Street Stories

By staff February 1, 2002

High-end squawkers

News flash! Some of Sarasota's new high-rises are being nibbled and pecked to death by.parrots?

Among Sarasota's charming features are the flocks of wild green parrots that have invaded the town during the last decade. Noisy and colorful, the birds lend a tropical air to our community. But as usual, the law of unintended consequences has struck.

A bit of background. Did you know all the geegaws and curlicues hanging off the several new "Mediterranean-style" condo towers in town are actually molded styrofoam? And did you know that wild parrots love to discover cool new places to nest communally?

Well, that's true; and now those raucous birds have discovered they can peck holes-burrows, actually-into that styrofoam. A maintenance worker at Huntington Plaza says he daily finds "what looks like popcorn all over the ground every morning, but it's styrofoam pecked out by the parrots." Possible solutions thus far, according to one architect, don't include shotguns-yet.

Save your money

Downtown bookies are gleefully taking the money of true believers in the strong mayor referendum coming up next month in the city. What I'm hearing is that there aren't even any odds being offered or asked.

With the defeat of Dan Kennedy's bid to fill the remaining 18 months of now-Bradenton Police Chief Al Hogle's term, it looks as though the strong mayor group was dealt a serious, maybe fatal, blow. Kennedy, who lost to Mary Anne Servian, was widely seen as the stalking horse for the strong mayor movement, and probably its candidate if the referendum passed.

The smart money is staying in the pocket on this one.

Now hear this!

"There's a lot more power in being the puppet master than the puppet."

Retired City Manager David Sollenberger on the strong mayor movement's financial support from some prominent businessmen.

Best Bites

Two food tips on the new Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.

The most romantic new sunset watching spot in town is the Ritz's Bay View Bar & Grill. This second-floor outdoor bar overlooks the channel out to Sarasota Bay and New Pass beyond and is a spot for serious wooing.

Sure, the Ritz-Carlton dining room is the hot new power dining spot in town, but if you want to skip all the folderol, try this.

Every morning you can enjoy coffee and pastries at one of the private little tables set up just outside the Ritz gift shop. By mid-morning that pastry case in the shop is filling with some of the most amazing deserts you've probably ever seen-and individual servings are available the rest of the day.

So if all you want is a quick cup of coffee and something delicious to go with it, meet a friend at the gift shop, where Ivana the shopkeeper will tend to your caffeine, sugar and chocolate cravings.

Speak up

Want to become a genuine Sarasotan? Then give the city or county commission a piece of your mind.

Every first and third Monday evening of the month, beginning at 6 p.m., the city commission can be found in its city hall chambers trying to deal with some fiendishly complicated issue. Some issue you probably have an opinion about-informed or not.

Think megahouses are great or awful? What about speed bumps or spending your tax dollars to hire an expensive out-of-town consultant?

How about passing a civil rights ordinance forbidding age discrimination that just might outlaw senior citizen discounts?

You get the idea.

The county commission does the same Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The reality is most citizens never bother to tell their leaders what they think-and believe it not-most of those commissioners would like to know. OK, so you have to sign one of those "yella forms" as city clerk Billy Robinson calls them, and you may have to sit through what seems like interminable talk until your name is called.

But it's worth it. Suddenly you'll be able to look right in the eye those names you've been voting (we hope) for or against over the years. And you'll find that being respectful nearly always results in being treated that way.

Hey, you're a Sarasotan. A taxpayer and a voter, and that allows you to give the commissioners a piece of your mind whenever you like. Do it. Maybe you'll help make "America's best small town" a better place to live.

Hot Seat

Michael McNees, Sarasota's newly arrived city manager, has about six months here under his belt. A one-time Big 10 track champion who went on to gain a reputation as a tough numbers guy while working for the Collier County government, McNees gave us his first impressions.

Q. Do you prefer Michael or Mike?

A. Mike-it's easier to say, but either is fine.

Q. How does Sarasota compare with Naples?

A. Sarasota and Naples are alike in terms of basic demographics, economics-even racially they're similar. The difference is there's a lot more texture and diversity of interests in Sarasota. Sarasota is simply a more urban place.

Q: Any big surprises or disappointments?

A: My expectations of what Sarasota is about have been met. No, there have been no disappointments.

Q. You're here to manage a city. How do you manage the city commission?

A. The city commission is a very diverse group, and I deal with each commissioner as an individual, paying attention to how they think and do things. In addition, it's important to make sure that each of them is getting good and timely information.

Q. Any thoughts on the strong mayor movement coming up for referendum next month in the city?

A. That issue affects me way too much as an individual to comment.

Q. Three Collier County commissioners are being accused of taking kickbacks from developers. Any comment?

A. I was never in that particular loop of county government as evidenced by the fact none of those three ever voted for me as county manager. I'm proud of that now.

Q: You certainly give the impression of being a very centered person-are you? A. I think of myself that way. Balance is very important in my life. For example, in Naples I spent a lot of time in community theater work in addition to government; and frankly, I think both groups thought I was a little crazy. But part of my nature is to have an even keel-and I try to cultivate that because when things get going wrong, those in control of themselves are the most effective.


Valentine's Day is upon us, and that means you'd better have some pretty good romantic ideas, or you might be celebrating it with somebody else next year. Think boats and water. Think waterfront drinks and dining. Think gourmet picnic baskets you can order (full of great food and wine) from places like The Gourmet Market at 1469 Main St. or Morton's on Osprey.

For sunset cruises, there's the Enterprise at Marina Jack if you're into sailing, or Le Barge if you're not. If you want to make a real overnight trip out of it, there's Chitwood Charter's trawlers, berthed at the Hyatt.

Just make sure you make reservations for your waterfront dining if a restaurant is your choice. They get mighty crowded on Valentine's Day.

To avoid the crowds and revel in that most romantic of experiences, good conversation, I'd take that gourmet picnic basket to a favorite secluded beach spot and after dark...hmmmm, maybe do a little Valentine's Day skinny-dipping.

Now that's real Sarasota living.

Rumor Mills

Political gossips have County Commissioner David Mills looking for a new job. True, he still has one more run before being term-limited out, but rumor has him laying groundwork now.

First there was the story that Mills would move into the city so he could run for the strong mayor job, if that passed. That, however, looks less and less likely, now that Dan Kennedy, widely considered the strong mayor stalking horse, was defeated in the recent City Commission race by Mary Anne Servian, who opposed the concept.

Then, at a County Commission meeting recently, Mills suddenly started berating "a local legislator" who he said wasn't being honest about what they were voting for in Tallahassee during the special sessions. Said they were voting one way on budget items and coming back home to tell folks they'd voted differently.

Mills refused to name whom he was talking about but his comments immediately sparked chatter about his prospects of a possible run for the legislature. Historically, however, the county commission has almost never led to the legislature, if for no other reason than that it's a big pay cut.

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