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Three Sarasota City Commission candidates face ‘job interview’

Written by on Sunday, March 31, 2024

All of them were challengers. The incumbents stayed away.

By Arlene Sweeting

Original Air Date: Mar. 29, 2024

Host: A forum for Sarasota City Commission candidates on Thursday turned into an exclusive for the challengers, as incumbents stayed away. Arlene Sweeting reports.

Arlene Sweeting: It was standing-room only at the city commissioner “Job Interviews” hosted by CityPAC on Thursday evening at Selby Library. Unfortunately, only three of the six candidates running for the city commission showed up for the interviews. None of the incumbent city commissioners chose to participate in the event, which led moderator Alan Rifkin to say this.

Alan Rifkin: It’s fair to say however, that the incumbents have track records that you can assess. But it’s also fair to say that their decision not to participate in this forum with all of you, and all of us is also something that can be assessed.

AS: CityPAC plans to submit questions to candidates not in attendance in written form, to see if they will respond. Candidates that were in attendance were Melissa Furman, a resident in the Central Cocoanut neighborhood who is challenging incumbent District One Commissioner Kyle Battie. Ron Kashden, a Laurel Park resident who is challenging incumbent District Two Commissioner Liz Alpert, and Katherine Kelley Ohlrich, who lives in Glen Oaks and is challenging incumbent District Three Commissioner Erik Arroyo.

The challengers: Kashden, Kelley Ohlrich, Furman

On its website, CityPAC states that it is a nonpartisan municipal political committee that operates in the open and accepts no dark money. Its mission is to identify and support candidates for Sarasota City Commission who will seek to implement resident-friendly positions on issues relevant to a livable city, to advocate for issues of importance to residents, and to inform voters about the issues, and candidates who are resident-friendly.

They have four criteria by which they evaluate and endorse candidates. One, adherence to the Sadowski creed for public service, which was crafted by former state legislator Bill Sadowski and is available on the CityPAC website; two, a candidate’s position on current civic topics; three, public forums; and four, a candidate’s willingness to pledge to forego developer donations.

All candidates that participated in the forum on Thursday pledged to treat residents that come before them and each other with respect and civility. They also pledged to forgo contributions from those they know or can reasonably expect to have business that will come before the city during their term of office. Kashden and Ohlrich both have a lot of experience in city government, with Ohlrich being a past member and chair of the Planning Commission, and Kashden having over a decade of civic involvement in Sarasota. They were both very detailed and direct in their answers to questions that range from rooftop bars, the noise ordinance, and special interests, to homelessness, affordable housing, and their vision for the future development of Sarasota.

Not at the forum: Incumbents Alpert, Arroyo and Battie.

Here’s Kashden saying why he thinks he’s the best candidate for the job.

Ron Kashden: For the Sarasota City Commission to bring back reasoned decision-making, based on facts and outcomes that reflect the needs and desires of both residents and businesses.

AS: Ohlrich didn’t pull any punches and is clearly in this race to take out Commissioner Erik Arroyo.

Kathy Kelley Ohlrich: I’m compelled to run because since Erik’s been a city commissioner, he’s abandoned us. He abandoned his duty to represent everyone, not just his donors and his friends. He abandoned his responsibility to protect Sarasota as a beautiful and affordable place to live. And he abandoned you, by dismissing your thoughts and your concerns. How? Well let’s start with parks. Because a few years ago, Erik voted to settle the lawsuit by selling our cherished Paul Thorpe Park in the heart of our downtown. Then he voted against a park in the Rosemary District. And we all know what he and his friends want to do now with zip lines and skydivers at Ken Thompson Park.

AS: District One candidate Melissa Furman is a newcomer to city politics, and that was evident in her lack of knowledge and understanding on a number of issues.

The two at-large city commissioners not up for reelection – Debbie Trice and Jennifer Ahearn-Koch – are both seen as neighborhood advocates that make extra efforts to listen to public concerns. Because of this, Kashden made the comment that with this election, voters really have the opportunity to shift the balance of the commission.

RK: At the end of the day, three commissioners are up for election. So this is the year, the turning point that we’re all hoping for for Sarasota. Because we know we deserve commissioners that have the capacity to deal with the tough issues, that will work for us, and are willing to hear the public, and work towards outcomes that support our hopes and our aspirations. So this year, you the community gets to decide, are we going to be a city that’s rational, or not? Are … the residents get a say in what gets built? Are we going to get serious steps on pedestrian safety, for road repair? … Are we going to plant more trees to avoid those concrete islands? Are we going to sell out our future by privatizing the parks and green spaces to the first developer that walks through the door?

AS: This has been Arlene Sweeting, reporting for WSLR News.


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