SARASOTA — When the 2020 general election arrives, if Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert decides to run again, voters in Englewood and most of Venice will not see her name on the ballot.
Likewise, voters in North Port will not see the name of whomever decides to run to replace the term-limited Commissioner Charles Hines on their ballots. And voters in all three communities will not see the name of Commissioner Mike Moran should he seek a second term on the county commission.
This is the result of a change to the county charter approved by Sarasota County voters this past Tuesday.
The charter amendment passed with 115,760 votes, or 59.84 percent of all ballot cast, with only 77,679 voters or 40.16 percent disapproving of the change, which will change how county voters select their county commissioners.
Currently, commissioners represent specific districts but must run countywide campaigns facing all registered voters. The change to the charter means a commission candidate will be elected only by the voters of his or her district.
Sarasota County last tried this system in 1992, but quickly abandoned it two years later in favor of the current method for electing county commissioners.
“Now, principled candidates for county commission will have a chance against the big money developer machine by needing to spend only 1/5 as much to reach the voters in a single member district as was required to run countywide,” Dan Lobeck, an attorney and supporter of the measure, wrote in an e-mail.
“It is therefore now much more likely that we can elect Commissioners who will serve their constituents, not their contributors … This can be a new day for our neighborhoods, environment, traffic mobility, schools, and quality of life, if we see it through and use this reform for its intended noble ends,” Lobeck added.
“Thank you to the many people of all political persuasions who see the need for county commissioners who are accountable to the people in their district as they work together with a fresh vision for the county that will benefit all,” Kindra Muntz, president of Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections (SAFE), wrote in an email.
SAFE organized the petition drive and obtained the required 15,000 signatures to put the charter amendment on the ballot.
Opponents of the referendum, led by the Argus Foundation, claimed the amendment will lead to situations where commissioners are more parochial, beholden more to the interests of their constituents than county residents as a whole.
“I predict that we will see tax increases over the next five years as we see these districts battle for pork,” Argus Executive Director and former Commissioner Christine Robinson told the Sarasota Observer newspaper.
Asked about the effective date for the amendment, county officials indicated it would be in effect for the next election cycle in 2020.