Tim Hensey now at the helm
By John Morton
Tim Hensey is the new chairman of Save Siesta Key — a group that he said learned a tough lesson when a local delegation of elected state officials voted down its incorporation bill Jan. 4.
“We got a good old butt whipping behind a shed in politics,” said Hensey of the 3-3 tie that, for now, killed an effort by some Siesta Key residents to become a municipality instead of being governed by Sarasota County.
“I personally don’t think we got a fair shake,” he added, while speaking to the Siesta Key Association at its Feb. 3 meeting. said Hensey. “My personal belief is our vote was predetermined. We got hosed.”
Still, Save Siesta Key will give it another try, Hensey said. While it must start from scratch with the process, per state rules, Hensey said that resubmitting an application can be done “with minimal expense and effort.”
The group has raised about $122,000 and has about $45,000 left.
It can apply again in August for consideration in next spring’s Florida Legislature session. The earliest Siesta Key could become a town is Dec. 31 of 2023.
However, the proposal of House Bill 1035 that’s now being considered in Tallahassee makes the task even more difficult. Among its requirements would be that communities seeking incorporation must not only collect petitions of support from at least 60% of its registered voters, but also reach at that threshold with a non-binding referendum — or straw vote — before the state even considers an incorporation request.
If required, that would likely take place in November.
Currently, only a 10-percent petition requirement and a feasibility study are required for the legislature to take a look. With approval there, a binding local referendum would follow with only a majority vote needed to seal the deal.
Whether or not the bill passes, Hensey said Save Siesta Key has “slim odds of getting it done.”
“What we learned is that incorporation efforts rarely pass a first time — it usually takes going back a second or third time to get it done,” he said. “If you look at what’s going on in Tallahassee right now, you’ve got a Republican governor, Republican House, and Republican Senate that are very anti-additional layer of government. We were fighting a huge political wave.”
What’s the plan going forward?
Hensey said Jodie Tierney, a new addition to the Save Siesta Key board, will help with her experience as a lobbyist. She’ll take over the duties that were being handled by Jon Moyle, a Tallahassee-based attorney hired last summer by the group.
“That’s a real art,” Hensey said of Tierney’s expertise. “To have someone on our board who knows how things work in Tallahassee is going to be huge.”
The board is also seeking a local attorney to join, Hensey said, as well as someone with extensive fundraising experience.
“On Siesta Key, I don’t think we’ll ever get to where we need to get if we don’t get our wallets behind our voice,” he said.
A renewed effort with the petition drive will be a big task, considering the Key is loaded with part-time residents — many of whom live in large condominium complexes. Hensey said only about a dozen neighborhood ambassadors were effective in working door-to-door, so the program will need a big boost in participation to reach the 60% mark.
Prior to the January delegation vote, Save Siesta Key had around 2,400 petitions but only about 1,600 came from registered voters, representing only about 21% — the result, Hensey said, of being told by state staff members that it wasn’t a vital factor.
About 7,500 of the Key’s 8,915 residents are registered voters.
“We let off the gas pedal on that,” he said.
However, state Rep. Tommy Gregory said after his no vote that he’d like to see petitions from at least 50 percent if Save Siesta Key were to try again. In previous conversation with all six members of the delegation, Hensey said that goal was never mentioned. In fact, few suggestions were made at all.
“They came back and threw it in our face,” Hensey said of the petition numbers.
As for the feasibility study that produced a modest .25 mill rate and a $3.75 million budget, it received criticism of being too low by state Rep. Will Robinson. While it will get another look, Hensey said he and his group stand behind the numbers — especially knowing the Key has nearly a combined $7 billion in assessed property values that continues to rise, indicating that ad valorem tax collections will remain plentiful.
At that .25 mill rate, the owner of a median Siesta Key home ($440,062 in assessed value) would pay an additional $96.75 in taxes per year.
Robinson also questioned the lack of projected employees, which Save Siesta Key had at five with a town manager, planner, clerk, code enforcement officer, and administrative worker.
The manger salary was estimated at $180,000, which Robinson feared was too low.
Hensey said he researched the average salary of the manager of a Florida municipality, which came to $84,000.
Hensey, who has recently scaled back his duties as the manager of the country’s fifth-largest construction firm, has lived on Siesta key for 14 years. As chairman he replaces John Davidson, who remains on the board.
It was Davidson who spearheaded an incorporation effort in the mid-’90s before dropping his efforts when county officials offered more support.
Recent county decisions fueled his desire to start another effort last March, including the approval of the Siesta Promenade project at the corner of U.S. 41 and Stickney Point Road, as well as the dredging on Big Pass to the Key’s north in order to provide sand to Lido Beach.
The county’s approval of two large hotels, with two more waiting in the wings, further put the incorporation effort on the fast track.
Meanwhile, Save Siesta Key’s board has seen a few departures, as members Harry Anand, Lisa Choate and Chuck Byrne and stepped down. Interviews are taking place for replacements, member Tracy Jackson reports.
Anand, a former mayor of a township on Long Island, was a leading figure during the first wave of the incorporation effort. His ability to interact with the delegation and get it to first attend a December town hall meeting on the Key, and then vote soon thereafter, was notable.
“We owe him a huge debt of gratitude,” Jackson said. “Without him, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are. We wouldn’t have gotten that meeting or that Jan. 4 vote.”
The board now consists of Hensey, Jackson, Davidson, Tierney, and Steve Lexow.