Two reappointed to county’s Human Services Advisory Council and two new members named after staff advertises for more applicants

Lone person who applied for seat early this year the only one not chosen from list of candidates

Commissioner Christian Ziegler. News Leader image

On Jan. 26, the Sarasota County commissioners declined to appoint the solitary applicant to an open position on the county’s Human Services Advisory Council, saying they wanted more candidates from which to choose.

At the time, the board members talked about two seats open on other boards, as well, with only one application each. Those were for the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Citizen Advisory Network (MPOCAN); and the Historic Preservation Board.

Commissioner Christian Ziegler had pulled the Human Services Advisory Council and Historic Preservation Board items for discussion, noting that he was especially concerned about the former. The reason, he explained, was the commission’s potential interest in creating a Sarasota County Mental Health Care Special District, an idea that he and his colleagues put on hold last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They had been working toward a 2020 voter referendum on the district, which would have been on the November General Election ballot.

The commissioners agreed last year that it would not be appropriate to ask county citizens to consider imposing any new tax on themselves during a time when people had lost jobs and income because of the pandemic.

(On March 23, after nearly one hour and 45 minutes of public comments and discussion, the majority of the board members decided that they wanted staff to proceed with drafting an ordinance creating a Mental Health Care Special District that would operate under their control. That draft will come back to them for discussion at a future point, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis pointed out.)

On Jan. 26, Commissioner Ron Cutsinger joined Commissioner Ziegler in arguing for more than one applicant for the Human Services Advisory Council appointment.

According to its county webpage, the Human Services Advisory Council “[provides] conduit for citizen input to the County Commissioners regarding Contracted Human Services and [provides] advice and [makes] recommendations to the commissioners on Human Services policy.”

Altogether, the advisory board has 19 members.

These are the criteria for filling seats on the Human Services Advisory Council and other information about the advisory board. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In late January, the solitary individual seeking the open council seat was Kay Mathers, who had served as the news director at WWSB-TV for over a decade before going to work with Girls Inc. Later, Mathers noted in her application, she was district aide to then-state Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota County Democrat. Mathers added that she held that position for the previous 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.

Kay Mathers. Image from her LinkedIn account

All five of the county commissioners are Republicans; Ziegler is vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

On Jan. 26, the commissioners finally voted unanimously — on a motion by Ziegler, seconded by Commissioner Michael Moran — to re-advertise all three advisory board openings.

On April 20, county Health Officer Chuck Henry, who also serves as director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department, appeared before the commissioners, seeking a total of four appointments to the Human Services Advisory Council. Two of the seats were for citizen-at-large representatives, with terms effective through March 2024, a county staff memo noted. Additionally, a person was needed to would fill the seat for which Mathers had applied earlier this year: an unexpired term ending in March 2022, with the individual to hold a full term afterward, through March 2025.

The fourth seat would also fill an unexpired three-year term. That one was for a business/financial representative; the term would be in effect through March 2023.

The staff memo added that all the vacancies were advertised on the county website.

The memo did point out that one other vacancy exists on the advisory council. That is for a health services professional, the memo added. However, an applicant workshop provided to the commissioners in advance of the April 20 meeting indicated that no one qualified for that seat had submitted an application.

Two members of the council serving as citizen-at-large representatives were seeking reappointment, the memo said: Debbie Douglas and Mary “Molly” Swift.

The applicant worksheet provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting noted that two persons — Charlene Altenhain and Zlatko Jancic — were eligible for both the citizen-at-large positions and the business/financial position.

After Henry completed his introductory remarks on April 20, Commissioner Michael Moran told his colleagues that he would propose a slate of candidates, though he said he would be happy to hear other nominees named. “I’m open to any conversation on this,” he added.

Then Moran nominated Douglas and Swift for the citizens-at-large seats; Altenhain for the seat set to expire in March 2022; and Jancic for the business/financial seat.

When Chair Alan Maio asked whether any other commissioner wanted to propose a different name, no one offered a comment.

“Chuck, you have your slate,” Maio told Henry. “That’s the way we do these — sort of unanimous by silence.”

Mathers had submitted her application on Dec. 16, 2020, according to the applicant worksheet in the April 20 agenda packet; Jancic, on Jan. 4; Altenhain, on March 1; Swift, on April 5; and Douglas, on April 6.

Other applicant details

Debbie Douglas. Image from Meals on Wheels

In her application for reappointment, Douglas noted that she has been serving as the chair of the Human Services Advisory Council. “I have a passion for human services, and care very much about maintaining the quality nonprofits that provide so much to our county citizens,” she wrote. “I have served on many nonprofit boards over the years and choose to dedicate my time and energy to the human services sector.”

She noted that she is a retired insurance executive who also is on the boards of Meals on Wheels and Goodwill Manasota.

Swift pointed out on her application that she is the manager of scholarships and special projects for the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation. “I believe I have the skillset for the responsibilities of a committee member,” she continued. “I am interested in serving in a needed role for our community. I appreciate the deeper understanding of the human services organizations/services in our county.”

Swift added that she is a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. She has been working in the nonprofit sector, she noted, putting her focus on youth and young adults since 2013.

Charlene Altenhain. Image from The Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center website

In her application, Altenhain wrote that she is the chief operating officer of The Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center in Sarasota, having joined the nonprofit’s staff in December 2014. In co-chairing the recent Government Day for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, she added, she heard mention of the county’s advisory councils. “I looked at the website and noticed this vacancy,” Altenhain noted.

“This is an opportunity to positively impact multiple organizations,” she wrote of being a member of the Human Services Advisory Council.

Jancic said in his application that he is executive director of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System. “I am passionate about human services and am looking [to] make an advisory impact on the community,” he added.

He also is a certified Guardian ad Litem with the 12th Judicial Circuit program and a representative of Sarasota Memorial working with the Association for Healthcare Foodservice, he pointed out in the application.