Laurel Kaiser – Ballt Initiative Discussion

 Laurel Kaiser – Ballot Initiative Discussion;

It is my suggestion that incumbent and future Board Members of the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, agree to comply with Sunshine Laws of the State of Florida in all communications related to Board Business.  All of my historic and present Board and Private Business correspondence, is saved and available for examination, upon request, by any interested member of the Sailing Squadron.

I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to respond to the concerns of Board Members who questioned, and apparently misunderstood the intention and the substance of my meetings with City Officials and City Commissioners during the week of April 1, 2013.  I have solicited the Boards’ questions and asked for this opportunity since becoming aware of their concerns on April 9, when they voted to remove me from the Board on vague allegations of misconduct. I am confident, that having the opportunity to read my explanations, members will continue to support my participation on the Board.

Rebuttal and Complete Explanations for Concerned Squadron Members –

*No conflict of interest has ever existed between me,  Laurel Kaiser, owner of Island Style Watersports and the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.

*I did not, to my knowledge, possess or disclose any pertinent and confidential information ever, to anyone.  If I had any knowledge of confidential information  I would not use it in order to gain personally.

*I did engage in undisclosed and unauthorized meetings with Public Officials, within the ordinary and customary confines of my ongoing,  professional and personal interests in various concerns that are fully outlined herein.

*I did not present myself to any City or County Official or Commissioner, as a Board Member at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.  In fact, I clearly stated that although I am a Squadron Board Member;   I was in no way representing the Squadron or the Board in my discussions or my concerns,  regarding  the kayak storage facility.

Conflict of Interest –

I have owned and operated a business in the City of Sarasota for 20 years.  In my business, I provide water sports instruction, rental equipment, tours and related services to customers who use equipment and receive instruction,  primarily at City and County Park locations.  I have always considered myself,  as a business person, a native Sarasotan  and a Parks Advocate,  to be a trusted partner and not an adversary of the City and County with whom I have worked cooperatively throughout my 20 years in business.

When I became a Board Member at the Sailing Squadron, I did not become an adversary of the City of Sarasota. The Squadron and the City are, in partnership, together providing public access to low cost sailing  and appurtenant social and  educational opportunities on city (citizen),  owned property.    My membership and volunteerism at the Sailing Squadron  and my election to the Board, do not, create a conflict of interest with either the water sports business that I own or the City (citizens) of Sarasota. 

In truth,  the alliances that I have built and the cooperative efforts that define my business relationships with representatives and administrators in both the City and the County are obvious and well documented in City and County Commission meeting minutes dating back to 1993.   My working relationship with City Staff Member, Neil Gaines, with whom I worked closely in 2009 and 2010, as a Parks Advocate and as an appointed member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee –  tasked with redesigning Bird Key Park, where I have provided water sports opportunities and  services to the public since 1993; opened the door for the current cooperative efforts between the Squadron and the City of Sarasota in partnering to build and manage kayak racks on city property known as the radio station property.

As the initiator of this  partnership : I brought the City’s proposal to Bill Niblock in 2010 and advised him; that although it did not (and does not), not fit within my present or future business plan to pursue this opportunity:  to build and manage kayak racks at Ken Thompson Park –  I was, and I remain, certain, and apprehensive,  that some other business entity would, or will soon be,  interested and successful in pursuing this unprecedented opportunity.   I was concerned about the potential conflict of undesirable and unnecessary commercial encroachment on public property in such close proximity to the Squadron’s leasehold.    I advised and encouraged Bill to consider the opportunity for the Sailing Squadron and advocated that the Club could and should step in and fulfill this stated need, in a new and separate partnership with the City.  The history of ensuing Board discussions, my appointment by David Jennings and subsequent removal as Chairperson of the committee and other developments of the proposal are available separately from this rebuttal.

Disclosure and Use of Confidential Information for Personal Gain –

Neither I nor my business interests, or that of my family or associates;  could possibly gain – or lose revenue or strategic advantage;  from the successful launch or failure of the proposed joint venture between the Sailing Squadron and the City of Sarasota, in providing public kayak storage to the public on city owned property at Ken Thompson Park.

As to the allegation that I disclosed confidential information, not generally available to the public, which was acquired in the course of serving on the Board – I cannot respond adequately to this alleged violation as no specific reference has been made to information that I possessed or shared.  To my knowledge, I did not possess any confidential information – nor would I then or now, disclose this information for personal gain.

Engaging in Undisclosed and Unauthorized Meetings with Public Officials –

As recently as February 2013, I did, with authority of the Board, represent the Squadron in meetings with Public Officials.  I initiated contact, and represented myself and the Squadron, as a Board Member;  with State Representative Ray Pilon and asked if he would be interested in assisting the Squadron in our challenges of securing a sovereign submerged lands lease for the original 38 moorings.  The Commodore, commended this initiative and encouraged my pursuit of this alliance.  Subsequently,  David Jennings and I , together, met with Representative Pilon and his Staff, establishing the alliance and laying the groundwork for the Representative’s  present and  future intervention, at the State level,  in this matter, on our behalf.  Also, I later participated with the Commodore and other Board members in a similar overture and meeting with Representative Boyd.

