Sarasota officials under fire for proposed homeless shelter

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The controversy over a facility to serve Sarasota’s chronic homeless population continues. This time, city officials are coming under fire for what some say is just doing their job.

"I do not agree that the facility for the most chronic homeless should be built in north Sarasota,” says Vice Mayor Willie Shaw. He’s one of two on the city commission opposing the proposed construction of a come as you are homeless facility within the city limits.

But some say his opposition is being influenced by another source.

"I observed one of the city commissioners in the minority give a speech on the issue and it was clear that he was reading from a document,” says ACLU official Michael Barfield. Barfield says the document was crafted by Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin to drum up opposition to the construction of the shelter.

"This document shows that the City Manager was trying to shape policy and not carry out policy,” Barfield says. “That was already decided on in a 3-2 vote."

"That’s most absurd, as far as the city manager who works for me, one of the tenets in his contract is to provide me information when requested upon by me,” Shaw says. “That’s his responsibility. How I use it is my determination."

The document in question contains an agenda request used to detail cost and funding concerns about the proposed shelter. It also shows a $730,000 commitment made by the city, information Barwin says was already available to the public.

"We need to be crystal clear that this was a posted agenda item already in the packet,” Barwin says. “The day of the meeting the commissioner asked for supplemental information and that was provided, and this is standard operating procedure."

Still, Barfield maintains the city is delaying action.

"The City Manager has been hiding and trying to act like he's administering the CIA, trying to undermine the construction of the shelter," he says.

But city officials disagree, saying they are gathering all the necessary information needed before moving forward. In the meantime, Vice Mayor Shaw says he will continue to oppose the shelter.

"This is the area that has the greatest concentration of poverty, unemployment, the most blight, the lowest education -- why would I want to compound that?" Shaw asks.