By John Morton
An election is fast approaching, but state Rep. Fiona McFarland took the time to reinforce her support of Save Siesta Key’s incorporation effort.
In turn, island residents behind the effort to become a municipality shared best wishes and, in some cases, financial contributions for McFarland during an Oct. 11 meet-and-greet at the Siesta Key Wine Bar. She’s the incumbent state representative in Florida’s House District 73.
“We need to help Fiona get re-elected. She’s a tremendous friend of Siesta Key,” said Tim Hensey, the incorporation team’s chairman. “She’s one of our champions.”
Like last year, when McFarland agreed to sponsor the proposed bill before it was shot down at the local county legislative level, she’ll be planning to wave the flag for it assuming that this time around it will make its way to Tallahassee. All of Siesta Key lies in her district.
“You care about where you live and stand up for it,” McFarland said as she addressed about 30 residents. “You’ve stuck with it and are willing to enter something as nasty as politics.
“I think we’ll have better luck this time. I’m still your champion. Unfortunately, I still have to get re-elected – so there’s that small thing.”
The Save Siesta Key group has not discussed incorporation with her challenger, Democrat Derek Reich.
Two of the no votes from the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation – Tommy Gregory and Will Robinson — are out of the equation thanks redistricting. But beyond that, what makes McFarland think the odds could be better up in Tallahassee? Both the House and Senate must approve the bill, and then the governor, bringing it to a referendum among registered voters on Siesta Key.
“For starters, it’s now not a new issue,” said McFarland, who said the topic did reach state lawmakers last year despite not being on the table. “These things take time, and sometimes these issues need to be heard more than once before they get it, before it makes sense. Starting a municipality is a huge undertaking, and it’s not taken lightly. Last year it all happened so fast.”
Indeed, a state analysis by the Office of Economic and Demographic Research with concerns about Save Siesta Key’s feasibility study did not make the rounds until early December. It described several shortcomings, including the proposed .25 mill rate (since doubled) as insufficient. A county vote would come less than a month later, just days before the Florida Legislature was scheduled to begin its 60-day session.
The next session begins in March, 2023 being a non-election year.
“That extra time will help a lot,” McFarland said. “The 60 days are so short. You need to be prepared.
“This time, we’ll be reinforcing the idea. That it’s something worth doing.”
Event host Melanie Dodge, co-owner of the Siesta Key Wine Bar, said she supports both the incorporation effort and McFarland.
“I’m happy to support what’s best for the community, and I think that is what Save Sista Key is doing. I also like what Fiona is doing,” said Dodge, who estimated it’s the sixth civic event she’s hosted this year.
“And I’m open to more,” she added.