Hal Lenobel’s past and present colleagues list his achievements on the Longboat Key Town Commission:
He was at the dais during the construction of a new Town Hall and public-safety complex, according to former Mayor Jeremy Whatmough, and helped to bring the project in line with its budget.
He was a guiding force in shaping the town’s beach policy, according to former Mayor Joan Webster.
Many of his accomplishments were intangible, Vice Mayor David Brenner said.
“He brought a sense of stability that lasted for a whole decade,” Brenner said. “Citizens had a face that they recognized on an ongoing basis. Over the last few years, there were new faces, but he was the rudder that was attached to the ship.”
But, if you ask Lenobel for his biggest accomplishment, he won’t name a specific vote or an idea.
Lenobel is most proud of the fact that in 12-and-a-half years, never once did he vote against his conscience.
“I always did what I thought was right for Longboat Key,” he said. “There were 6-1 votes that I lost, some recently that were disconcerting ... I was always voting my conscience.”
Lenobel resigned, effective immediately, in a July 5 letter to Mayor Jim Brown. He wrote:
“It is with regret that I am forced to inform you that I am resigning from the Longboat Key Town Commission, effective immediately. I have served 12-and-a-half years on the commission, including three years as mayor, and Hazel’s recent death and my rather severe sickness have made continuance on the commission impossible.
“I have enjoyed working with all the present commissioners and staff, and I am sure that the commission will solve all the problems facing them and they will prevail over all the problems that the economy has put in their path. I wish you all the best of luck!”
Lenobel, 88, told the Longboat Observer that he felt he could no longer contribute on the commission.
Lenobel’s wife of 62 years, Hazel, died in December. In June, he was hospitalized but has since been discharged. Brown said Friday that Lenobel had hinted earlier that resignation was a possibility. Brown hoped that the longtime commissioner would evaluate the situation in September, when the commission returns from its two-month summer hiatus, and spoke of his respect for Lenobel.
“I’d put him in the Longboat Hall of Fame,” he said. “We didn’t always vote the same way, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be … I think he is an extremely strong and wise person who only spoke when he had something to say.”
Lenobel joined the commission in 1997, at the invitation of former Commissioner Marge Sagman.
A retired dentist originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., he was one of the original owners at Longboat Harbour in 1969 and has lived on the Key full-time since 1993. He had never considered running for public office but decided to accept.
“I had nothing else to do but play golf,” he said.
Maybe, he would have more holes-in-one on the golf course to his name if he hadn’t traded tee time for Town Hall time.
(Lenobel stopped playing golf when his wife, Hazel, got sick but remains a legend on the golf course, with 13 holes-in-one, which he believes is an amateur record for Florida.)
Whatmough, who served with Lenobel for four years, described him as someone who could build consensus.
Lenobel’s fellow commission selected him as mayor in 1998 and 1999. He continued to serve as a commissioner before beginning a three-year hiatus when he reached term limits.
In 2008, he returned to the commission for a fifth term and was again selected as mayor. Two years later, he sought another term and for the first time faced a challenger.
Lenobel won that race by a narrow margin of approximately 100 votes. (Lenobel’s challenger, Phill Younger, was appointed less than two months later to the other at-large seat following the resignation of former Commissioner Gene Jaleski.)
It was a victory that Lenobel won without campaigning or fundraising.
“I am running on my record and don’t plan to collect one cent for a campaign,” he told the Longboat Observer at the time.
Webster, who served with Lenobel in 2003 and 2004 and again in 2008, said that whenever Lenobel voted against something, he always prefaced it by explaining his reason.
“He was a catalyst for bringing about discussion that covered both sides of an issue so that the issues were clearly discussed,” she said.
The commission has scheduled a 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 special meeting at Town Hall to discuss a possible appointment, who will serve out the remainder of Lenobel’s term, which expires next month.
Planning & Zoning Board Chairwoman B.J. Webb appears to be the frontrunner.
Commissioner Lynn Larson expressed support for Webb in an email to Town Manager David Bullock.
“B.J. has earned this nomination by her record as a person who is interested in making our town a better place to live,” Larson wrote. “Her energy in working tirelessly on the Planning and Zoning Board is well documented.”
Ray Rajewski, who sought the District 3 commission seat from Brenner in March and lost by just 90 votes, expressed interest in the seat in a July 9 email to Brown.
P&Z Board member Len Garner and Tangerine Bay Club resident Phyllis Black, who took out candidate papers last November but decided not to run, both confirmed that they have interest in the seat and planned to attend the July 17 meeting.
Woody Wolverton, a past commissioner and P&Z Board member, also emailed the commission Tuesday asking for consideration and wrote that he would run in the March 2013 election if appointed.
As for Lenobel, he doesn’t have an opinion about who should become his successor.
“I’ll let them do what they think is best,” he said of his fellow commissioners. “They work hard and deserve the right to choose their successor.”
Update: Grand Bay resident Terry Gans was appointed July 17 to the at-large commission seat vacated by Hal Lenobel and will face off against L’Ambiance resident Irwin Pastor for the seat in the town’s March election.
Lenobel and his late wife, Hazel, were honored in October at a special “Hal and Hazel Lenobel Appreciation Day.”