- August 5, 2015
It’s the end of an era, a 66-year-long era.
Two thirds of a century of mostly OWGs (old white guys) serving as the stewards and fathers of Longboat Key.
For the first time in the town’s history, women now outnumber the men on the commission.
To borrow the cliche, however, they have big shoes to fill.
Over the past 66 years, you must admit: All those OWGs have done a remarkable job. As Mayor Ken Schneier said Monday during the Town Commission’s meeting to retire outgoing commissioners and swear in newly elected commissioners:
Longboat Key “is the deliberate result of talented and dedicated volunteers who shaped our community and made it what it is today. Jack Daly, George Spoll and Ed Zunz (the three outgoing commissioners) each gave a meaningful part of his life to this town. And it’s because of them and others like them [that] we all have a wonderful place to live.”
Daly, Spoll and Zunz continued the long tradition of Long-boat Key town commissioners — public servants who cared enough about the place they call home to want to work to keep it a great place and make it better.
An important question often asked of people who want to pursue elected office: Is it because you want to be somebody or to do something good for others? The vast majority who have served have done so to do good. That’s certainly the case with Daly, Spoll and Zunz.
Daly and Zunz were similar in their earnestness and commitment to their positions and to the town’s welfare. A longtime utilities executive, Daly approached issues as you would expect — looking for ways to solve problems and move ahead. He has been a bulldog with the Metropolitan Planning Organization in terms of representing Longboat Key on transportation issues.
Zunz, an attorney, approached issues like attorney, raising questions to keep the town out of trouble and to consider every eventuality. Conscientious is an understatement.
Spoll is a special case, as noted above.
Altogether, they conducted themselves and made decisions in ways that make Longboat Key’s Town Commission the envy of the region.
There was a time decades ago, when the Town Commission was a source of amusement and embarrassment. Commissioners were often on the verge of fisticuffs and actually did throw punches at meetings. In the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, the Town Commission became an employment center for land-use lawyers — a place where they sued the town for interfering with and taking property rights.
But for much of the new millennium, Longboat Key commissioners have set the standard for good government. Daly, Spoll and Zunz perpetuated the tradition. They should be thanked for their dedicated service.
When Longboat Key Commissioner George Spoll stood at the public podium Monday in the Town Hall Commission Chambers, he told his colleagues he and his wife, Madelyn, have spent a third of their lives on Longboat Key. He didn’t say it, but he also could have said he has devoted that much time to serving Longboat’s citizens.
And doing so with one goal: the betterment of the Key.
In all that time, when you go through the evolution, progress and changes on Longboat, Spoll’s imprint is embedded on much of the good that has occurred. We will no doubt miss some of the noteworthy accomplishments, but this will give you a sense of Spoll’s commitment to and love of Longboat Key:
A Connecticut developer, Spoll and Madelyn moved to Longboat in January 1993. He immediately became involved with the Federation of Condominiums of Longboat Key. By October 1993, he was on the condo federation board. By March 1994, he was president.
He served as the federation president and board member for more than 20 years. One of his most significant contributions in that role was when Spoll triggered an overhaul of the way the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department operated.
It had earned the reputation as one of the most anti-customer departments in the region. After Spoll brought that to light, then-Town Manager Bruce St. Denis implemented changes that fostered a welcome turnaround.
From that dark moment, Spoll and the late Vice Mayor David Brenner fathered two ideas that helped secure Longboat’s future and ultimately will have resulted in the development of the St. Regis Hotel.
Voters in 2008 overwhelmingly approved two charter amendments — one that allows nonconforming condo projects to rebuild what exists in the event they are destroyed; the second, Spoll’s idea, created a pool of 250 hotel units that existing resorts and hotels could tap to bring back lost hotel units.
The latter amendment fostered the redevelopment of the old Hilton into the Zota Beach Resort and was crucial to Unicorp Developments’ proposal to redevelop the Colony into the St. Regis Hotel.
To hold the mayor’s gavel through that process and not come out of it tarred and ostracized was a testament to his skills, courage, patience and integrity.
And after leaving the Town Commission when his term ended in 2011, Spoll immediately formed the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force. At the time, he told the Longboat Observer:
“This task force is about the revitalization of the amenities we once thought we had and seem to think we lost,” Spoll said at the time. “The job would be to try and solidify some of the potential ideas that might be out there in a broader scope. I visualize changing the north end of the island and making it more interesting than the south end of the island.”
Tom Freiwald quickly became a George Spoll fan after joining the task force. “He’s a natural leader,” Freiwald says. “He’s a visionary. He has a good long-term vision of things.
“He loves Longboat Key.”
When Spoll formed the task force, Freiwald says, he recruited Longboaters who would have different ideas and represent the whole island geographically. “He’s a great moderator,” Freiwald says. “He doesn’t get stuck on his own ideas.”
After Spoll’s last Town Commission meeting Monday morning and after nearly 30 years of service to the island, Spoll had earned the right and time to drive up and down Gulf of Mexico Drive and enjoy what he worked to preserve and create.
But no. By Monday afternoon, he signed on again as the chair of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force.
There is still work to be done. Thank you, George Spoll.