We apply business leadership to important community issues
About The Argus Foundation
The Argus Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization based in Sarasota County. Established in 1983, we are a think tank and government watchdog. Our founders were concerned about an anti-business climate in government and wanted to make sure they had a pure, unified business voice, unfiltered by government but solution-oriented and collaborative. Argus was born out of the founders’ concern for future generations.
We have a diverse membership representing dozens of industries. Our member companies come from sectors including, but not limited to, healthcare, law, architecture, contracting, manufacturing, aeronautics, banking, certified public accounting, hospitality, farming, education, and others. We require our member businesses to be represented by CEOs or other high-level executives and decision makers.
We seek to bring together our diverse roster of business leaders and use their talents and expertise to facilitate communication and an exchange of ideas between the public and private sectors.
Our members care deeply about our community as a place to live, work, and grow. Thus, we closely monitor community and local government issues, and take positions or act on them selectively. When we do, we come to the table with constructive solutions and suggestions.
We maintain a broad community perspective and strive to contribute to the future. We search for solutions and try to understand the underlying nature of problems. We don’t expect quick fixes. Rather, we believe that persistent attention and incremental change will help our community evolve in ways that are positive for everyone.
Over the years we have tackled critical issues that have led to increased awareness and advocated for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Here is just a handful of the campaigns on which The Argus Foundation has led.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, The Argus Foundation led the way with a team of local community foundations and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to study our county’s education system in the SchoolMatch Study. According to a Herald-Tribune article that was written following the study’s completion, the results were felt very quickly. The study revealed that low-achieving students were being left behind and dropping out. It recommended that the community pursue an additional 1 mill tax for schools. This became a public referendum that was originally passed in 2002 and has since passed twice. It is largely credited for Sarasota County’s A rating by the state. The study, referendum and resulting tax revenues gave local schools the flexibility they needed to provide equal access to education for all kids.
Unfunded Pension Liabilities
We were instrumental in alerting our cities, especially the City of Sarasota, to the ticking time bombs of unfunded pension liabilities. This has now become a major budget consideration every year in all municipalities that fund their own pension systems. The cities have begun to take steps to tackle this tough problem.
Sarasota County 911 Services Consolidation
In 2012, Argus brought former Louisville mayor and Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson to Sarasota County to speak about consolidation of government. This was the spark that led to the consolidation of 911 services in Sarasota County, which offered to provide emergency dispatch services to the county’s cities for free. This saved money for the cities and, more importantly, reduced the likelihood of dropped calls–gaining precious, life-saving seconds.
School Board Public Meetings
Argus advocated for secret meetings of the Sarasota County School Board to be eliminated, and for workshops to be held in the school board’s chambers. They now have discussions that are open to the public and recorded on video, allowing the decision-making process to be seen and heard as it happens.
Public Service Tax Increase Opposition
In 2017 Argus opposed a proposal for a county public service tax, which would have levied a five percent tax on electricity, water, propane, and natural gas in unincorporated Sarasota County. We saw that the tax would harm the one-third of county residents living on the financial edge, just one disaster away from homelessness. This proposal came to a vote while some residents and businesses were without power because of Hurricane Irma. Many people did not even know a tax increase was being discussed.
Using guest opinion columns and social media, we alerted residents and business owners, who were empowered to voice their concerns. The tax was voted down, and rather than drop the issue Argus offered other solutions to the need for additional revenue in the county budget.
City of Sarasota Government Elections
In 2018 we were a catalyst and partner for a bipartisan effort to change the date of the City of Sarasota’s elections from spring of odd-numbered years to fall of even-numbered years. It was a two-year effort that brought together a cohort of civil rights organizations, volunteers, business associations, current and former elected officials, and city voters, all working to increase voter turnout in the City of Sarasota commission elections—particularly minority voters and voters under 29. This group collected petitions and exceeded the number required to place the issue on the November 18 ballot by almost 1,000. The referendum passed overwhelmingly, with over 63 percent of the vote. It will save city taxpayers about $100,000 per election cycle and bring a more diverse voices to the table in electing the leadership of city government.
Sarasota County Water Quality Practices
At the end of 2018, Argus was the catalyst behind a loose group of organizations consisting of environmentalists and community foundations successfully asking the Sarasota County Commission to include water quality as a top priority in 2019.
Sarasota County Water Quality Practices
In 2019, we continued our work on water quality and successfully urged the county commission to fund septic tank replacement again.
Sarasota Workforce Training Efforts
Argus also worked with the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and CareerEdge on implementing workforce training in Newtown with the HVAC program at the Roy McBean Boys and Girls Club. It was a year of accountability with both our school system and local governments. We took strong positions, compelling government to examine its practices.
