Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

It’s a difference of opinion

We all want what is best for the taxpayers of Longboat Key. Longboat history shows two cases of how that was done.

  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
  • Share

It is not personal. 

Understandably, though, this library issue feels that way to Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier. No one likes to be criticized — worse in public.

But it’s not personal. And we wholeheartedly believe that, as the mayor stated in his letter to the editor last week, he has “taken every step and made every decision” in the best interests of Longboat Key. 

Indeed, much gratitude goes to all the commissioners for being willing and having the courage to volunteer for what most of the time is a thankless job and a job that no doubt subjects them to gratuitous, unnecessary public criticism. 

Unfortunately, that’s the nature of a democratic republic and the right of free speech.

This is not personal. It is a difference of opinions. It’s business.

On the library, we have a difference of opinion. 

The mayor wrote of us last week: “You think that you and you alone know what’s best for our town.” 

He has a right to think and say that. It’s his opinion. But be assured, I do not think I and I alone know what’s best for the town. 

The mayor also stated the Observer had a “small but critical role in scuttling the town’s 2019 plan to create an Arts, Cultural and Education Center in partnership with Ringling College of Art and Design.” And he said the Observer “shot down” the Ringling project.

Again, opinion, debatable depending on your point of view. 

We’ve posted online PDFs of all the editorial pages from 2019 and 2020 that addressed the town center and proposed arts, culture and education center. Readers can judge for themselves whether the Observer is the bad guy, or whether it has been doing what we believe a community newspaper should do: question authority, raise relevant questions and make people think. 

At no time did the Observer recommend that the project be killed, scuttled or shot down.

Here is our difference in opinion: In those pages and in this space in recent weeks, we raised the question of whether the Town Commission knows unequivocally that the Longboat residents want what the commissioners are proceeding to develop on the Town Center Green — the county library branch and (quasi) community center.

Ever since this quest for a community center began around 2001, there has been only one definitive, democratic answer to what Longboaters want (or don’t want). That was in 2003, when Longboat residents voted in a referendum whether to construct a community center at Bayfront Park and pay for it with a $6 million bond issue.

Voters resoundingly rejected the plan — primarily because of the cost, but also because it was to be loaded with facilities for every want, including a swimming pool.

But in spite of recent suggestions from the Observer and others to find out specifically what voters want (a referendum?), commissioners have pointed to responses residents submitted on the annual town surveys as proof that residents want an 8,000-square-foot public library on the Town Center Green.

In the 4,645 written responses in the 2021, 2022 and 2023 town surveys, a search for the word “library” generated 13 individual hits. In contrast, the requests for music, concerts, art shows and more outdoor events topped 300. Sixty-six percent of respondents in 2021 favored space for live performances; 30% for a library.

But whatever. The unanimous consensus of the commissioners is to proceed as they are with a library on Town Center Green. 

So, as you suggest, Mr. Mayor, we’ll step aside — of course not before a few final comments you and your fellow commissioners may or may not want to consider:

  • On the matter of whether a library is community driven, we’ll note the mayor’s own words. After writing in his letter that the Observer “shot down” the Ringling project, he wrote: “Town Manager Tom Harmer and I set to work immediately to formulate a new plan … ” 

Their plan. 

Not a plan that first sought the support of the community or was actively shared with the community. That plan, in fact, didn’t garner public attention until after Harmer negotiated a principles agreement with the county for a new library. Even though a vote of the commissioners was not required, nevertheless, there was no vote of the commissioners to create a principles agreement for a county library.

The news of that agreement brought to mind a similar situation in 2007-08. At that time, as the number of hotels and resorts were either being converted to condominiums or razed for new condos, town commissioners became concerned about two issues that could have damaging effects on Longboat Key as a future upscale, resort-retirement community: 

  1. The lack of hotel rooms to draw future residents;
  2. Town ordinances that would not allow grandfathered, nonconforming condos to be rebuilt with the same number of units if, say, a hurricane destroyed them.

Town commissioners proposed two charter referenda in 2008 — one to create a pool of hotel rooms that could be added to existing resorts and hotels; a second to allow grandfathered condos to rebuild with the same density.

In partnership with the Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce, commissioners spent two months before the March election explaining the referenda in town hall meetings in condo community rooms the length of the Key. The results were stunning: 90% and 81% approval — because commissioners met face to face to explain and listen to voters.

  • What is the master plan, overall strategy for the Town Center Green, the existing library site and Bayfront Recreation Center? Do The Paradise Center and Education Center figure into this master plan? Should they? 

What is the future for the Bank of America and Truist Bank buildings and the post office? 

When Arvida Corp. developed Bay Isles Road 40-plus years ago, it essentially created a town center for its time, clustering Town Hall, the library site, office buildings and the post office. Should all of this fit together for the future?

We’re not alone in asking these questions. This email came to us last week from a longtime resident: 

“What is the plan for the old library property, the post office? Where are people going to park when more is added to the Green? The parking is a problem now … I can’t understand why the obvious is not being discussed.”

Apparently, there is no master plan or much thought given to all of these questions. Here is what Town Manager Howard Tipton said at the second public library workshop: 

“As we settle in and experience these two new community spaces (the Sarasota library and Manatee County community center at Whitney Plaza), which are for all Longboat residents, if there is something missing — an element or an amenity — we have the current nonprofit library building adjacent to Town Hall, as well as the Rec Center at Bayfront Park, which both need to be replaced. 

