by Bill Zoller, Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) Director
Every day seems to bring new insights into the workings of the BCC when it comes to the 2050 Plan. I suppose it would be cynical of me if I were to say that nothing shocks me about their high-handed behavior…so I will tell you that I still have the capacity to be shocked. Recently, I was shocked by the response of several of the commissioners when City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell asked if the county staff could make a presentation to the City Commission on the 2050 Plan: she was told that if the City Commission wanted to learn about 2050, they could come to the workshops the same as anyone else. CONA board member Cathy Antunes has outlined the situation very clearly in her blog, The Detail.
“Ten meetings between the County and private sector interests took place between September 26, 2012 and January 11, 2013: Schroeder Manatee Ranch (1), Neal Communities (2), Schroeder Manatee Ranch & Neal Communities (1), Rod Krebs (1), Palmer Ranch (1), Jim Turner/Hi Hat Ranch (1), and John Cannon Homes(1), plus two group meetings (presumably with the six entities listed all together).
Then on January 30, 2013, the BCC voted to open 2050 for review.
In May the BCC fast-tracked the process and voted against the typical scoping process (which includes public input). The cities have been excluded.
On September 25th, the BCC discussed city participation, saying the City Commissioners should attend the workshops (disrespectful, failing to implement policy, and not even an option as they hadn’t had any workshops). Take a look at their discussion:
County Commission Meeting video link:
The statement from a commissioner that the BCC has had ‘a lot of stuff going on for a couple of years’ (suggesting that somehow the City Commissioners have chosen to sit this one out) is false. The opening of 2050 is 9 months old, and it was only in May that the County indicated they were flying solo on this. In their arrogance they suggest no one else has any role in the process, contradicting their own policy. The ‘lot of stuff going on’ was 2 open houses – both at Twin Lakes – not one meeting in any of the municipalities. Oh, and the 2050 workshop on Monday night, October 7, is during a Sarasota City Commission meeting where important Main Street design issues will be discussed.”
Note that the ten meetings with the development community were not announced and were not, thus, “open to the public”. Additionally, no meetings were held with a similar list of neighborhood/environmental activists who have always been very closely involved with the 2050 process.
Perhaps even more disturbing is the failure of the BCC to see that important requirements of the 2050 Plan were implemented. I refer specifically, for instance, to Policy US5.1:
Policy US5.1 County / Municipal Coordinated Planning Program
The County shall create and coordinate with its Municipalities a planning alliance in order to more fully and comprehensively preserve and strengthen existing communities; provide for a variety of land uses and lifestyles that are necessary to support residents of diverse ages, incomes, and family sizes; and balance jobs with housing. “
Here is Allen Parson’s (Long Range Planning Division Manager) response to a question about this alliance:
“Mr. Reid- To the best of my research, the straightforward answer to the question of activities of any formalized planning alliance, is that there has not been a formalized planning alliance created. To the extent that that is an implementation breakdown to be addressed, I will be happy to work on addressing that.”
In other words, the BCC failed to make sure that the County/Cities Planning Program had been created; instead, we get the BCC’s airy dismissal of a sitting City Commissioner’s polite request for staff to make a presentation on 2050! The BCC did not seem to have any problems having staff (Allen Parsons) make a very nice presentation on 2050 with typical Powerpoint flair to Tiger Bay at the meeting of 3 October.
So are we shocked yet? I am shocked by the actions of the BCC that, to me, smack of hubris, arrogance, and disregard for the cities, for the community as a whole, and for the large number of dedicated citizens who participate actively in “the process” on behalf of neighborhoods, the environment, and the overall quality of life of this community.
To me, this is a sad state of affairs, and I cannot recall a previous Sarasota County Commission that exhibited such scorn for its citizens, be they elected city commissioners or regular citizens. Not only is it sad, it is shocking.