Positions are for Human Services Advisory Council, Historic Preservation Board and Sarasota/Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizen Advisory Network
On Jan. 26, as the Sarasota County commissioners prepared for a vote on their Consent Agenda of routine business matters, several of them pulled items calling for appointments to county advisory boards.
Their concern, they said, was that each position had only one applicant.
In launching a discussion on the issue, Chair Alan Maio turned first to Vice Chair Christian Ziegler, as Ziegler had pulled two of the items: proposed appointments to the county’s Human Services Advisory Council and the Historic Preservation Board.
In the past, Ziegler noted, the board members have voiced reservations about having only one name to choose from in filling an advisory board vacancy.
“I’d like to see more options for some of these appointments,” he said. “I’d like for us to go out there and see if there are people that are interested.”
He was especially concerned about the Human Services position, Ziegler continued, as the commissioners plan again this year to address a proposal Commissioner Michael Moran brought up first in 2019 — the establishment of a Sarasota County Mental Health Care Special District.
After the COVID-19 pandemic began, the board members agreed to halt steps staff had been taking, at their direction, to conduct a referendum on such a district; a question was planned for the 2020 General Election ballot.
However, the commissioners concurred that, given the pandemic’s impact on the local economy, 2020 did not seem an appropriate time to ask voters to entertain the idea of dedicating a funding stream for mental health care programs.
Referencing the plans to resurrect the proposal this year, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger pointed out on Jan. 26, “This is an area of top priority for us, in Health and Human Services. I thought we should have more than one applicant [for the advisory board].”
The staff memo provided to the commissioners about the Human Services Advisory Council vacancy explained that the opening resulted from a member’s resignation. The term for that seat ends on March 31, 2022, the memo noted.
The solitary person seeking the seat was Kay Mathers, who wrote in her application that she served as the news director at WWSB-TV for over a decade before going to work with Girls Inc. Later, Mathers continued, she was district aide to then-state Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota County Democrat. Mathers added that she held that position for the past two years.
“Certainly, in the final months of my employment,” Mathers wrote, “I spent the majority of my time helping citizens navigate the state unemployment system, local agencies offering financial relief and human services dealing with testing. It was a profound experience as I was exposed to just how COVID impacted all facets of our community.”
Good lost to Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key in the November 2020 race for the 16th District seat.
Commissioner Moran concurred with Cutsinger about that advisory board seat. “We should have 15 to 20 people we should be picking from …”
Moreover, Moran said, I think you could apply that logic to [Items] 2 and 6, as well.”
“I don’t think it hurts to re-advertise … and just see [if more people apply for the positions],” Moran added. “This conversation alone might spur people to take an active interest in this.”
Chair Maio responded that he found the Human Services position “a little problematic because it was so narrowly defined about representation.”
The staff memo provided to the board about that opening said the position was for a “Citizen-At-Large representative.”
The other two positions
Maio then noted that he had pulled Items 2 and 6 from the Consent Agenda.
The former entailed Margaret “Mickey” Hopkins’ application for reappointment to the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Citizen Advisory Network (MPOCAN); No. 6 involved an appointment to the Historic Preservation Board.
The Jan. 26 county staff memo regarding the MPOCAN position pointed out that that the MPOCAN “is a multijurisdictional board that serves in an advisory capacity to the [MPO]. MPOCAN policy requires a total of 28 members, nine of whom are nominated by the Sarasota County Commission for ratification by the MPO Governing Board.”
The memo further noted, “Due to term expirations, there are three Sarasota County vacancies on the [MPOCAN].” Two of those positions are for at-large county residents’ seats; the third seat must go to a county resident who represents minorities.
In an application The Sarasota News Leader found through the county website, Hopkins, a retiree, wrote that she had worked as a consulting planner, urban designer, environmental engineer, and [Florida Department of Transportation] project manager.” That application, which was for a different advisory board seat, was not dated.
The county webpage dedicated to the Historic Preservation Board says it assists “in the protection of significant historic resources within Sarasota County by reviewing historic designation nominations, Certificates of Appropriateness for historically designated buildings, and other duties assigned by the Board of County Commissioners.”
Because a member of that advisory group — Alexandra Coe — had been elected to the Sarasota County Charter Review Board, a separate Jan. 26 staff memo explained that her seat needed to be filled.
The solitary applicant was Frank Ourednik of Sarasota, who noted that he is a history teacher at Riverview High School in Sarasota. He added, “I am a historian and I feel supporting my community is an important part of my civic duty.”
More applicants desired
During the Jan. 26 discussion, Commissioner Cutsinger added that he did not have the same concern about that MPOCAN reappointment as he did about the Human Services position.
“COVID has put a bit of a strain on people who want to participate on our advisory boards,” Chair Maio said. Yet, “Large amounts of money move through these advisory boards before [the funding decisions] get to us.”
“I would just think that we need to send these back [to staff] to get more appointments.”
Moreover, Maio pointed out, when he was a county representative on the MPO board, terms limits were implemented. Staff needs to make certain, he added, that Hopkins is indeed eligible for reappointment to the MPOCAN, Maio said.
“COVID has not helped, at all, [with advisory board appointments],” Commissioner Nancy Detert concurred with Maio. Nevertheless, she continued, “I think we continue to have problems with volunteers, unpaid volunteers, on advisory committees. A lot of people moved here to retire,” she added, “and they retired happily and don’t care to serve on these committees. I would frankly be for accepting the people that we have that have applied,” and thank them for their interest.
Further, Detert suggested that the commissioners review the number of advisory boards the county has. “Maybe we have too many. … Maybe we need a different outreach program [to seek volunteers] or, at the very least, ask each of the advisory boards to make recommendations to us. They’re the ones that deal with their own boards, so they know where the flaws are …”
Detert then reiterated her earlier point: “I have trouble turning down people that have already volunteered at this point.”
Maio replied that staff worked several years ago to eliminate some of the advisory boards.
Finally, on a motion by Commissioner Ziegler, seconded by Commissioner Moran, the board members voted unanimously to re-advertise all three advisory board openings.