his candidacy papers with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office on May 31.

Smith is a long-time leader of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. In fact, he is the chair-elect, though he told the News Leader on June 1 that, if he were to win the County Commission seat, he did not see how he could handle chairing the Chamber, as well.

He also served for many years as an officer and director of the Siesta Key Village Association, a business organization that worked on initiatives to improve the look of Siesta Village and conducted events to draw visitors to the Key. The Village Association was absorbed into the Chamber at the end of 2016.

Neunder filed for the District 4 seat on April 23, 2021, Supervisor of Elections Office records show.

He was elected to the Venice City Council in 2019, and he previously served on the county’s Planning Commission, which is considered the county’s most influential advisory board. He won the latter appointment in January 2017. Commissioner Alan Maio — who could not seek re-election again this year to the District 4 seat because of term limits — nominated Neunder for that Planning Commission seat.

The Planning Commission conducts public hearings on land-use applications and then makes its recommendations on them to the County Commission.

In his application for the Planning Commission appointment, Neunder wrote, “It is my position that Sarasota [County] will continue to have concerns regarding infrastructure and our ability to ‘Absorb’ [his emphasis] our future growth. Affordable and reliable housing in the county for younger individuals and families are also an important issue to me.”

He added, “By the year 2026, I would expect Sarasota County to be a growing, multi-cultural and prosperous community, that has the infrastructure and resources to support our existing population and the ability of growth both in the private and government sectors.”

Campaign contribution tallies

A News Leader review of the most recent campaign finance reports that the County Commission candidates filed before the election — with totals through Nov. 3 — showed Smith ahead of everyone else.

He had raised $207,575, with $26,250 in cash and checks and $1,000 in in-kind contributions added in the period from Oct. 22 through Nov. 3. Most of those checks were for $1,000.

The in-kind contribution came from Neal Communities of SWFL, which is associated with former state Sen. Pat Neal, a prominent developer in Sarasota and Manatee counties. The notation accompanying that contribution said it was for administrative assistance.

Smith had spent $171,571.46 through Nov. 3, the form also noted. The largest portion of that documented in the report — $22,887 — went to Strategic Digital Services Inc. in Tallahassee for digital advertising and digital media.

Atkins reported contributions adding up to $106,376.10 through Nov. 3, with cash and checks totaling $19,027.18 in that period. He listed 171 contributions of varying amounts — from $5 to $1,000.

An amended campaign finance report that Atkins filed on Nov. 8 showed that he spent $89,357.71.

His largest single layout of funds in that filing was $17,159, which went to Blue Ethos Consulting of Osprey for “paid calls and texts.” He also listed payments to the firm of $3,533.14 for a mailer and $6,500 for digital adds.

Although Neunder long was in the fundraising lead for a County Commission seat this year, he ended up behind Smith in the total he reported through Nov. 3. That figure was $157,660. Of the 15 contributions documented, none was lower than $500. Eleven of them were the maximum allowed by state law: $1,000.

Neunder’s report also showed total expenditures of $123,693.87. The largest portion of that figure — $23,716.57 — went to Public Concepts LLC of Jupiter for direct mail and advertising services.

Kueder’s report from Oct. 22 through Nov. 3 showed he had a total of $40,658 in contributions, and he had spent $35,018.77.

The lowest amount he accepted during that reporting period was $20, while the highest was $1,000. Altogether, the document listed 21 contributions.

Kueder’s largest single expenditure during that period was $2,407.29, which went to Sir Speedy of Sarasota for advertising. Additionally, the form shows a $296.87 payment to the company for printing.

Kuether also paid $1,000 to Lucas Owens of Sarasota for consulting, plus another $550 to Jayne Wallace of Sarasota for consulting.