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Longboat Key Sunday, Sep. 20, 2020 1 year ago

Newest P&Z Board member has broad experience

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The vacancy on the P&Z Board sat vacant since March.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The newest member of the Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board is a man of many hats.

Town commissioners unanimously appointed S. Jay Plager to become the seventh member of the P&Z Board. The position has sat vacant since At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop was elected to the town commission in March.

“I’ve got a steep learning curve to learn the community, to learn the town, to learn the people who live here and learn the officials who are already in place in the town,” Plager said. “I’ve got a lot of things to learn before I can even think about having decision-making capabilities on specific issues.”

In addition to Plager's extensive background, Mayor Ken Schneier said repeatedly in town commission meetings that he valued Plager living in District 1.

“If you’re involved in Planning and Zoning, I think it’s not the worst idea to have someone who is very familiar with each of the different segments,” Schneier said.

In January and February, Plager also attended the Citizens Academy of Government courses conducted by Town Manager Tom Harmer.

“One of the vacancies they said, according to the town manager, was a vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Board,” Plager said. “Well, given my background, that was so natural.”

Plager has had an illustrious career. He lived in Washington, D.C. holding positions in the Department of Health and Human Services and then in the White House’s Office of Management and Budget during Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Former President George H.W. Bush then nominated Plager to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit in September 1989, taking over for the seat vacated by Shiro Kashiwa. The Senate confirmed Plager in November 1989.

“It’s the sort of thing you don’t turn down,” Plager said. “When the president calls you and says, ‘Jay, I’d like you to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit,’ you don’t say, ‘Nah, I’m busy. I’m doing something else tomorrow.’ So, I was enormously honored by that.”

Since 2000, Plager has continued to serve as a senior judge.

“I can sit fewer times and more as much as I want to, rather than the regular routine of constant sitting, so it’s a pretty nice life is what I can tell you,” Plager said.

From 1977-1984, Plager served as Indiana University School of Law’s eleventh dean. After leaving Indiana he was a visiting scholar at the Stanford University Law School.

The New Jersey native received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina in 1952. Plager received a law degree from the University of Florida in 1958 and a Masters in law from Columbia Law School in 1961.

From 1958-1963, Plager taught law at the University of Florida. While in Gainesville, Plager served on the Planning and Zoning Board, eventually becoming chairman. Plager also taught at the University of Illinois from 1964-1977.

“It’s a very similar kind of world although each community is different,” Plager said. “Each community has its own special concerns and its own special needs.”

Specifically, Plager mentioned how Longboat Key has special concerns with limited housing availability and an older demographic of people.

“Longboat Key is quite well developed already,” Plager said. “Much of the housing stock already exists. Although, there’s some degree of constant turnover and rebuilding.” 

Plager is a newcomer to Longboat Key, becoming a permanent resident in 2019 after moving from the Maryland suburbs just outside of Washington, D.C. He said his brother lives in Naples and his son is in Tampa.

“It seemed logical to live somewhere in Florida perhaps between them,” Plager said. “We came upon the Sarasota area and did a little traveling around and we discovered what a marvelous area the Sarasota area is.

"It has opera. It has ballet. It has symphony. It has theater and we couldn’t imagine a better place to be living, and then we ended up on Longboat Key, which we just love, because being out here on the barrier island is an idyllic place to live.”

Plager says he is most proud of his service as an ensign in the U.S. Navy. He was ordered into active duty during the Korean War and spent several years as a navigator on the USS Sarasota.

After another 10 years in the reserves and finishing as a commander in charge of the reserve unit, Plager remains active with the Navy League of the U.S. and the U.S. Naval Institute. He is a life member of the Naval War College Foundation.

“I truly am so impressed with the job that the town of Longboat Key does in concerning itself with the sousing stock and the residents’ needs, particularly with the special needs of the older residents,” Plager said. “I can use my past experience.”

The Planning and Zoning Board is scheduled to meet next on Nov. 17.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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