By Rachel Brown Hackney
For a couple of months, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino stopped making appearances at County Commission meetings. He was back at it on May 23, as the board held two regular sessions in Sarasota.
On May 23, Cosentino voiced admiration for Commissioner Nancy Detert, who was elected last fall, but he indicated he did not know that much yet about Commissioner Michael Moran, who also was elected in 2016. Cosentino then accused the other three board members of being corrupt.
More than a year ago, Cosentino said, he undertook research at the Supervisor of Elections Office, where he discovered that Dennis and Wendy Madden had given money to the 2014 election campaigns of both Chair Paul Caragiulo and Commissioner Alan Maio.
The Maddens were among the three sets of owners of North Beach Road property who petitioned the board last year for the vacation of a 357-foot segment of that road. The board also voted to allow the Maddens to combine the square footage of the abandoned road section with parcels they own landward and seaward of the road, so they had enough property to qualify for the construction of six new dwelling units in place of 12 units that do not meet modern building standards.
“You’re clearly outside of the law,” Cosentino told the commissioners on May 23, citing the county Comprehensive Plan policies he has referenced in his lawsuit against the county over the North Beach Road vacation.
“Everybody keeps saying, you know, ‘Mike, calm down,’” he continued. “When I started out, I said [to the board], ‘This [May 11, 2016 vote] was a mistake. Let’s get together and fix this mistake.’ There has been no attempt to fix this mistake.”
Cosentino then repeated a claim he has lodged in the past — that “numerous counts of false testimony [were] given under oath” during the May 11, 2016 public hearing on the road vacation and Maddens’ petition for a Coastal Setback Variance.
“You guys are using taxpayer dollars to cover up your illegal acts and to keep me from being able to speak,” Cosentino added of the county’s fighting his lawsuit. “I think it’s despicable.”
As that appearance came before Memorial Day, Cosentino also thanked all the members of the military “for giving me my right to free speech.”
The following day, Cosentino started out his comments with the remark, “Interestingly enough, social studies show that the biggest liars on the Earth all tell the truth 85% of the time … I stand before you to speak of the collusion and corruption that led to the horrible vote on May 11,” which, he continued, was predicated on lies, as demonstrated by “the various county documents” that he has obtained through public records requests.
Then Cosentino pointed out that May is Older Americans Month. As he has many times in the past, he singled out Commissioner Charles Hines. On this occasion, he said that because of the May 11, 2016 vote, Hines’ mother “can’t walk down that street anymore,” referring to the vacated segment of North Beach Road. The 2016 action has kept all of the elderly people and “mobility-impaired” from access to the road, Cosentino added.
In 1993, the county closed that portion of North Beach Road to vehicular traffic because the road had been damaged repeatedly by storms. The vacation the board approved last year allows all public access to the road, except by motor vehicle.
Cosentino proceeded to criticize County Administrator Tom Harmer for what Cosentino alleged was collusion with the three sets of property owners to close the North Beach Road section — again, citing documents Cosentino had obtained through his public records requests. (Many of them are referenced in his second amended complaint against the county. In April, the Maddens won a partial summary judgment ruling from 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Frederick Mercurio, in response to arguments in a counterclaim they filed against Cosentino.)
After Cosentino finished his May 24 remarks, Commissioner Detert asked to make a comment. She wanted to congratulate Caragiulo, she said, for his style of leadership.
Addressing Caragiulo, she continued, “Apparently, you believe in true democracy, where anybody can get up and say anything to us for 3 minutes, and it’s kind of a nice philosophy. Most of us would get angry or upset or want to rebut.”
Allowing Cosentino to levy allegations against the board members without their offering any responses — as is their protocol — is “kind of a new concept to me,” Detert added. “To be accused of some of the things that speaker comes and tells us at every meeting, it’s a little hard to sit through. I just congratulate your calmness and fairness, frankly,” she told Caragiulo.
“Thank you, Senator,” Caragiulo replied. (Detert served in the state Senate prior to her election to the commission.)
As for those proposed charter amendments …
Mike Cosentino is continuing to add valid voter signatures on his petitions for two proposed Sarasota County Charter amendments, which would reverse the County Commission’s 2016 votes regarding North Beach Road.
A May 31 check with the Supervisor of Elections Office found that the total on proposed amendment 4.1 is 3,788. That says, “The County shall not sell, and shall retain ownership of, County-owned Parks and Preserves, and shall not vacate or sell County-owned road segments or rights of way along or abutting any beach, river, creek, canal, lake, bay, gulf access or waterfront vista. The County shall encourage maximum right of way use for public access and viewing of waterfront vistas.”
Amendment 4.2 would rescind the abandonment of, or have the county re-acquire, the section of North Beach Road that the commissioners voted to turn over to the Maddens and the two other sets of petitioners. The total number of valid county voter signatures on that one as of May 31 was 3,792.
On April 17, the total on 4.1 was 1,563, while the total for 4.2 was 1,559, the Supervisor of Elections Office said at that time.
Altogether, Cosentino must have 13,866 on each proposed Charter amendment to get it on a ballot, the Supervisor of Elections Office has explained.