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New Voices Coming to the Charter Review Board

Put this in box to side of article: Sarasota County is the only County in Florida with an elected Charter Review Board. The Charter Review Board is composed of 10 members, two members from each of the five county commission districts, who serve staggered terms of four years. The Charter Review Board reviews and proposes changes to the Sarasota County Charter which are then submitted to referendum in accordance with the provisions of Article VI of the Charter. An affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Charter Review Board members is required to submit amendments to referendum. Members are elected countywide by the voters of Sarasota County at the General Election. They serve without compensation. Meetings are held to organize, elect officers, and conduct business pursuant to the Charter Review Board bylaws. The Board meets 3x a year.

The Sarasota Charter Review Board is guaranteed to have a change in personnel following the election in November, as only one incumbent is running for re-election. That means there will be at least five new members on the Board come January 2021. But will there be a change in philosophy? That will depend on which candidates are elected. There seems to be a clear distinction between the candidates that would like to continue the status quo (mainly Republicans) and those that have suggestions to change the Charter, open up the process to more citizen input, and make the work of the Charter Review Board more visible in the community (Democratic and NPA candidates). This is to be expected as Republicans have held all the seats on the Charter Review Board for over 30 years. Responses below come from the candidate’s responses to the League of Women Voters questions. You can read their complete responses at the Vote411 website.

District 1 Candidates:

Kennedy Legler (Republican)

Legler is an Assistant State Attorney in Sarasota in the Violent Crimes Division. In responding to the LWV survey, Legler states, “Currently, I do not see any immediate issues or changes that need to be addressed. If elected I will be the conservative voice that represents the majority and I see no reason to rush to promote change where it is not currently needed.”

Krista Lohr (Democrat)

Lohr has lived in Sarasota since 1989 and manages a local business. She has a JD from New England School of Law. Lohr’s priority would be to “create a more effective CRB that represents the people/voters of Sarasota County. The CRB in recent years has arguably not been doing its job... A couple meetings I attended were 30 minutes or less and one meeting I attended was 6 minutes start to finish. A board cannot arguably be effective when it meets 3 times a year for an average of 30 minutes or less per meeting.”

District 1 (2 year term):

Walter Gilbert (NPA)

Gilbert is the past president of the Sarasota County NAACP, a member of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation - SWFL Regional Council, and an Advisor to Newtown Alive and Selby Botanical Gardens. Gilbert’s priority is to make sure redistricting is done fairly. He also states, “I think some of the county’s elected offices should be nonpartisan. We need to encourage and have diverse voices on some boards that really do not need have to have any type of party affiliation. Some do nothing more than prop up and do the bidding of other elected positions to get what they want done.”

Alexandra Coe (Republican)

A self-described constitutional conservative, Coe is an anthropologist that currently serves on two other county advisory boards - the Historic Preservation Advisory Board and the Historic Commission. In regards to making changes to the Charter, Coe states, “I would not change anything personally but I would be very open to any changes proposed that would limit government and increase freedom.”

District 2 Candidates:

Ray Collins (Republican)

Collins is a well-known figure in Sarasota, having spent 35 years as a reporter in the area.

When asked about the most important issues confronting the CRB, Collins responded, “I don't believe there are any issues confronting the Charter Review Board--and I certainly don't have any agenda…”. One of his stated goals is to “Protect the Charter of Sarasota County. Success leaves clues: The county seems to have struck a healthy balance on key issues.” 

Doreen Dupont (Democrat)

Dupont is a retired physician and a local activist. She is a lifetime member of the Sierra Club, a Climate Reality Leader and a Sarasota County Water Steward. She would strengthen the environmental provisions of our Charter and minimize gerrymandering by making redistricting dependent on the census. 

District 3 Candidates:

Mary Ellen Palermo (Democrat)

Palermo has a Master’s Degree from Boston University specializing in business and career education. She currently works in Charlotte County surveying tourists to our area for research for the State of Florida. Her priorities would be to make the Charter Review Board accessible to all Sarasota County residents, to reduce special interest influence, and to protect our waters and natural resources. She states, “recent changes [to the Charter] hinder citizen participation and need to revert back”.

David Samuel (Republican)

Samuel currently serves on the Charter Review Board and is running for re-election. He is a former high school government teacher. Samuel’s priority issues revolve around the public's lack of understanding of the role of the Charter Review Board and the lack of public participation at Board meetings. To resolve these issues he proposes, “a comprehensive education program that provides information as to how County Government works…[and to] support efforts to provide specific guidelines to the petitioning process.”

District 4 Candidates:

Wilson Pava (Democrat)

Pava returned to Sarasota in 2019 after graduating from college and has served as a substitute teacher in Sarasota County. His priorities include protecting single member districts and ensuring citizen input. Pava says, “We have to check their (the County Commission’s) power to roll back citizen-driven initiatives like single member districts and protect citizens' power from their initiatives like driving up the number of signatures needed for ballot initiatives while limiting the time allowed for getting them.”

Scott Williams (Republican)

Williams has 31 years experience as Director of Planning, Building and Zoning for the City of North Port. He is a US Navy Veteran and has served on the City of Venice Planning Commission for the past year and a half. He states, “I do not believe there are any major issues confronting the office at this time. It is important to recognize the importance of the document and keep an eye on how changes are submitted and approved.”

District 5 Candidates:

Anthony Dunbar (Democrat)

Dunbar is a retired New Orleans business lawyer. After visiting Sarasota County on a regular basis for many years, he made Englewood his permanent home 2 ½ years ago. He volunteers with

the Cedar Point Environmental Park, the Charlotte Harbor Estuaries and the Audubon Society. Priority issues for Dunbar would include environmental protection, fair redistricting and increased citizen participation. He states, “I would like to work with other members of the Board to encourage, not discourage, citizen involvement in the charter review process.”  

Elaine Miller (Republican)

Miller is a local architect. She has served on the Englewood CRA Advisory Board and the Architectural Review Board and volunteered with the Englewood Village Association and the Suncoast Humane Society. She does not recommend any changes to the role of the Charter Review Board, saying, “While I would listen, research, carefully consider and fully vet any proposed alterations with my fellow Board Members, I value the continuity of today's Charter policies and procedures”.

We want to hear your thoughts about the state of education in Florida. Please comment on the following:

1. Public schools in Sarasota County stand to lose $60m in state funding, if the Republican supermajority in Tallahassee passes HB-1, which would make all students eligible to receive state funds for private tuition.

2. The leadership changes at New College of Florida with a stated goal of transforming the school into the 'Hillsdale of the South'.

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