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Venice City Council Election: Meet the Candidates

Written by on Saturday, October 21, 2023

Two refuse to sign ‘Clean Campaign Pledge.’

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Oct. 20, 2023

Host: It’s an off-year in elections – with the exception of the City of Venice, where candidates are vying for two seats on the city council. Ramon Lopez gives you the details on the issues, races, and candidates.

Ramon Lopez:  When you think of Venice, Florida, you see a nice beach with a drum circle, and a quaint and quiet Main Street with restaurants and small shops.

Dusty Feller

But Venice voters face the same issues of other communities in Sarasota County and Manatee County: Growth, concerns over environmental issues, lack of affordable housing, and let’s not forget traffic congestion.

Controversies have included a grocery-store anchored commercial development and demands for a so-called ‘clean campaign pledge’ from the four candidates in the November 8 election for the Venice City Council.

The four sought to define themselves Thursday night at a candidate forum held at the Venice Community Center and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Sarasota County and the Venice Gondolier newspaper.

Joan Farrell

Joan Farrell, with a strong environmental stance, is running as part of a grassroots resident response to the new commercial development push by Pat Neal.  She is running against incumbent Mitzie Fiedler. Fiedler is seeking a third consecutive term in Seat 1 of the Venice City Council.

Fiedler lives in Venetian Golf & River Club, near the 10 acres of open space and wetland that Pat Neal wants to have rezoned commercial property. But she has taken heat for her vote to approve the lucrative land deal.

In the Seat 2 race, Ron Smith is running against Dusty Feller. Ron Smith is a retired newspaper editor and Florida prosecutor who lost a bid for the city council in 2022 by a slim margin. He employs polished public speaking skills to make his case. Dusty Feller moved to Venice eight years ago. She is the only one of the four candidates who has never previously sought public office.

Ron Smith

The ‘clean campaign pledge’ calls on the candidates to avoid mud slinging and refusing money from political action committees with unnamed donors. Democrats Smith and Farrell have endorsed it, but their Republican opponents refuse to sign it. We hear from Dusty Feller and Ron Smith on the subject.

Dusty Feller: I feel like a lot of this clean campaign pledge that has come out has tried to put us in a negative light.

Ron Smith: I certainly signed the pledge, a very simple pledge everybody should sign. It’s a pledge not to defame your opponent, to stick to the issues, and not to accept money from people that don’t identify themselves.

RL: Ron Smith called for controlled growth.

Mitzie Fiedler

RS: People are tired of the unbridled growth that we do have in our community. And we’ve seen that, in the rise up in opposition to some elements of the land development regulations, which seem to rise up against commercial encroachment on residential neighborhoods. We’ve seen them rise up against developers trying to take back open space. I don’t want to be stuck in traffic in and around high-rise buildings, and I don’t want Venice to become what we see now in downtown Sarasota.

RL: Joan Farrell is not happy with Pat Neal.

Joan Farrell: The people over in North Venice, who were told that they were going to have 7.42 acres of wetland and a nice pond, and then a land grant was made, that is unconscionable. And really, it’s illegal. And it’s important right now because the city council allowed this unconscionable and bizarre situation that is still being resolved. There’s going to be a comeuppance I think on Nov. 7.

RL: Affordable housing was another topic.

RS: When they’re giving financial incentives to developers, if they will include in what they develop affordable housing, the city needs to support that.

RL:  The candidates spoke of why they are running for city council seats.  Ron Smith and Mitzie Fiedler:

RS: I want to preserve this paradise, and restore trust in our government.

Mitzie Fiedler: This is not a job, but you learn as you go. That is, it’s no longer the hidden gem it used to be, working with staff we have a limited growth. I will not allow Venice to resemble Sarasota or Naples. This year, we have succeeded in lowering your taxes, and I’m proud to have led the charge. Over the past six years, I have listened to you. I voted for slow growth and I voted to lower your taxes. And I would appreciate your vote this November. 

RL:    This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.