Downtown Sarasota Administrative Review
We also had success in keeping administrative review, a promise of the highly collaborative Downtown Masterplan, intact in the City of Sarasota.
Sarasota County Mobility Fees
In 2019, Argus also ensured the proper implementation of mobility fees on the Sarasota County level.
COVID-19 Business Aid
In 2020, we adjusted to COVID and assisted the business community with policies helping businesses re-open. Once the Governor began opening the business community up at the end of April, COBA sent detailed letters drafted by Argus to Sarasota County, and the cities of North Port, Sarasota, and Venice, we requested important accommodations including the waiver of permitting fees, the expansion of right-of-way use, expedited permitting due to COVID-19 related improvements, the relaxation of sign code enforcement, waivers of permitting costs for tents for outdoor dining and retail, and the opening of beaches and boat ramps. Partnering with business organizations representing over 7,000 businesses, we were able to begin getting relief for the business community within days of sending the letter.
Argus has taken a strong leadership role in advocating getting CARES Act monies out to the community for both businesses and individuals. We gathered a coalition of community leaders including leaders in the business community, the arts community, the NAACP, and the non-profit community to ask the county commission to get the money out into the community quickly. We also advocated against government taking the money to plug their own budget holes. We went from one of the worst counties in the state for providing COVID federal relief to one of the best in the state. Additionally, we were successful in our efforts to implement a portion of the NAACP plan, along with the Sarasota Chamber, to advocate for internet access for our county families on free and reduced lunch who are distance learning.
Speaker Series & Candidate Forums
We had a strong speaker series in 2019 with over 2,000 people attending our events. We heard from Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, Senator Rick Scott, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, Reason Foundation and a joint meeting with Gulf Coast Builders Exchange featuring The James Madison Institute. Additionally, we held a well-attended water quality summit jointly with South County Tiger Bay.
In 2020, we held meetings with former Congressional representatives and also the Chief Science Officer for Florida. We also held a luncheon on minimum wage with former ABC 20/20 co-anchor and former Fox News journalist John Stossel prior to the COVID shut down. After COVID-19 forced our closure, we were the first local organization to begin Zoom Candidate forums. We held our first forum within weeks of the government shut down. We held a total of five candidate forums by Zoom in 2020, all of which are available on our website under “News” and our YouTube channel.
After the government shut down began, we started a weekly local government report video to help our members and the community monitor local governments during the height of the pandemic as a service to our community.
2022 Surtax Referendum
We are working hard with our partners in the Coalition of Business Associations and others, to improve our community. In 2021, we are urging local governments to plan for the 2022 surtax referendum and to plan their infrastructure projects with prioritization and thought.
As we continue into 2021, we will look at planning the surtax renewal campaign, focus in on government budgets, and especially look at accountability of programs and revenues. We will remain a strong partner, advocate and watchdog, applying business leadership to important community issues.
The Argus Foundation applies business leadership to identify, educate, advocate, and collaborate on solutions for important community issues that will enhance the quality of life, environment, and economic well-being of Sarasota County.
- We keep a broad community perspective.
- We identify issues.
- We offer lasting rather than temporary solutions.
- We impact the future for a better community.
Robert W. Brown – President
Kirk Boylston – Incoming President/1st Vice President/Treasurer
Jack Bispham – 2nd Vice President
F. John LaCivita- Past President/Secretary
Board of Directors
Jack Bispham – Paul’s Parrish
Kirk Boylston – Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty
Robert W. Brown – Atlas Insurance
R.G. Kelly Caldwell – Caldwell Trust
Jeffrey E. Charlotte – J.E. Charlotte Construction
Jack J. Cox, III – Halfacre Construction
Thomas G. Dabney, II – Gulf Coast Property Services, Inc.
Thomas H. Dart – Adams and Reese, LLP
Lon Deckard – Quadrel, Inc.
Eric Fleming – The Law Offices of Eric C. Fleming
Joseph R. Hembree – Hembree & Associates, Inc.
Rodney G. Hershberger – PGT Innovations
F. John LaCivita – Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc.
Keith Mercier – CBIZ Insurance Services
William W. Merrill, III – Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg
Edmund W. (Todd) Morton IV – Morton’s Gourmet Market
Sam D. Norton – Norton, Hammersley, Lopez & Skokos, PA
Michael L. Quillen – Geckos Hospitality Group
Norman J. Shea, III – Suplee Shea Cramer & Rocklein, PA
Craig Steinhoff – HBK CPAs and Consultants, LLC
Jason E. Toale – Robert Toale & Sons Funeral Homes
E. John Wagner – Williams, Parker, Harrison, Dietz & Getzen
Cina Welch – FCCI Insurance Group
H. Ronald Foxworthy – Rusty Plumbing
Director of Membership and Events