Tourist Development Council presentation on new state law regarding cigarette-smoking bans also canceled

Commissioner Detert, who chairs advisory board, requested that postponement, too

Not only did Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert request a continuance to a later date of a discussion scheduled for the Oct. 11 commission meeting, but she also asked that the item be removed from the agenda of the Oct. 13 Tourist Development Council meeting, The Sarasota News Leader learned this week.

That discussion was to focus on a potential county ban on cigarette smoking at county beaches and in county parks, as allowed by a new state law that state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, had been pushing for four years.

The bill finally won legislative approval this spring, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in June.

The Sarasota City Commission already has approved revised ordinances for such a ban on its beach, North Lido, and in its parks. However, most likely next month — based on information from City Attorney Robert Fournier — it will address the issue of designated smoking areas in parks, after asking its Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection advisory board to discuss that first.

The city commissioners agreed already to allow smoking in the Lido Beach parking lot, Fournier reminded the News Leader in an email.

On Oct. 11, as the County Commission meeting was getting underway, Detert said she felt members of the public needed to become more aware of the new state law, and she indicated she wanted to know how other jurisdictions are handling the issue before she and her colleagues addressed it.

Further, as chair of the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC), Detert pointed out that that advisory board also would hear a presentation about the new state law.

It is typical for staff to schedule discussions of issues related to tourism at TDC sessions, prior to the County Commission’s final votes on them.

In fact, one of the other items on the Oct. 13 TDC agenda involved a proposed boathouse/indoor sports complex at Nathan Benderson Park. In a unanimous vote on May 10, the commissioners agreed to dedicate $20 million from the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue to the construction of that project. (See the related article in this issue.)

Under the Presentations heading on the Oct. 13 TDC agenda, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), was listed for three sets of remarks to the advisory board members. The second was to focus on the sports complex, while the third was described as follows: “Smoking Regulation Beaches & Parks Presentation.”

During the Oct. 11 County Commission meeting, Detert did not state that she had asked for a continuance of Rissler’s TDC remarks on the topic, as well.

However, after Rissler completed her second presentation to the TDC members on Oct. 13, Detert told Rissler, “Your third issue has been postponed to a later date, so the ‘Nicole Show’ is over.”

Then Detert called on the next speaker listed on the agenda —  Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County.

In response to a News Leader question about the TDC situation, Rissler explained via email on Oct. 17 that Detert also had asked that the item be removed from the Oct. 13 TDC agenda and then rescheduled or a future meeting, as well.

Rissler added, “Staff is going to be doing some additional work,” to learn how other counties have reacted to the state law, as well as “possible public engagement” prior to setting a new date for the County Commission discussion.

Last week, both Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami — known internationally as “Dr. Beach” for his annual Top 10 U.S. Beaches list — and Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner pointed out to the News Leaderthat Sarasota County had a cigarette-smoking ban in place for years before a 12thJudicial Circuit Court judge in Sarasota ruled in December 2012 that the state was the only entity that could restrict smoking in public places.

That opinion came was issued in a Circuit Court lawsuit that had been filed against the City of Sarasota over its version of the smoking prohibition.

Detert has been on the County Commission since November 2016.