Candidate: Linda Holland
Neighborhood: Gillespie Park
Moved To Sarasota: 1980
Employment: Owner and real estate broker of Urban Properties of Sarasota, Inc.
Treasurer: John Michel
Campaign Info: LindaHolland2013.com
City Commission candidate Linda Holland believes she can bring a voice of the neighborhoods along with the voice of businesses to City Hall, helping to bridge the two sides together
"Business people live in neighborhoods, and neighborhoods have to have businesses, so let's stop the silliness," Holland told Patch. "Let's get beyond this 'it's either them or us.' We have got to work together."
Holland has long been involved in Sarasota in one way or another, having founded the Gillespie Park Neighborhood Association in 1983 and also founded Sarasota Court Watch and the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations. She's been a member of numerous boards and organizations including the North Trail Redevelopment Partnership and is the current vice chair of the Nuisance Abatement Board among others.
Given that experience, Holland said she's running because it's the next step to her involvement in Sarasota having attended City Commission meetings for 30 years.
"I believe I can bring a much more historical background to the commission," Holland said. "Those commissioners are relatively new—perhaps not new to the community, but new to or not as experienced in process of city government."
She aims to bring "common sense and hard work" to City Hall.
One of the hot topics in the city is how to build the tax base and bring in revenue to the city's bank account. Holland said she's pleased to see the city partnering with the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce to hire a new economic development director to start that process. That type of work hopefully will enable the city to think beyond its municipal boundaries to spur partnerships and development, she said.
"We really got to look at a more regional kind of thing, and we have to be very, very careful about keeping our businesses that we have here happy within reason," Holland said.
At the same time, she wants to make sure downtown businesses are able to stay and thrive along Main Street and not be lured away to regional malls and shopping centers.
"You still have people that love the small downtown feel, so I think we have to be very protective of that and try to expand that," she said.
And one of the booming businesses downtown is a restaurant with live music.
The city is exploring ways to allow amplified music—live bands and radios—to be played outdoors at a reasonable level. For Holland, she wants to achieve a balanced solution, but believes such music has a place downtown.
"If we want a vibrant downtown, if we want our young people downtown, then we have to have some venues for them to do this," she said.
Moving outside of downtown, the North Trail redevelopment on U.S. 41has to be more flexible for development to occur, Holland said. The zoning overlay isn't good enough for the neighbors either, she said.
"A developer was going to do a mixed-use condo and commercial, but I guess it's on hold now because he's having difficulties working with zoning," she said. "It's a constant battle, and we have to keep trying to work through it. If you want the North Trail redeveloped, there's going to have to be some more flexibility on the zoning and all the setbacks and heights."
As a commissioner, Holland said she believes she can help to forge ahead on the issue.
"I feel like I have a pretty good handle on that hopefully with the respect I have from neighborhoods to better neighborhoods and make them cleaner and safer," said Holland, who participated in North Trail walks, hitting up slum motels to help rid them of drug and prostitution.
For the Rosemary District, public-private partnerships need to be explored, she said.
"That is such a key area that the city needs to focus on that's been out of sight, out of mind," she said.
Part of that step is to bring in more affordable housing to the area, but the city needs to take the lead and not wait for developers to propose projects, she said.
"I think people are champing at the bit," she said. "I think there are so many creative ideas out there. Maybe they're not going to be the most perfect thing, but we cannot sit and wait for the perfect opportunity every single time. We have to be considerate, we have to be careful—it's public money."
Yet, being ultra conservative could prevent money coming to the city, she added.
Throughout Sarasota, homeless is a visual issue that's long been a difficult issue to tackle.
Holland admitted it's not easy either, but that she was encouraged by a homelessness task force headed up by Sarasota Police Capt. Paul Sutton to gather ideas to approach the issue.
She also believes that the Street Teams project with the Salvation Army where homeless are given volunteer opportunities to clean up the streets is a good step, and she would like to see more private money donated to that program.
In Gillespie Park at least, Holland would support a "special, directive fund to ensure that program grows even more than it is," she said.
"I think there are residents in my neighborhood that would do that because it's working, and that's what we need to do—take the things that are working and ensure they do," she said.
Within the confines of City Hall, the topic of whether the city manager or an elected mayor should have more power never goes away.
Holland has supported past versions of an elected mayor measure, and believes that the city continues to "have a leadership void."
"I still would tend toward supporting an elected mayor," she said.
She understand the folks who don't like the idea or that the issue has been voted on, but said time has been changed and there are different versions of an elected mayor structure. Though there are some folks who just don't know how the city government is structured or who is at the top.
"People are so confused about the mayor issue," she said. "Most voters don't have any idea whether you have [an appointed] mayor or an elected mayor. Some people still think Kerry Kirschner is the mayor, or Lou Ann Palmer, whose been out of office for years because there's no clear understanding of our structure."
Part of the battle against an elected mayor is a fear of who it will be, Holland said.
"I think it's a shame that it's fear based," she said.
What's the worst decision the city commission has made?
"The Police Advisory Panel. That may have been the prior commission. I think the intent was good. I understand why they wanted to do it, but I think when they made the original yearlong panel, their intent was good, but their appointments to that panel and the way the panel conducted itself for that first year was just … I think it was way more divisive than trying to bring the community back together. I think it was not effective.
That decision and the decision to fund the additional panels were dollars not well spent. I see no results."
She said the current commission should not have agreed to continue to fund the police panels and advisory boards.
What's the best decision the city commission has made?
"Finalizing the decision on parking meters. some people like it, some people don't like it, but they finally made that decision.
A lot of people are still teed off about it. Maybe their original decision wasn't the greatest, but they've closed it out and hope they put that to bed."
What issue has the commission not spent enough time on?
The Hudson Bayou lift station.
"I was surprised they were so unaware with problems with the lift station in terms of maybe they were more informed as the problems started and boiled to top, they weren't communicated very well, it didn't appear, with the public. …
It didn't appear they were paying enough attention what was going on with that. I'm surprised that the people in that area weren't maybe making them more aware. …"
What should the commission focus more on?
"At the commission table, I'd like to hear more straight talk that the commission can understand. I know they have to work with the technical stuff, but when you're working with the public that put you in office, be able to talk to them in language that they can understand, and talk some straight talk to them. It may not make you the most popular person. Sometimes they're going to like it, and sometimes they're not going to like it, but for heaven's sake, respect the people that put you in office."
Why should a voter choose Linda Holland?
"People know I'm a reasonable and fair person, so they're not always going to agree with my decisions, but I think they can say that I'm not influenced by anybody or anyone in particular.
I'm my own person, and I've always been my own person, particularly in my own civic involvement. …
The continued commitment I've had to the betterment of the city that quite frankly, none of the other candidates have. They have parts of it, but not long-term and consistent way that I have done. I have the passion."