Sarasota Planning Board member quits, citing issues with an elected official

Article Courtesy of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune

By Timothy Fanning

Published March 26, 2021


SARASOTA – Sarasota city Planning Board member Patrick Gannon said he is resigning from the voluntary advisory board.

The catalyst for his resignation appears to be a dispute with Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo, who reportedly eavesdropped on Gannon’s private conversations.

In one conversation, Gannon discussed potentially running an advertisement to oppose the City Commission’s decision to allow its mandatory mask ordinance to expire. In another, the longtime Planning Board member spoke to an attorney representing residents who live in his condominium. Gannon, who lives in the condo, would be subsequently voting on a matter going before the Planning Board.

In a February email to city officials, Arroyo said he planned to confront Gannon publicly by having him testify before the Sarasota City Commission.

Arroyo instead met privately with Gannon, City Attorney Bob Fournier and former City Commissioner Eileen Normile on Monday. Arroyo asked for Gannon’s resignation but Gannon refused. He changed his mind the following day.

In his resignation letter to Mayor Hagen Brody on Tuesday, Gannon said:

“It is with great sadness that I have come to realize that under your administration I will be unable to fulfill the last two months of my commitment to this city that I love. My concerns for public health made me unable to support the commissioner’s decision last month to lift the mask ordinance. I expressed my concerns privately, never publicly.”

Gannon added: “In my nearly six years of service to the city of Sarasota as a Planning Board member, I have rigorously followed the city’s public hearing rules and avoided improper communications on matters foreseeably coming before the Planning Board.”

Gannon has served on the Planning Board since May 2015 and is the vice president of the Downtown Sarasota Condominium Association, a consortium of leaders from dozens of condo associations downtown that advocates on behalf of downtown residents. He ran unsuccessfully for the City Commission in 2017. He is term limited from the planning panel in June.

Gannon elaborated briefly on the rationale behind his departure in an interview with the Herald-Tribune.

“It’s the manner in which my criticism expressed privately reached the ears of a commissioner who felt that it was improper for a city advisory board member,” Gannon said in an interview. “I think the commission needs to have a discussion about the appropriate speech from city advisory board members. That is the real crux of the issue there, I think.”

‘Disturbing meeting’

In February, Arroyo sent an email to the city manager, commissioners, the city attorney and Gannon. Arroyo raising concerns about perceived conflicts of interest. Arroyo said he wanted to “subpoena” Gannon. He also said he wanted to discuss an element of the city charter that enables elected leaders to investigate city staff members.

This was in apparent reference to a conversation Gannon had with Robert Lincoln, the attorney who represents Condo on the Bay. People living in the condo have expressed concern over several aspects of downtown Sarasota bayfront redevelopment project known as The Bay. Gannon had said publicly that he is a resident of Condo by the Bay and neither the city’s legal counsel nor The Bay Park Conservancy took issue.

Lincoln told the Herald-Tribune that he had only one conversation with Gannon about a zoning rule changes related to The Bay in October. Multiple people were present and he had similar conversations with other Planning Board members, he said.

During a March 10 Planning Board meeting, Gannon threatened legal action against the city should the issue come before the City Commission.

“I was dismayed and significantly angered as I would expect any Planning Board member would have been to see their name falsely alleging conflict of interest,” Gannon said at the March 10 Planning Board meeting. Gannon said he sought clarity from the city’s legal counsel on multiple occasions.

“I cannot understand how something like this can move forward,” Gannon said. “That a commissioner has such discretion to make such false allegations with no facts behind it.”

Planning Board members stood behind Gannon.

“The only thing shady about Patrick is his love of trees,” said Planning Board member David Morris. “I find the tone of (Arroyo’s) memo to be menacing and I find it absolutely inappropriate in this venue of no evidence.”

During the same Planning Board meeting, several members complained about the behavior of Commissioner Kyle Battie and Arroyo at a Planning Board meeting in early March.

Battie apparently gave a thumbs-up to The Bay Park Conservancy’s attorney, several Planning Board Members said.

Battie reportedly also made a gesture that Planning Board member Terrill Salem interpreted as “You have nothing to worry about, you have my approval.”

Planning Board members also accused Arroyo of exhibiting some of the same behavior. They have addressed those concerns with City Manager Marlon Brown.

“I just felt like he interfered with our process,” Salem said on March 10. “He was undermining us and there is no place for that in the city.”

Arroyo, Gannon and Fournier met on Monday to discuss Gannon’s alleged conflict of interest. Former commissioner Normile was also present.

Gannon declined to elaborate on details discussed at the meeting when reached by phone.

Normile, in an interview with the Herald-Tribune, said: “It was one of the most disturbing meetings I have ever sat through.”

According to Normile’s account of the meeting, Arroyo admitted to eavesdropping on a private Zoom call with several downtown residents.

He also said he reviewed a private email from Gannon that discussed the possibility of running an advertisement opposing Sarasota’s decision to allow its mandatory mask ordinance to expire.

Brody accepted Gannon’s resignation on Tuesday. In a text message with the Herald-Tribune, Brody declined to comment.

“I’m busy preparing our mass vaccination events this weekend at the Van Wezel and have zero time for advisory board drama or nonsense,” Brody said.

Arroyo, in a text message to the Herald-Tribune, did not address the specific concerns raised by Gannon.

“Mr. Gannon has served this city for years and we thank him and anyone who makes that strong commitment to public service,” Arroyo said in a text message. “I’ve directed the city manager to honor his service and dedication with a plaque that we will present at a future meeting.”

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch said she will not accept Gannon’s resignation. Ahearn-Koch said she plans to object to his resignation at the next commission meeting. Ahead of that discussion about whether to accept the resignation, there is a separate agenda item to potentially fill Gannon’s vacant planning board seat. The city typically fills those positions in January and June.

Of Gannon, Ahearn-Koch said he served honorably and was an “incredible asset to the Planning Board and I don’t understand why he’s even putting his resignation, especially since he has two months to go.”