A BEST Opinion Piece By Jonathan Mitchell and Joel Schleicher

While it is easy to identify recent and ongoing abuses of government power, from Federal to State to County Government (while also trampling our Constitutional Rights) today we’ll focus on the abject failure of the City of Sarasota Leadership to act responsibly on behalf of its citizens and businesses who fund their largesse.

With the onset of Covid 19, Sarasota’s City Commissioners abdicated their responsibilities to a hired, non-elected City Manager.  Indeed, the City Commissioners opted to stay at home – rather than lead – even though all meetings could easily have been held remotely via video services.  True leaders lead from the front, rather than cowering at home.  Indeed, the City Commissioners opted to sit this one out, leaving us in the hands of the City Manager who has repeatedly proven himself unfit for the job he’s been hired to perform.  Visit BESTforSarasota.com for more details.

When the businesses that make our city so livable — from restaurants, to museums, to boutique retail, to charities, to Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the related medical community – are shut down or limited operationally, the people of the city suffer, financially and emotionally.  So rather than lead and find ways to help the community, what did the City Manager and Commissioners do in a forward-thinking fashion to help us recover from their imposed shut-down?  Did they pro-actively reduce staffing and the city budget (like businesses or families with lost income were forced to do)? No! So let’s examine their actions or lack thereof.

Here is what we know about the current fiscal reality:

  • The State of Florida will lose billions in sales tax revenues; stamp tax dollars and other revenue sources this year due to the Covid shutdown. Per the Tampa Business Journal, Moody’s Financial has reviewed Florida’s 2020/2021 budget and determined that with a “moderate” stress scenario the budget shortfall at the state level will be over $8.0 billion and more likely $10.0 billion.  This will have a resultant impact on local municipalities.
    • The City of Sarasota will likely see revenue reductions in:
      • Real estate values and related Ad Valorem taxes going forward;
      • Growth assumptions for 2021 and beyond will need to be recalibrated; and
      • Sales tax dollars will be less;
    • Yet, in an unprecedented and irrational manner, the City Commission and Manager endeavored to set next years millage rate without having a budget in hand?
  • Unlike many other municipalities and enterprises facing reduced revenues, The City of Sarasota took no actions to rationalize or furlough any full time staff, or other costs. The City is not a charity. It is run on our tax dollars and every dollar collected should be carefully and thoughtfully invested, on behalf of all of us who reside and pay the taxes to operate the City budget.  At least, kudos should at least go out to Commissioner Brody for raising many of the issues herein.
  • Imagine the ethics and moral compass – if not legality — of the City Manager and Commissioners, during the shutdown, determining not to enforce downtown parking meters — on the surface a good thing. Until you understand the following:
    • This move was not widely communicated;
    • Incredulously the city still allowed unaware people to pay; rather, than covering the meters;
    • Although parking meters were not being enforced, the parking department; remained fully staffed and visibly driving around Sarasota on a daily basis;
  • The building department was closed so presumably few permits were issued; yet, the building department remained fully staffed.
    • The Parks and beaches were fully or partially closed with no staffing reductions.
    • The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall – which is owned by the City — has been closed now for three months. Have there been any layoffs of staff?  Have we heard any discussion about re-opening plans?  What about the go forward losses that will be incurred with new social distancing rules?  This is the time that the City should have been in discussions with the Van Wezel Foundation to sell them the building and enter into a long-term lease and let them operate it.
  • The City continues to plow forward, like drunken sailors – which is actually an insult to the sailors that knew what they were doing – with projects like Bobby Jones Golf; the Bayfront; and other initiatives that were questionable prior to this. Again, please visit com for an independent auditor’s forensic analysis of the city mismanagement.
  • Other cities around the country expediently and graciously shut down roads allowing restaurateurs to expand outside dining and improve pedestrian traffic; thereby, aiding the operators and helping patrons wanting to be out. Our City Manager and Commissions debated for weeks on whether to close Main Street to traffic to allow outside dining.  The end result was a shutdown of a portion of one block.  Is that really helping??
    • While roughly 2/3’s of Lido Beach was open – the southern tip owned by the country and the hospitality section — the City Manager insisted on keeping the northern section closed further hurting the resurrection of businesses on Lido and St. Armand’s Circle.

We will again acknowledge Commissioner Brody for the impetus of using City Funds to provide loans to local businesses.  However, we feel compelled to point out there is no such thing as Government Money it is all Taxpayer Money.

So, we ask, if the City does nothing for the Citizen’s in a crisis; why have a City Government? Or perhaps elect officials that are responsible fiduciaries for taxpayer dollars and also act ethically and responsibly.