“One or both of these are opportunities to see reinvestment at some point in the future.”

Is that “future” now? What’s the plan?

  • Where does the Longboat Key Education Center fit?

Mayor Schneier said it doesn’t fit in the library-community center. He said it could offer some of its programs in the Whitney Plaza community center; and perhaps it could build its center on the existing library site.

Education Center officials at Temple Beth Israel, where it is now housed, are uncertain what to do — expand the center’s space at the temple, perhaps build a center on its grass parking lot. Four years ago, it was discussed as part of the arts, cultural, education center. 

For sure, it needs more space for the 3,000-5,000 registrants who attend its classes and events. 

The Education Center is an important, 40-year-old community asset. It’s a lifestyle attraction for the Key. It should not be given short shrift. 

But it’s increasingly apparent as current commission discussions have gone the following question hangs unanswered: Should the Education Center — and perhaps The Paradise Center as well — see itself as a stand-alone not-for-profit or a partner with The Paradise Center that should determine its own destiny apart from whatever the town does? 

  • Stake out the space and height. Seeing a rendering of the proposed combined county library-town community center is one thing. Indeed, we have heard residents wonder whether what is being proposed will be too big for the space. Many residents also have voiced whether the land for the library-community center should remain green and open. 

A good step: Rope or tape it off. Show the ultimate height with poles. See for real how it would fit.

We could go on. But we’ll stop. Let the train proceed.

It’s not personal. We’re no different than the commissioners. The Observer always wants what is best for the taxpayers of Longboat Key. Sometimes, though, there is a difference of opinion on what that is. At the same time, rational debate and discussion can make the outcome better than it might otherwise be.

How they settled matters in early days of Longboat

The following are excerpts from the book, “Calusas to Condominiums,” a history of Longboat Key, on the town’s incorporation in 1955.

Guy Paschal was the leader of the movement to start a town in 1955. He described the process of starting a town in an article for The Longboat Observer:

“When the Sarasota Commission decided to put a public beach in front of the new trailer parks, the Key rose up. There was enough interference by the county in Longboat affairs as it was, and the residents had nothing to say in decisions of zoning, taxation, roads, parks, beaches, subdivisions, businesses, liquor licenses, sewers, water, street lights and many others.

“The matter was presented to the Civic Club. It was voted down, because it was argued there would not be enough hands to do the work. There had been red tide on the beach for two years, and there weren’t enough volunteers to clean up the beaches.”

Those interested in prohibiting a public beach circulated a document which said, in part, “… the two county commissioners are elected by a population of 90,000 people. There are 196 voting freeholders on Longboat Key. Is it any wonder our government feels free to push us around? … ”

A Florida attorney told Paschal that one resident of the Key could sign a form, and the whole community had to vote on incorporation within 30 days. Paschal said he signed the form that night and the selling job began. 

The following Tuesday, a meeting was called of the entire community, and as Paschal describes, “The meeting went fairly smoothly, but Maj. J.B. Holt was the opposition, and Charles Flanagan, the most verbose.” 

Paschal and Cecil Scholfield presented the arguments for and replied to the opposition arguments. These were put in writing for the next meeting. 

In order to persuade the 196 eligible voters to approve the creation of the town, Paschal circulated the following among the voters: 

“I do solemnly swear or affirm that as a nominee for public office of the proposed Town of Longboat Key, if elected I will, as such public official, abide by the following restrictions and promises: 

“I will oppose any additional real estate tax. 

“I will oppose an occupational license tax. 

“I will oppose the establishment of a public beach on Longboat Key. 

“I will oppose stringent subdivision requirements such as those proposed by Manatee and Sarasota counties.

“I will oppose any type of deficit financing, or any other expenditures beyond the town’s income.

“I will oppose the payment of salaries to any municipal officials except to the town clerk, whose salary shall not exceed $1,200 per year.”

(One night, Paschal, “Chips” Morehead and Ed Sibole went) to the Mar Vista bar (to lobby for incorporation). “It was crowded, and Flanagan was there, ‘well in his cups,’” Paschal recalled.

Flanagan said he was a champion light heavy-weight boxer and that Paschal (5 feet, 9 inches tall but in great physical shape) was a coward because he would not fight. 

Paschal said he would be delighted to fight with gloves on when Flanagan was sober.

Paschal left, followed by Flanagan, who threatened to shoot him on sight and bomb his home. Then Flanagan struck Paschal as Paschal  was getting into his car. Flanagan made a dash for his own car.

According to Paschal, someone yelled, “That’s where he keeps his gun.”

Not finding one, Flanagan approached Paschal with a tire iron, but Paschal pulled him away from the car. 

After a few minutes of fighting, Flanagan was carried back into the bar. Paschal and Morehead then went to Sleepy Lagoon Club (later the Buccaneer Inn).

At the next meeting, Paschal sported a black eye … Flanagan was last seen sporting two black eyes …”

Finally the day came for a vote, Nov. 14, 1955. It was held in the new firehouse, and the votes were 98-3 in favor (of incorporation).



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

Latest News