Election 2010: Q&A with Nora Patterson, Republican incumbent for Sarasota County Commission, District 4

October 12th, 2010 by Susan Nilon in NewsPolitics reprinted from Creative Loafing

2news2 webRepublican Nora Patteron is running for her 4th term as Sarasota County Commissioner against newcomer Democrat Mark Hawkins. She served on the Sarasota City Commission (1991-1998) before she gained her County seat.
CL: Are there any things in particular from your time in the commission that you can say, “I want to see it through?”
There are positive things that I want to see through, but there are also negative things that I want to see turn the other way around, that I have confidence will turn the other way around. One is the economy of the area, which is a big job. Anybody who says that if they are elected they are going to single-handedly make things change is basically taking on, not just the west coast of Florida, but the state of the economy in Florida, and in the country, and maybe the world. But Sarasota County, like the rest of Florida, has a pretty unstable economy and the recession is the perfect illustration of that. We depend on tourism and construction far too much. The state has only marginally stepped up to the plate and we have been working for the last few years to try to diversify our economy. This current recession is the perfect poster child as to why those efforts need to be stepped up.
Are there any projects in particular that you think would help turn the economy around in Sarasota?
You should pick up the new book that the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has put together, in partnership with the County, on all of the incentives that we have now for bringing businesses into the community and for encouraging expansion of businesses. The icing on the cake was the referendum that has just passed by a goodly margin allowing us to offer county, as well as the municipalities who are partnering with us on this, property taxes to be mitigated for up to ten years along with the equipment — which is especially important to manufacturing. To me, that showed me that not only were the public willing to step up to the plate, but they supported what we were doing in general, which is terrific.
We have, since last fall, put several million dollars out as a fund to offer extra incentives … we haven’t really had a fund to dip into for requests from companies that don’t fit the mold. And since that time in using that fund, we have brought in 950 some jobs since last fall. Those jobs are not all on the table right now, but they are starting and the incentives are only given as the jobs are produced. They should be a reality within the next couple of years. Now that is not a solution to the problem; the problem is much bigger than 950 jobs. But it’s a really good start and it shows that we can do that even in the face of this deep recession.
When you say that our economy is currently based on tourism and construction (and land development), what would you see replacing it with?
A combination of some industry, some manufacturing — although the U.S. is peculiarly lacking in manufacturing trade right now. Intellectual properties should really be our strong point, but we are competing for the same industries that everybody else wants: the high-tech industries, the people who have a new service to sell out of the area. That is really the key — businesses that bring outside dollars into the community.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton has been a large opponent of Amendment 4. How do you feel about Amendment 4?
I think all of the County Commissioners oppose Amendment 4. To me, Amendment 4 is hanging a “closed for business” sign out in the front of the state of Florida. And while proponents say we are exaggerating the expansive nature of the proposal, the perception is going to be that we really don’t want to do business. We would be putting folks that might, for their business, need any change on the comprehensive plan (which could be something as small as upgrading a road that would be needed to make their business viable) … would have to be taken to a popular vote. Referendums cost nearly a half of million dollars to put out. So you would have to ask the one proposing that to pay the half a million dollars, or they would have to wait for a regular election cycle, or the community would have to foot the bill for multiple half millions dollar referendums. There is no way that an entrepreneur wanting to move their business here could depend on the outcome on the referendum.
How can the proponents of Amendment 4 be satisfied that we are not going to over-develop the land or that business interests are not going to dictate how decisions are made in regard to our comprehensive plan?
Here in Sarasota, while we are sometimes accused of being development-friendly, we are also accused of being development unfriendly. So maybe we walk down a reasonable path. I don’t think the majority of the population believes that we have fostered uncontrolled growth. In fact, if they did none of us would be in office. I feel Sarasota County has a pretty good handle at sticking to reasonable levels of growth — what I hope would be euphemistically called “Smart Growth” as opposed to just anything that comes along gets approved.
Let’s talk about your opponent, Mark Hawkins. How do you see yourself set apart from who he is or what he has to offer?
I worked full time when I was on the City commission. I also found time to serve on a lot of non-profit boards. I was very involved in community service long before I ran for elected office. I don’t see that in Mark’s record. I have experience in dealing with very large budgets. I have experience in the art of governing — which is not a simple art. I am the person on the commission that is normally looked at to do the math. I can look at a budget presentation and understand it. I am interested in it. I follow the budget. I am a fiscal conservative. And I think I have the experience to know when a risk is worth taking for the betterment of the community, and when something is just not practical.
Mark has no government experience. He has never even served on a county or city board — well that’s not true, he did serve on the home Remodeler’s Board which is his own line of work. But that’s it. I have never seen him at a budget meeting. When we go to debates, his quotes are not accurate. He seems to be a nice guy, but I would say that my background and my experience serves me well.
What are most proud of in your work as a County Commissioner?
When you have been in office a long time you can almost drive around in the community and say, “I’ve had a little hand in that and a little hand in that.” I am really proud that we have cut county taxes during the time that I have been in office by just about 25 percent. And did it while adding new parks; adding new libraries and improving older ones; while building out portions of the road grid system; while investing in transit. When I came onto the county board, there were no reserve policies and we have established reserve policies and we have put together a $50 million hurricane disaster fund. We would have had to dip into that if we would have had oil on our shores, but we would have had money to do it. Plus another $90 million dollars that we put aside knowing that the bubble would burst.