Gruters Proposes Two At-Large County Commissioners

Todays News

Photo courtesy Sen. Joe Gruters Facebook.

Should Sarasota County have seven county commissioners instead of five? Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said he plans to bring a local bill forward that would add two at-large commissioners to the board.

Such a move would again create a substantial change in the way a full commission is elected. Voters in 2018 approved a switch from electing all five commissioners in county-wide elections to instead electing them through single-member voting. In March last year, voters rejected a referendum that would have reversed course and returned to county-wide voting.

Gruters said he doesn’t want to change how the five existing seats on the commission are filled. But he still has a problem with every voter in the county only being able to elect only one member of the county commission.

“Sometimes one county commissioner is not enough,” he said at the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation meeting. “We saw it with Ian.” He said when the massive hurricane hit only South Sarasota County last year, it put an undue burden on one commission office. 

Adding two county commissioners, Gruters said, would mean three members of a seven-member board were directly responsive to every individual in the county.

It’s not an unprecedented structure. Manatee County elects five members through single member districts and two through at-large elections, similar to Gruters’ proposal. The City of Sarasota has five members on its City Commission, three elected in single-member districts and two at-large.

Of note, the Florida Legislature since 1982 has elected all its members in single-member districts. Gruters is the only state senator representing Sarasota County. Three state representatives serve portions of the county, but every citizen is elected by one senator and one representative.

A change to the county structure would need to be approved by voters in a county-wide referendum.

State Rep. James Buchanan, R-Sarasota, noted at the delegation meeting that Sarasota County is a charter county. That means a referendum could be brought forward three ways: though a local bill approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor; though a vote by the Sarasota County Commission; or through a measure proposed by the Sarasota County Charter Review Board.

No bill has been crafted and publicly released yet. A meeting for the legislative delegation to hear such a bill would need to be advertised in advance.

Photo courtesy Sen. Joe Gruters Facebook.

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