In these  meetings in question,  with City Officials and Commissioners, in April of 2013 – when the kayak storage facility was also discussed –  I consulted with all of the City Commissioners, the Assistant City Manager, Assets Manager and Public Works Manager on  a variety of issues pertaining to my business operations that take place within city parks, and those parks operated and manag
ed by the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department. Specifically,  I updated them on  the problems that I as a vendor and Parks Advocate, am addressing at Ted Sperling Park where my employees conduct kayak tours and provide rental equipment.  I reviewed details and proposed options for pending regulations coming before the County Commission.and Parks Advisory Board.  I explained my initiative, which I had recently presented to the City Parking Enforcement Advisory Board and City Parking Enforcement Director, Mark Lyons; in which I outlined a cost effective  solution for enforcing the permit for vendors through a cooperative agreement between City Parking Enforcement and the County Parks Department.  I also asked for the Commissioners support in renewing efforts in enforcing existing regulations that prohibit commercial transactions at Bird Key Park and Ken Thompson Park,  where I have, in cooperation with the City of Sarasota provided water sports instruction and related equipment through my business transactions at Island Style.

I also discussed the kayak storage facility proposal that was discussed in the most recent City Commission meeting which I did not participate in but had viewed online. I explained that although I am a member of the Board at the Squadron, I was NOT, representing the Squadron when explaining my disagreement with  retired Sheriff, Mayor Shannon Snyder’s opinion;  that in order to secure the equipment; a perimeter fence would be necessary.  I expressed my opinion, that in fact, the  plan brought before the Commissioners by  David Jennings and Manager Craig Bridges,  adequately and effectively provided for security of the equipment by means of individually padlocked gates across the access to each kayak.

I had varying conversation with Commissioners and Staff  concerning the Sailing Squadron and the service and opportunity that we provide to the Community.  I expressed appreciation and respect for their ongoing and renewed commitment to furthering the Squadron’s goals of providing low cost and accessible sailing opportunities to the community.  I answered several questions, to the best of my knowledge, that pertained to the size of our membership, the membership fees and the status of our pursuit of the mooring field lease.  I answered specific questions of one Commissioner, unfamiliar with our lease agreement and discussed the sharing of revenue as stipulated in our lease with the City.  It is has been my goal to maintain an open line of communication with City Officials and City Commissioners; as a private business person and Parks Advocate.  As a Board Member,  I am also available, and welcome the opportunity to converse with City Officials regarding the Squadron.   It is undeniable that the City Officials and Commissioners spoke to me; as a Squadron Board Member and that I addressed their questions, as such, on some issues.

Using her Board Position to Influence Negotiation Outcomes –

This allegation is unclear.  While stating that I used my board position to influence negotiation outcomes; it further states and clearly confirms that I presented myself to the City officials and Commissioners as a “private citizen”.  I did not, covertly lobby public officials.  I did not present myself as a Board Member.  I did express support for the proposal as presented by Commodore David Jennings and Craig Bridges. I confirmed Craig Bridges testimony that security issues that briefly flared up on Squadron property previously,  were no longer of concern.  I pointed out; that, as presented; the storage facility proposal, contained  well thought  out and comprehensive security measures that were both convenient and adequate in securing equipment; while affording liberal and easy access to stored equipment and giving considerable priority to the conservation and preservation of green space and public access to park land.  I further pointed out that encumbering the proposal’s success and delaying the implementation;  through the unnecessary and cumbersome process required to provide for the inclusion of a perimeter fence (as suggested by Shannon Snyder),  was neither desirable or feasible; as the applicable ordinance protecting the park land and  green space requires that costly and time consuming process be followed;  of public notice, meetings and approval of exceptions.  In addition, time consuming and unpredictable negotiations would be required in revising the interlocal agreement between City and County.  I further explained, that  it is my strong opinion that a perimeter fence would only serve to detract from the project’s stated goal of providing conveniently located, accessible and affordable kayak storage at Ken Thompson Park. to city and county residents who are not Squadron Members.

*As for the assertion pertaining to costs and increased expense should the perimeter fence idea be scrapped-

The proposal prepared and presented by the Squadron, called for securing the kayaks in individual storage lockers with small chain link gates secured with privately owned and provided padlocks or cables. 

The cost of this security is roughly $2600.

The cost of an additional perimeter fence is roughly $1600. without the inclusion of a rolling gate.

The addition of a perimeter fence would not in any way alter the necessity for the individually secured lockers. Quite obviously, if the individual lockers were not secured; gaining entry to the perimeter enclosure would afford unlimited access to ALL of the unsecured equipment stored in the racks.

The cost of an additional (and unnecessary),  perimeter fence would increase the overall cost of securing the equipment –  by more than 50%.  This, according to estimates that I acquired from two reputable, local  fencing contractors; while serving as Kayak Storage Facility, Committee Chairman in 2012.

*As for the assertion that I endeavored to maintain my practice of storing my pontoon boat, trailer and truck, on city property:
In 2011, I began storing my pontoon boat, trailer and truck, next to the fence and adjacent to the entrance to the Radio Tower enclosure at Ken Thompson Park.  This, arrangement, was admittedly, unorthodox. It was however, fully understood, between myself and the Radio Tower leaseholder’s representative, with whom I frequently interacted, to be mutually agreeable.  It was believed, by both parties, that the 12′ strip of land,  that my equipment occupied, was included in the easement controlled by the leaseholder.  It was revealed, in discussions with City Staff, that this 12′ was not, in fact part of the leasehold of the Radio Tower, as previously  thought.   Upon discovery of the distinction; I appropriately,  without hesitation, discussion or complaint, immediately and permanently removed the equipment.  This discovery and subsequent removal took place prior to my meetings with City Commissioners. It is notable that throughout the duration of my unorthodox storage arrangement; members of management and the Board were well aware of how and where my equipment was stored.  I had been asked, and volunteered to make the boat available on more than one occasion for use in regattas.

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