Candidate: Susan Chapman
Neighborhood: Hudson Bayou
Moved To Sarasota: 1989
Employment: Private practice attorney at Chapman Family Law
Treasurer: Robert Easterle
Campaign Info: SusanChapman4Sarasota.com
Susan Chapman wants to tackle Sarasota's unfunded pension liabilities while maintaining a high standard of economic development by broadening the tax base and consolidating some city services.
Chapman said she is willing to seek opportunities to consolidate services with Sarasota County, but does not think the whole Sarasota Police Department needs to be consolidated with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
"There are parts of the police department that could be consolidated with the sheriff's [office]—not the core function, but rather things like the bomb squad, the K9 unit, the SWAT Team—expensive specialty units that don't necessarily get high usage," Chapman told Patch.
Chapman touts her experience as the chair of the ad-hoc Police Advisory Panel for helping fight crime in the city where the panel had recommended using the David Kennedy community policing model that the Sarasota Police Department is now implementing.
Chapman is the chairwoman of the City of Sarasota Planning Board, and also served as Hudson Bayou Neighborhood president and Sarasota County Civic League president.
Chapman considers herself an "outspoken opponent" of the Sylint Group investigation into the city's out-of-date Information Technology infrastructure and believes that city management needs to be stabilized after the loss of the IT director and former city manager.
"We spent a lot of money. We lost management function .Now, we have a lot of department heads who are leaving. In order to attract the highest quality new department heads, we have to have management stability," Chapman said. "There is a sector in this community to do an elected mayor again."
Chapman rallied against the elected mayor measure in 2009 and vows to do so again if necessary.
"You would think after three elections and multiple charter review committees that that minority would give up," she said.
"I'm a strong supporter of the council-manager form of government," Chapman continued. "There actually was a benchmark of the study by IBM using corporate benchmarking strategies. They studied 100 cities and they found that management matters a lot. The city manager-council form of government is the most efficient model of government."
What needs to be changed, she said, is to develop more consensus on the commission.
"Most people agree on most things," she said. "If you focus on the things that you agree on instead of focusing on the issue you don't agree on, you can reach consensus, but in addition to reaching consensus, you could reach mutual respect that creates consensus on more issues," she added.
Chapman said the commission focuses on too many little things that distracts them, the Sylint issue being the biggest, but park benches, giving public funds to private projects also factor into that and the commission ought to spend more time on development, infrastructure improvements and the citywide mobility plan, she said.
Bringing more revenue to the city is a difficult task, and Chapman does not want the city to subsidize private businesses to incentivize their operation, but instead do "economic gardening."
"Economic gardening is finding the best location for reach economic function—each project," she said. "And making sure that location is used properly, and making sure the infrastructure supports that."
That would factor in promoting high quality of life uses in the city to attract residents, including walking trails and bike paths.
Downtown events are one of the quality of life features of Sarasota, and Chapman believes the downtown events ought to be downtown, but believes some events have outgrown the downtown core.
"I think there are a lot of very determined special event creators, some more than others, and the city needs to consider the people who are impacted as well as the special events organizers," she said. "In general, it benefits our downtown to have special events. In general, arts and culture benefit our downtown, and we should have to recognize that. And people that move into downtown that downtown will be vibrant."
But when the events leave, there are still nightly events at bars with live music. Chapman said the issue is to find ways to absorb sound.
"Sound absorbtion is a very, very complex issue, and we've been talking about it in very simplistic terms," she said. "Before we make changes, we need to understand the complexities of it."
Experts need to be brought into the fold to study the acoustics of downtown and resolve reverberation issues and find the best practices solutions, she said, but the question is who's job is it to bring in the experts.
"This is not a core city issue," she said. "When I've been to meetings, it's been a lot of restaurant people, a lot of musicians, some condo people saying no," she added. "It's not been to the level of let's talk about how sound works."
Just outside the city's core is the Rosemary District where development needs to be stabilized and predictable.
"One of our problems with development is that we've approved speculative development that has raised the perception that anything will be approved, so you spend too much money for the land and you have too much money for the development that you can't get the project going," she said.
On the North Trail, Chapman said the special issues concerning shallow lots needs to be dealt with parcel-by-parcel.
"I do think we need to encourage redevelopment that works with the educational institutions," Chapman said. "I know when we were talking about the School Avenue project, we were talking about developments around colleges that works—cafes, clothing stores, bars—the things that support student communities."
Chapman cites a placed called The Corner near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., where a whole area is dedicated to those student-friendly businesses.
"Part-in-parcel to the redevelopment to the North Trail is a meaningful mobility plan, and I don't think anything will really work [as a whole] until we get the traffic slowed down," Chapman said. "But I do see at least these college town-type of developments in part of it."
Throughout Sarasota, homelessness is a visible issue.
Chapman, who has a master's of science in social policy planning, said mental health services are key to the solution.
One of which could be a drop-in center for people who have mental illnesses.
"They used peer relationships to reinforce socialization and to reinforce medication compliance," she said. "That was a very important thing. There is no such program right now for people who are homeless, but I do think the county has to help."
The funding has to be addressed, she said, but Chapman thinks "it might be less than what we're spending now" because less time and money would be spent on emergency medical care and on police and jails by spending on preventative care instead.
"But I am opposed to passing out food in public parks," Chapman said.
What's the worst decision the city commission has made?
The Sylint Investigation. "That was a terrible decision. It was distracting us form the lift station."
What is the best decision the city commission has made?
"I think there are some really good decisions that have been made. It good decision to hire the current city manager. Opening the Robert Taylor Center and new public housing in Newtown. The difference is unbelievable."
What issue has the commission not spent enough time on?
"We have major infrastructure issues that need to be resolved. We have major tracts of land that need planned for. We have a very important mobility plan that is sort of moving on very slowly without much momentum. Our mobility plan will be the structure for the future of our city."
What should the commission focus more on?
The city needs to be focusing on making sure we have an economic development plan that makes our high quality standards for the future in addition deal with the fiscal issues with the unfunded pensions.
"I believe we are a community of high standards and that we need to maintain our high standards because that is what our competitive edge is. We have an arts culture, education, history and that should be our vision for the future, too, to maximize our economic potential based on arts, cultural and educational institutions as engines of economic development."
Why should a voter choose Susan Chapman?
"I am somebody who has a measurable record of community service and success. A voice of the people. I have 23 years of experience in this community. I'm a strong problem solver with team building skills."