A look at City Commission Candidate treasurers reveals alliances, raises questions
Originally published January 26, 2013
The City Commission race is upon us, and we are fortunate to have six neighbors running for the two at-large seats. Incumbent Suzanne Atwell is joined in the race by Susan Chapman, Richard Dorfman, Linda Holland, Kelvin Lumpkin and Pete Theisen. Those willing to run for office expend their energy and attention on our community; they each have my respect and gratitude for running. Hopefully voters will take the time to ensure their questions for the candidates are answered. I have a few of my own.
City voters have gone to polls many times—in 1996, 2002 and 2009—to vote on elected mayor referenda. Every elected mayor effort has been defeated. At the end of 2012, there was an attempt to have the Commission put another elected mayor referendum on the ballot. It would have been the first time that the Commission put an elected mayor on the ballot itself, and it required just three votes. Atwell and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo supported the effort, while Commissioners Willie Shaw, Shannon Snyder and
Terry Turner were against it. A key question for those running: will you support a City Commission initiative for another elected mayor referendum? If the two seats being filled bring elected mayor advocates, can voters expect another elected mayor referendum? Dorfman, Holland and Atwell have all demonstrated support for an elected mayor; Chapman supports the current commission structure. Lumpkin spoke to the City Commission in support of putting the 2012 elected mayor question on the ballot. Theisen came out against an elected mayor in the past. Voters deserve a full explanation of candidates’ positions.
A review of candidate financials also clarifies candidate support and gives rise to questions. Theisen acts as his own treasurer. Bob Easterle, president of the City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, is treasurer for Chapman. John Michel, chairman of the city political committee Elected Mayor Now, is treasurer for Holland. Eric Robinson, former GOP chair and husband of County Commissioner Christine Robinson, is treasurer for Lumpkin. Republican go-to treasurer John Dowd is working for two candidates, Dorfman and Atwell.
City residents may remember the 2008 city purchase of three lots along U.S. 301 next to Payne Park hastily put together in anticipation of a possible deal with the Boston Red Sox. Conservative financial safeguards that would have protected the City were abandoned. Dowd, as a general partner with D and R properties, put together the purchase of three parcels (no option contract) and assigned the purchase to Sarasota County. John Ask, recently appointed County planning commissioner, served as the transaction broker for the $4.8-million deal. When the transaction closed, only one appraisal was used (rather than the required two). The sole appraisal valued the land as if it were already assembled (rather than as individual parcels), resulting in a grossly inflated price. City taxpayers were gouged, paying roughly $2 million more than fair market value for the individual parcels when real estate prices were in freefall.
Political alliances with party affiliates whose financial moves have not served our City warrant explanation. Dual-taxed city residents need Commissioners who embrace sound fiscal practices and resist engaging in hasty actions that undermine the City’s financial health. We deserve to know what these candidates have in store for us, and I look forward to the answers.