Greetings from the Gulf: February

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For something that was nothing about you …

By John Morton

Perplexed.

That may not be the first “P” word that comes to mind for those Siesta Key residents who wanted at least a chance to vote on whether or not the island should become its own municipality, but it will have to do in a family-friendly publication such as this.

And it does fit. I mean, what more could have been done? It’s downright perplexing. The Save Siesta Key folks checked off each and every box during the application process, met every deadline, and consistently reminded a six-pack of state politicians, mysteriously known as the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation, that its role was to forward the bill to Tallahassee as long as things on paper seemed legit.

I can’t help but wonder if those reminders insulted them.

Still, the fateful vote needs be conducted by the residents — not you folks. Not one of you even lives here.

And one lives as far away as Pinellas County!

The message? This is not about you.

But oh no, that’s not what happened. The members might have said “we hear you” at the rowdy town hall meeting in December, but you could easily argue much of it fell on deaf ears.

It felt like the classic “we are saying no because we can” routine.

Or how the baseball writers reject first-ballot Cooperstown candidates but vote them in later, fully aware the stats don’t change. Sure enough, the delegation said it was willing to revisit this again. Wow! How kind!

I mean, what will be different about the next Siesta Key application? A different font, perhaps?

By the way, what kind of voting body has six members? There’s a reason you should always have an odd number of members — to avoid ties.

Kissing your sister, much?

Ties kill motions. They also minimize the impact of someone being blamed for a decisive vote.

Anyway, Siesta Key must feel like it’s on an island. And that wasn’t meant to get a chuckle.

A political prisoner, even.

Hey, it just hit me — Alcatraz is on an island. Same with Rikers.

Is it time to build a wall here and install guard towers?

No doubt, many residents would like that. Self-imposed incarceration in paradise.

Conversely, some who oppose incorporation will say that locals are indeed trying to do just that — become selfish and exclusive by becoming a municipality. As if to seal-off access.

Wanting to control land use doesn’t mean roping off Siesta Beach, folks. By the way, the county-owned Siesta and Turtle beaches will never be for sale. Nor affordable to any municipality that may want them.

Meanwhile, as the county continues to be an enemy in the minds of many, and now maybe the state as well, it’s the city of Sarasota that suddenly says it wants to be a teammate — through annexation! It put the topic on its agenda just three days after the Jan. 4 delegation death vote.

Kind of feels like a wolf has come calling in sheep’s clothing.

Changing gears a tad, you may recall I wrote last summer about the frustration felt by resident Jean Cannon — a superstar in all things stewardship. However, she was fed up with Sarasota County doing nothing about the illegal short-term rentals. There was one operating as party central across the street from her nifty Beach Road condo.

She was also distraught about the environmental pounding the island was taking with ongoing overdevelopment — and the notion that much more was to come in the form of high-density hotels. Since then, we all know two of them have been approved.

Well, we lost her. She moved to Venice. Even though she remains active with issues here, this was not a person Siesta Key could afford to lose.

Her response to the delegation vote?

“It was disappointing and typical that we got a 3-3 vote — so no one can be held accountable,” Cannon said. “I believe this vote will be a final straw for some residents.  Last week, I met a woman at the nail salon by the north end by Publix who told me she is moving off the Key.

“If the real estate market is hot and people have a place to go, I believe they will move. The quality of life on Siesta key is definitely changing. I am convinced the (county) commissioners and state representatives have made — and continue to make — mistakes and are killing all the aspects that made Siesta Key a community and destination for many travelers.”

Back to the Jan. 4 meeting, I wonder if the delegation members feel they are gatekeepers for the Florida Legislature. After all, it was state Rep. Tommy Gregory who said at the Dec. 8 town hall meeting that the incorporation bill would likely be ignored at the upcoming session — especially within the current political climate where increases in taxes and additional layers of government receive a frown.

Maybe the delegation members felt they were doing Save Siesta Key a favor by circumventing the inevitable. If so, that’s a bit presumptuous, no?

And while state Rep. Fiona McFarland — whose territory is most representative of Siesta Key compared to the others — did indeed endorse the bill, she seemed far from convinced and certainly not enthusiastic.

I can’t help but wonder if she wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of waving the Siesta Key flag in Tallahassee during what will be an intense and exhausting 60 days as a second-year legislator.

 You should know that there was one other incorporation effort possibly headed to the legislature — it was going on in Palm Beach County for a community called The Acreage that filed under the new name of Town of Indian Hills. Its local delegation, like ours, shot it down in December.

But The Acreage is hardly a world-renowned barrier island like Siesta Key– and the largest in Florida that’s unincorporated. Far from it.

During the delegation vote, longtime Siesta Key steward Catherine Luckner spoke and noted that the Siesta Key Association — the non-profit civic group of which she’s currently president — has been in place since 1948 and has interacted with the county’s government all that while.

Clearly, she wanted to make it clear that Siesta Key was far from a start-up community.

“Seventy-three years of government and civic history doesn’t make us a newbie,” she said as an understatement.

Here is who are the are the political newbies:

Of the delegation team, Gruters (yes vote) is the elder statesman with a 2016 election date. James Buchanan (a former Siesta Key resident who voted no) is 2018, delegation chairman Will Robinson Jr. (no vote) is 2018, Gregory (no vote) is 2018, Michele Rayner (yes vote) is 2020, and McFarland (yes vote) is 2020.

By the way, Gruters indicated months ago that a petition number of 2,000 should be a goal that will make an impression. The group achieved it — and it wasn’t easy, considering hundreds of residents head north for the summer. Then, Gregory suggested during his no vote that at least half of the island’s voters (about 7,500) should be represented in petition form.

Had Save Siesta Key known this in advance, I’ll bet its members would have hunkered down and landed them.

Instead, they were asked to read Gregory’s mind?

Meanwhile, as Gregory says no to new taxes, Robinson scoffs at the proposed low mill rate and budget?

Talk about a mind game. It’s unfair.

Speaking of fairness, Anand (who has been very graceful with the setback) did voice some frustration the day after the vote.

“Why,” he said, “should North Port be a city? Or Venice? They (the delegation members) represent places that added a layer of government and more taxes.

“If they can vote no on us for those reasons, they can vote to dissolve those incorporations as well. Don’t talk out of both sides of your mouth.”

Poor North Port. And to think you just built a Spring Training complex for the Braves, and they won the World Series!

Back to the sticks of unincorporated life for you.

Same for you, Venice. And to think you were almost ready to become the most famous Venice in the world!

 During that cringe-worthy Jan. 4 vote, you know who made the most sense? It was Rayner, who didn’t pry and poke at perceived issues that may or not play out. If they do, that’s Siesta Key’s problem, not that of the delegation. Don’t worry, we won’t blame you!

Rayner simply deferred to the American way and left it at that.

“You people are willing to pay for it and you’re demanding it,” she said.   “Who am I to tell you I know more about your community?”

Precisely.

And we end on a better “P” word.

(John Morton is managing editor of Siesta Sand.)

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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