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Venice mayor wants to shift election dates

Written by on Thursday, February 1, 2024

After upset victories for two Democrats, the Venice City Council discusses moving the local vote to coincide with state and federal elections.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Jan. 31, 2024

Host: The mayor of Venice wants to move city council elections to coincide with general elections. This comes after upset victories for two democrats in the town where republicans outnumber democrats two-to-one. Ramon Lopez has the story.

Ramon Lopez: The Venice City Council last week directed staffers to draw up an amendment to the city charter that would limit council member terms to two consecutive four-year terms versus the current three consecutive three-year terms. The Venice council members also ordered city workers to draft an ordinance that would lengthen city council terms to four-years, versus the current three-year terms.

The move would align Venice city council elections with general elections. In the standalone election last fall, Venice voters swept into office two Democrats who professed concern with overdevelopment. In the city of 26,000, registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2:1. Mayor Nick Pachota had put those items up for discussion and possible action at the meeting. Some suspect that political strategy was behind it. 

Limiting council members’ terms to two consecutive four-year terms did raise an objection from newly-elected Council Member Ron Smith. He would have preferred that the proposed change be scrutinized by either a charter review board or citizen advisory board versus council members with a vested interest in the matter. He also said it shouldn’t take effect until all current council members are out of office.

Both Venice resident Ruth Cordner and Council member Smith like the current three-year city council terms of office.

Ruth Cordner: There are concerns with lengthening the city council member terms to four years, to coincide with the city commissioner elections. Under this proposal, elections will only be held in even numbered years concurrently with federal and state elections. Local issues will get smothered by national issues. Voters whose top priorities involve improving our city should have adequate information to vote for their best candidate. One of the reasons that most people know little about local politics is that many local governments receive little media coverage. By modifying the election cycle, it’ll be harder for city council candidates to get their message across when competing with county and national races for attention at the same time. In Venice, our 2023 election showed there are voters who are clearly willing to make changes in their communities, Under the current 3-year term regime, every other election a council member will have to run on an odd numbered year each time. The citizens get to debate local issues without being overwhelmed by national politics. Having annual elections keeps the council closer to the public and its interests. Waiting 4 years to raise an issue will harm Venice.

Ron Smith: I need to push my personal opposition to moving the elections to only even years, by holding our elections in even years, such as we did just two years ago, a city election I felt was lost this past year when it was the only thing on the ballot, I thought led to focus on the city issues, it led to broad discussion of city issues only. I believe that was the more effective outreach to the community. We did see 40% registered voters all showing up at the polls; that they were engaged. So I would ask us that we move cautiously on this, and there are certainly many aspects of it to discuss. 

RL: The VCC members voted five to two on the twin term matters. Smith along with fellow first-term council member Joan Farrell dissented. The council also directed staffers to craft a resolution to create a 90-day moratorium on annexations prior to general elections. 

The annexation issue was brought up by Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner, who said annexations prior to an election complicated matters for voters. The proposed annexation moratorium was approved unanimously by the council members with little discussion. The planned resolution could go into effect later this year.

Sidewalks and fast food drive-throughs were also on the agenda at the meeting, debated at length by the public and council members. At Smith’s prompting, Venice City staffers will explore a ban on fast-food restaurants on Venice Island. There are none on the island. But such a ban is currently limited by state law. Ron Smith doesn’t want such eateries on the island, but fellow Council Member Rachel Frank said a ban would create a ‘slippery slope,’ and she cast the lone vote against looking into a ban.

RS: The consensus is that the oasis that we call the island of Venice may be spoiled by the introduction of noise and traffic issues related to drive-thru fast food establishments. So I would like at this time, to make a motion, that we direct the staff to advise the council on the best strategy, or method, to limit, restrict, or effectively ban drive-thru food service establishments in all three zoning districts I’ve mention son the island. And I’d ask that be done at the earliest date allowed under the recent state legislation that limits our ability to have more restrictive land development regulations

Rachel Frank: I believe that it’s pretty dangerous territory, when the government comes in and just straight off the bat, picks winners and losers when it comes to small businesses, locally owned restaurants. And so any time more restrictive measures are put into place, that restrict those types of businesses, I have issues singling out restaurants when it comes to a drive-thru. 

RL: Meanwhile, the public weighed in on a proposal to build a sidewalk along one block of Venice’s Bayshore Drive. It has been dubbed ‘a sidewalk to nowhere’ by opponents. Mayor Pachota wanted to pause the project until the city hosts a public workshop to further discuss the project. Some said the sidewalk is needed for public safety. Others worried about property values. One resident lobbied for speed bumps to slow down traffic. The proposed sidewalk is not ‘a done deal’ and it was decided that there’s plenty of time to again consult residents.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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