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Grassroots group "It's Time Sarasota" petitions for mayor-run government

7:53 PM, Jan 23, 2014   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida -- Sarasota's rapid growth into what is described as a "world class city" has some community members calling for change at City Hall. 

"We continue to believe we can have a better form of government, but we lack leadership," says Linda Holland, chair of "It's Time Sarasota" political committee.

The grassroots group has spent about the last six months rewriting the city charter that would change the city leadership from a commission/city manager-run government to an elected mayor.

"It is time," says Holland. "This is the document that moves us into the future."

The strong mayor-type government is also used by Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg city governments.

Others have tried before to amend the charter, three times in 20 years, and it failed at the polls. "It's Time Sarasota" needs 3,500 signatures by June to put the new charter as a referendum on the November ballot. 

This time, opponents say the elected mayor role overreaches.

"I refer to it as a dictator mayor," says former Sarasota City Commissioner Mollie Cardamone who served as commissioner from 1993-2001.

Cardamone opposes the elected mayor run government.

"It's audacious. Why would 20 people think they have the authority to write a whole new constitution for our government?"

She sums up her concerns like this, "Two words: corruption and cronyism."

Since the 1940's, Sarasota city commissioners have elected the city manager and the city has had four of them since 1950. The city does have a mayor for ceremonial reasons, elected each from among the city commissioners by the commissioners.

Under the new charter, the public would elect the mayor. The "executive" mayor would not have a vote but could veto the now newly re-named city council's decisions. City council would need a 4-to-1 vote to override the mayor.

To read the new proposed city charter, click here.

"I believe a mayor elected through the public would be best because it allows community's voice to be heard," says Drew Kacik, a Sarasota resident.

Robert Arthur, who lives in the city and supports a strong mayoral government, says, "The mayor would be accountable to us and that is what matters to me, being accountable to us."

Cardamone is quick to remind residents commissioners are also accountable to voters.

"I do believe we have some problems with the commission, but elections can change that," she says. 

It's a better option to elect new commissioners says Cardamone instead of overhauling the city's current government that's been in place since the mid 1940's.

Among other key changes, the new charter would divide the city into five districts, one for each city council member. Currently, three commissioners represent three districts and two are at-large. Those who support the charter say this will give more Sarasota residents, especially minorities, better representation.

"It would dilute the power of the commission by dealing only with 20% of the city each," says Cardamone.

The charter also calls for moving the city election from March to November. Holland says since more voters turn out for November elections, more Sarasota residents would have a chance to vote on city issues.

Cardamone is concerned of the fall out because some voters vote on national and state elections and skip the local elections. The former city commissioner says more city residents are in town in March.

Volunteers with "It's Time Sarasota" will start collecting signatures this week.

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