We apply business leadership to important community issues
About The Argus Foundation
The Argus Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, business membership-based organization 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 that was 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 have 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, we led the way with a team of our local community foundations and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to study our education system in the School Match studies. According to a Herald-Tribune article written after one of the studies was completed, the results were felt very quickly. Student attendance improved after it was identified as an issue and a focus on low-achieving students became an integral part of making the schools better.
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 former Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson to Sarasota County to talk about consolidation of government. This was the spark that led to the consolidation of 911 services with a county offer to each city to administer emergency dispatch for free. Not only did this save money for our cities but more importantly it reduced the likelihood of dropped calls and gained precious, life-saving seconds.
School Board Public Meetings
In 2015, Argus advocated for School Board secret meetings to be eliminated and for workshops to be held to the School Board chambers. We now see a fully open discussion of school issues, recorded on video, allowing the decision-making process to be seen and heard as it happens.
Public Service Tax Increase Opposition
In 2017, we worked on opposing a proposal for a county Public Service Tax, which would have levied a 5 percent tax on electricity, water, propane, and natural gas in unincorporated Sarasota County. This would have hurt the one-third of our residents who were living on the financial edge and who are one disaster away from homelessness.
Using guest opinion columns and social media, we alerted residents and business owners, who then were able to voice their concerns. After the tax was voted down, we did not claim a victory and just drop the issue. We offered solutions to the county budget problems.
City of Sarasota Government Elections (Change the Date)
In 2018, we were a catalyst and partner for a bi-partisan effort to change the date of the City of Sarasota elections from spring of odd-numbered years to fall of even-numbered years. This was a two-year effort that brought together a collaboration of civil rights organizations, volunteers, business associations, current and former elected officials, and city voters to increase voter turnout in the City of Sarasota commission elections.
This was especially true for minority voters and voters under 29. The referendum passed overwhelmingly with over 63% of the vote. This referendum and will save city taxpayers about $100,000 per election cycle and will bring a more broad and diverse voice to the table in electing the leadership of city government.
Sarasota County Water Quality Practices
At the end of 2018, we also were the catalyst of a loose group of organizations consisting of environmental and community foundation interests in successfully asking the Sarasota County Commission to include water quality as a top priority in 2019.
In 2019, we continued our work on water quality and successfully urged the county commission to fund septic tank replacement.
Sarasota Workforce Training Efforts
We 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.
2021 and 2022
2022 Surtax Referendum
In 2021, we urged local governments to plan for the 2022 Surtax Referendum and to plan their infrastructure projects with prioritization and thought.
In 2022, we led the execution of the Surtax Renewal campaign which passed overwhelmingly with 78% of voters supporting the referendum. The 15-year sales tax renewal provides funding to county, cities, and school board for capital projects likes roads, first responders’ vehicles and equipment, parks, libraries, schools, and technology.
City of Sarasota Government Elections (Change the Date)
An amendment was placed on the ballot in 2022 mandating that charter amendment referendums would only occur during regular election dates. We advocated with our Change the Date partners for the City Commission to place this referendum on the ballot and funded campaign mailers and text messages in favor of the referendum. This measure passed with 59% of the vote and will ensure most voters vote on the city’s constitution, its charter, and prevent an off-cycle low voter referendum to reverse Change the Date.
City Comphrehensive Plan Changes for Workforce Housing
Argus organized advocacy, including at City Commission meetings, for the passage of the Comprehensive Plan Changes. These changes passed in October 2022, and allow for more density for attainable housing, missing middle housing, administrative review for attainable housing, removes residential frontage requirements, and clarifies bonus height. This will allow the city to encourage and incentivize workforce housing attracting talent to Sarasota.
Sarasota County Mobility Fee
We examined and analyzed multiple drafts of the County Mobility Fee technical report and ordinance. We worked on edits to multiple drafts of the technical report and the policies in it. The result was a revised report to properly account for other funding sources and excluded projects that were not mobility related. The final ordinance preserved the original intent of the fees and dropped the fee prices as originally proposed.
Speaker Series & Events
2022 was a record year for events with over 1200 people attending one of our signature events. We proudly hosted four very esteemed guest speakers at our Meet the Minds luncheons. Speakers included Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, Florida Division of Emergency Management, Director Kevin Guthrie, Visit Florida CEO, Dana Young, and Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO, Carol Dover.
Moving into 2023, we will continue to look at accountability of government programs and revenues, and 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.
Kirk Boylston – President
Jack Bispham – 1st Vice President/Treasurer
Todd Morton – 2nd Vice President
F. John LaCivita- Secretary
Robert W. Brown – Past President
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 & Miller, 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
Director of Membership and Events