NORTH PORT — The Sun posed four questions to the two candidates running for the open District 5 seat on the Sarasota County Commission, Democrat Alice White and Republican Ron Cutsinger. Here are their answers.
The commission meets at their annual retreat in December to set priorities. What will be on your list to press for?
Alice White: “First, I would organize a number of town hall opportunities, both in-person, virtual, and online, to learn what my constituents feel should be on the list for priorities set by the commission. This would be in line with my first objective for seeking public office; to serve and represent all of the people.
“I think the lack of workforce housing will be high on that list. The original 2050 Comprehensive Plan made provisions to provide workforce housing units in exchange for allowing developers to increase density. Those increased densities were approved but the promised workforce housing didn’t happen. I hear a lot about the Affordable Housing Committee that was established but I don’t hear a lot about the outcome of that committee, especially in light of the fact that affordable housing remains an issue.
“That list should include a plan to improve River Road from (U.S.) 41 south to Dearborn. That road is an essential evacuation route for the residents of Englewood and all those in the Cape Haze area.”
Ron Cutsinger: Urgency in getting Cares Act grants to our small businesses, diversifying our economy targeting high quality businesses and jobs to locate here. Focusing on key infrastructure projects including transportation improvements (including River Road upgrades). Aggressively moving forward on water quality issues including stormwater and advanced wastewater treatment upgrades to our plants. Supporting our first responders and law enforcement and providing the resources they need to keep our community healthy and safe. Legacy Trail build out and completion. Affordable and workforce housing solutions.
The commission recently rebuffed an attempt by the Old Miakka community to protect their area from future development. What steps would you favor to allow neighborhoods to preserve their way of life?
Ron Cutsinger: “Sarasota County’s award-winning 2050 Plan was specifically designed to prevent urban sprawl using the hamlet designation of this area out by Old Miakka. Rather than extend the urban boundary east of the interstate, it provides for low-density growth that protects the rural lifestyle while safeguarding our treasured environmental assets. It requires a minimum 60% open space, 500-foot buffers, and mandatory protection of native wetlands and habitat. It champions walkable communities with parks, nature trails, bike paths, and sidewalks. Mixed-use design brings goods and services near so there is less need to drive to town and add to traffic volume. I support protecting the rural lifestyle using this commonsense approach to limit over-development.”
Alice White: “Actually, the steps are in place for landowners to propose amendments to the comprehensive plan. In the case of the Rural Heritage designation proposed by the Old Miakka community, the Planning Commission and county commission clearly showed that while they will entertain proposals from high-financed developers regarding comprehensive plan amendments, they simply chose to not consider the amendment brought forth by the very people who live and have a history in Sarasota County in the same manner.”
As Covid-19 cases surge across the country, if that occurs in Sarasota County, would you favor a mandatory mask ordinance? If not, why not?
Alice White: “Yes, I would favor a mandatory mask ordinance. The latest COVID numbers show an increase in Sarasota County. Schools are fragmented, operating with students both working remotely from home and physically in their school buildings. Our small businesses are hurting. Major events (i.e. Sarasota Grand Prix, Englewood Waterfest, Sarasota Medieval Fair) have been canceled that left many local vendors and businesses not getting the revenues they had planned on receiving, and many events have been canceled well into next year already.
“Fundraising events for nonprofits have been canceled as well, which will put a strain on their finances and abilities to provide services well into the next year. Our elected officials should be putting the health, safety, and welfare of the residents first and show true leadership in doing what’s right for our communities.”
Ron Cutsinger: “Masks should be worn in every circumstance where social distancing isn’t possible, especially indoors and in gatherings with others where risks are higher. Most businesses and organizations have correctly required masks to protect their workers and patrons, which I absolutely support. But when walking the trails, biking, socially distanced at the beach and at safe distances outdoors, masks may not be required in those settings. Add to that the fact that our sheriff has made clear a mandated mask ordinance would be nearly impossible to enforce.”
You’ll represent a district with the largest city in the county, North Port. What will you do to focus more attention on North Port (and Englewood) as opposed to the city of Sarasota?
Ron Cutsinger: “As a resident of this community for nearly 50 years I love this district and intimately understand our needs. I will be a loud and clear voice for South County. In the past couple of months, I have knocked on some 2500 doors and had thousands of conversations with our residents and heard from them on what issues matter most. I’m honored to have the endorsements of all five current county commissioners, all of our local state representatives as well as a majority of both the North Port City Commission and the Venice City Council. Those relationships will give me a respected and influential voice at the table as I represent my district. I have also made it clear that I will be looking to establish a South County field office with regular hours for members of the community to connect with their local commissioner and have their voices heard.”
Alice White: “I will be the voice for the people of North Port and Englewood. Being a 30-year resident of North Port and having taught school in Englewood for 23 years, I can bring credibility to my advocating for those communities since I have been deeply involved with many diverse groups of people for many activities and purposes throughout those years.
“‘What is past is prologue,’ is one of my favorite sayings. We have to know where we’ve been in order to know where we need to go.
“I have developed my deep sense of community over the course of 30 years. I have advocated for what I believed to be important, especially when it came to the need to respect our natural environment and provide for our quality of life. I would still have that voice on the dais and will use it to bring quality representation and focus on the people of North Port and Englewood, a quality representation that has been missing for decades.”