SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Back in 2018, sixty percent of Sarasota County voters approved a referendum for single-member districts. Tuesday night, commissioners voted unanimously to bring the issue back to the ballot in a special election.
Right now, commissioners can only be elected by voters in the district where they live. With an at-large system, all voters can vote for all commissioners on the board.
“I just believe that someone who lives here in our district and is elected as the representative would bring much more accountability and responsibility and I think thoughtfulness to what actually is being considered or approved,” said Siesta Key resident Margaret Bryant.
The county commission has expressed opposition to single-member districts on a number of occasions. Some have suggested residents didn’t understand what they were voting for back in 2018.
“I believe a lot of people just didn’t realize that you’re giving up 80% of your representation and accountability on a board that is frankly serving you very well, according to citizens,” said Commissioner Christian Ziegler during a November meeting.
“Frankly, our old system was so much better because no matter where you lived, you were never disenfranchised, you got to vote every single time for all of us,” said Commissioner Nancy Detert during that same meeting.
After hearing those comments last month, several residents showed up to speak during Tuesday’s public hearing to make it clear, that wasn’t the case.
“I voted for single-member districts because I did not feel represented. My neighbors did not feel represented. I have been here since the last millennium and I cannot remember seeing a county commissioner anywhere geographically near where I live,” said north county resident Johannes Werner.
Others felt the commissioners assumptions on the public’s vote was insulting.
“Well, I am outraged just like a lot of my fellow citizens that the commission is willing to abandon the vote of the people from 2018. A sizable majority of Sarasota County voters approved single-member districts and for the commission to now be taking this up again as if the voters didn’t understand what it was we were voting for is frankly quite insulting,” said Bryant.
Before making the vote Tuesday night, Commissioner Mike Moran had this to say.
“I didn’t hear any testimony or evidence that addressed the fact that over 250,000 citizens and voters in this county and this next election will not be able to vote. The disenfranchisement of those citizens and voters is just absolutely unacceptable to me,” said Moran. “I made it clear in the last public hearing and testimony that I will do whatever I can with the power that I have that all residents will be able to vote for all commissioners at every election,” he continued.
The special election will take place on March 8, 2022. If voters decide to move back to an at-large system, the changes would be in effect by the November elections.