Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Barwin's Homeless Efforts Hit Snags

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Barwin's Homeless Efforts Hit Snags

Article excerpt

SARASOTA: Wary officials and legal concerns dog new leader's initiatives


City Manager Tom Barwin wanted to move quickly to help the homeless and stop the cases of police insensitivity that marked his first few months on the job. But addressing the problem has been complicated, with Barwin hitting obstacles ranging from wary elected officials to potential snags with Florida's open government rules.

Barwin announced a plan late last year for a new City-County Homeless Advisory Task Force to meet over 90 days to come up with solutions for helping homeless people with substance abuse and mental health issues. He said he wanted to move quickly, and convened the group to "roll up your sleeves and work, work, work."

But he now characterizes the group less formally, last week calling its effort an "evolving working conversation."

The group includes Barwin and representatives from the city police, Coastal Behavioral, First Step, Salvation Army, Sarasota County, the Sheriff's Office, SunCoast Partnership to End Homelessness and Resurrection House, according to Deputy Sarasota County Administrator Bill Little.

Barwin said the group has met three or four times, and he is frequently inviting new people with expertise in different areas to join. Bryan Pope of the Salvation Army, who said he has been to four meetings with the group, called it a "constantly changing cast of characters."

Several other members said they have been to at least three group meetings.

The meetings were not publicly advertised, and minutes were not recorded, raising questions about whether it complies with Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law, promoting public access to government meetings and decision-making.

City Attorney Robert Fournier said the group entered questionable legal terrain.

"Anytime you have a reoccurring group, people are going to question whether a committee had been formed," Fournier said.

If members of a committee are not just presenting facts but are also making recommendations, the group should be subject to the Sunshine Law, according to the legal manual given to Sarasota staff.

Fournier said he asked Barwin twice if he had convened a task force. …

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