Is it time for an elected mayor in Sarasota?

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Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2014 4:56 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Linda Holland is part of the "It’s Time Sarasota" initiative, which hopes to make changes to the city of Sarasota’s charter, the biggest being the addition of a directly elected mayor. She says the change from a ceremonial mayor to an elected mayor would not only bring the community together, but also improve how the city operates.

"Anyone [who] thinks we're together right now [is] delusional -- we need someone to bring us together," Holland says. "We've have been doing things the same way since 1945, with our city manager form of government, and for a number of years that worked perfectly fine, but for the last 10 years or so is has not been working so well."

Holland cites examples like Lift Station 87, a sewer project that has seen millions of dollars in overages and years of delays, as the basis for her belief.

"We need the vision, we need the leadership, we need the accountability, we need someone who the citizens of Sarasota directly elect and who’s accountable to those citizens," Holland says.

Not everyone agrees.

"One of the problems we have with the specific proposals is that the mayor would serve for four years without an option for a recall, and would have total authority over everything, and he could veto anything the commissioners had to say,” says Sarasota resident Arthur Levin. “[That] would open that individual to a lot of external influences -- money, politics."

Levin says the changes would make the mayor impervious, and he fears the community's interest would be lost. He says that is why the idea has been turned down several times in the past.

"It had come to the voters twice before and it had been soundly rejected,” he says. “Not just marginally -- nobody wanted it."

In addition to voters rejecting previous elected mayor proposals, city commissioners have also voted down the idea on several occasions.

"I’m not a believer in one individual having that much power,” says current Mayor Willie Shaw. “The process that we presently have works well and continues to work well, and the city of Sarasota is a vibrant city."

Still, "It’s Time Sarasota" members stand by their efforts.

"What the opposition is trying to do is instill fear of the worst case scenario,” Holland says. “We like to think that you centrally have as equal of a chance of getting someone in there that can do really great things and bring the community together."

"It’s Time" members say they currently have more than 2,000 completed petitions, and they hope to soon have enough signatures to get the proposed charter change added to ballot for the November 2014 election before the deadline of August 7.

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