It's been 100 work days since Tom Harmer assumed the role of Town Manager, and much has happened.
A new foundational document was adopted, a massive development project was approved and hundreds of thousands of dollars have been secured from both Sarasota and Manatee counties.
So in effort to take tally of all that's happend in the past months since he took office, the Longboat Observer sat down with Harmer to discuss his first 100 days as Longboat Key's town manager:
What were some of your first impressions of Longboat Key?
Fortunately, I had experience working with the town as the county administrator, so I would say it’s everything that I expected, and that’s why I was interested in making the shift. It's special, people feel strongly about the town. There’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of engagement. You have individuals out here who’ve been successful in their careers, they have a lot of diverse experience across the Key. But they like to be involved in some form or fashion. All of what I had heard for Dave Bullock and from my own experience, it came to be, I think, consistent with what I expected.
Was there anything about the island, or its residents, that surprised you?
No, I met with a number of residents, I don’t have the exact number in front of me. My goal was 100 in 100 days, and I think I far exceeded that because of all the opportunities to go out and talk to the public about things going on — like the ballot initiatives and what not. So, I listened a lot in that process and what I heard were some common themes about things that were really important. If you think about the timing, so if you go back to, say, January time frame and February, that was season. So a very common theme became traffic as an ongoing concern, especially during the season that I clearly heard from everyone. Being able to come to work, commute back and forth every day, I was able to experience a little bit of that myself.
What do you consider some of the town’s biggest accomplishments since you’ve taken office?
I’m not necessarily tracking them as accomplishments, but I’ll say it’s been a busy, busy time. I think the charter ballot initiative and the fire station ballot initiative were two things that I inherited. The prework was done before I got out here, but I was tasked with being the conveyor of the message to go out into the community with a public outreach plan and share what was on the ballot and why it was on the ballot and answer questions about it. And so I think that both of those passed. When I first came on, I was asked to put together the outreach plan, which we did. And then I became the primary spokesperson for both of those initiatives. The [fire] chief came out there with me, former commissioner Pat Zunz came out to some of the meetings to talk about the charter with me. The fact that we went through that outreach and the public then voted both of those favorably was an accomplishment for the town, a big accomplishment for us.
You’ve estimated the number of people you’ve met with at 1,000 people — is there a certain takeaway that you got from all of those conversations?
I would say there were a couple takeaways. In those meetings, many of them were one-on-one, but then really to get up to that number, it was part of the outreach I did. So when I met with the condo federation and I met with the Village association and the Longboat Key North association and the Kiwanis and the Rotary and the Republican party and the Democratic party, they all had groups that were anywhere from say 15 to 20 to 100 people in them. Then combine them with, say, 50 to 75 at least one-on-one meetings with individuals, I was always curious to hear what’s most important to them about Longboat Key. So I mentioned transportation earlier as a theme. But I would say another theme that I heard is that they were generally very satisfied with the town services, which is important to me. Customer service, I think, is one of the things that you get measured on. And so, when you have that kind of feedback to say, in some cases individuals said “we love our fire department, don’t you mess that up,” or “we love our police department, don’t you mess that up,” or “we’re so glad that when we come into Town Hall, we feel welcome, and the employees seem to be in a very positive mood and willing to help us and responsive.” And so that’s good, because knowing that day-to-day customer service, were doing a good job, that allows me to focus on other things
What’s your favorite part about working on Longboat Key?
I love to work, in general. And if you have to work, boy, if you can do it on Longboat Key then you can’t complain about that. The community, I think the sense of community out here, the aesthetics out here: we’re a barrier island, it's beautiful, the beaches are beautiful. I’ve had to take some really tough days and go out and inspect the beach, for real purposes, but still, it's a beautiful environment. I’ve had an opportunity to go out with the Sarasota Bay Watch and do a clean up on Sister Key. Boy, that’s not work, even though some may call it work. Those kinds of things make Longboat Key special.
Do you have any plans to move out here?
I think it's always a great opportunity if a manager can live in the community where they work. I’d ultimately like to get out here someday. The good thing is I’m close by, I live in downtown Sarasota. I try to ride my bike to work at least a couple times a week and during the season I was pretty regular on it. If it’s going to rain, I’ll take my truck. If not, you’ll either see me on my bicycle or my scooter and it’s a beautiful drive or ride coming up over the Ringling Bridge, coming through St. Armands and over New Pass onto the key. I enjoy that every day when I see that, whether I’m in my vehicle or my bicycle.
What are you doing when you’re not working?
My wife and I like to ride our bikes too, so on our days off you may see us riding around downtown on our bikes. I do have some physical fitness activities that I participate in. I train in the martial arts, so I do that a couple nights a week. It’s a great exercise and it's good for cardio and its good for a little bit of stress relief as well. If you can let people hit on you or vice versa.