Sarasota voters to consider reshaping government

03/05/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Next Tuesday, citizens who live in the city of Sarasota will go to the polls to decide whether to vote for an elected mayor. They also will vote on whether to add two at-large commissioners to the current five-member board.

Currently, City Commissioners name a mayor and vice mayor through a simple rotational system. The measure would make the mayor a directly elected official.

Michael Saunders runs a real estate company bearing her name in Sarasota. Saunders, and her son Drayton, have been two of the largest financial contributors supporting the measure.

Susan Chapman is the chair of Citizens Voice, a committee opposed to the Charter Amendment that would expand the City Commission and elect a mayor. She says its these interests that are pushing the proposal.

Saunders literally laughs at the suggestion that monied interests are pushing the measure, and calls that criticism "red herrings." Saunders listed a series of issues that have occurred over the years that she says hurt the city by not having a strong mayor form of governance.

The addition of two at-large City Commissioners is also controversial, particularly in the black community, where there is a concern that it will dilute whatever influence they currently have.

Ed James is the chairman of the Coalition of African American Leadership. He was the lead plaintiff in a 1979 lawsuit against Sarasota that ultimately resulted in redistricting the City Commission map in 1985. James believes that the proponents used deception in garnering the required signatures to get the measure on the March 10 ballot.

Saunders says that the black community will actually have a larger voice.

Sarasota attorney Susan Chapman, the chairwoman of the group opposed to the ballot measure, also disputes that the City Commission needs to be increased.

City of Sarasota voters will vote on the matter Tuesday.

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