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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Oct. 24, 2003 15 years ago

Coffee Talk

This week's items: New community bank forming in OspreyDo we need a minority leadership program?SRQ at odds with the firefightersChanges in clerk fees, functions coming soon

Coffee Talk

New community bank forming in Osprey

Osprey is the new hot spot. At least that's what a group of new community bank organizers are counting on. Hank Goldsby, a Sarasota-Manatee banker with 30 years experience in the area, most recently as senior lender with Regions Bank, will be the proposed president of First America Bank, based in Osprey. "With Super Wal-Mart going in, and Lee Wetherington building a 450-home subdivision, we see Osprey as an emerging market," says Goldsby. "There's talk of a Home Depot or a Lowe's coming in, too. There's a real need for a community bank in that area; there's really no other bank out there."

Goldsby says the First America Bank organizers have lofty ambitions. They want to raise a minimum of $7.5 million in capital, so they can open the bank with two locations simultaneously - one in Osprey and one somewhere in Manatee County. The target opening date for the bank is April or May, 2004.

Corporate executive Carol B. Green, who has served on bank boards in the northeast, is chairman of the board of First America Bank. Other organizers/ board members include: hotelier Ronald G. Allen; attorney Paul Beitlich; developer James Bridges; retired executive Douglas Chapman; financial consultant Robert Clancy; interior bank designer Philip Roy Day; dentist Dr. Robert Klement; retired executive Stanley Meuser; developer Gary Roberts; retired U.S. Sen. from New Hampshire Bob Smith; Dr. Vincent G. Stenger and entrepreneur Edward Valek II.

Do we need a minority leadership program?

At least three separate sources now have mentioned to Coffee Talk that there are early discussions in Sarasota about creating a minority leadership program. The program will be similar to the regular program offered through the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce but it will include only, or maybe mostly, individuals from various minority groups, including racial and ethnic groups, women, young professionals, etc. The apparent concern is that these minorities are not adequately represented among the leaders in the community, and perhaps also not in the regular leadership program. Really?

In Sarasota, the population is 52.21% female, with an average age of 47.3. The population is 89.8% white, 6% black, 6.6% Hispanic, and less than 1% Asian or Native American. The current Chamber Leadership class of 34 people has 18 females (53%) with about half the class under age 40. The class also has two black members (6%) and two Hispanic members (6%).

A segregated minority leadership program raises some questions. Would it cost the same as the regular Leadership program ($975)? Would older white men be invited into the program? Would it offer the same classes and seminars as the regular leadership program?

SRQ at odds with the firefighters

If you are one of the few Sarasotans who flies in and out of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the local firefighters' union has a lot of concern for your safety. They are in the middle of a heated debate with SRQ President/Chief Executive Officer Fred Piccolo.

Recently, SRQ's fire chief resigned. At that time, there were three local firefighters who had been serving as line officers for less than 18 months each. Piccolo said, and the union agreed, that these officers were unqualified for the fire chief position due to lack of management experience. The union has lobbied for Piccolo to hire a new chief with appropriate experience, even though he will come from outside the local union. But Piccolo says such a move would financially strain the airport that is already facing fiscal challenges due to decreased traffic.

Piccolo's solution was creative and fiscally sound, but, says the union, unsafe. Piccolo promoted all three line officers to Captain, and they rotate in the leader capacity in 24-hour shifts, reporting to SRQ's director of operations and maintenance.

On Oct. 13, the firefighters sent Piccolo a letter, stating: "It is increasingly frustrating that you continue to refuse to recognize the problems created by the lack of a fire chief. [Y]our proposal is not just a difference of opinion on the best style of management structure (as you qualify it); it is a nationally recognized matter of safety. We also believe the practice of hiring unqualified people as fire chief exposes the Airport to additional unwarranted liabilities."

As Mike Stephenson, president of the Local 2546, Suncoast Professional Firefighters & Paramedics, asked, "Can you imagine if something happened, and the person in charge is a guy Piccolo had admitted was not qualified?"

Piccolo says the union's language has been "caustic and hyperbolic for no reason. We have one firehouse with 15 people. This decision has enabled us to increase staff by 25%, the only airport department that has gotten a staff increase. We were spending $100,000 on overtime before, which was about $10,000 in overtime per firefighter per year, which is not a good way to run a fire department. I don't know why the union doesn't recognize the unsafe nature of that. These captains are not qualified to be fire chief because they lack managerial and administrative function experience, which has nothing to do with their ability to fight fire and manage a scene. We are giving the union members a career path. They get managerial experience this way, and if we grow, they can become qualified candidates for fire chief."

Changes in clerk fees, functions coming soon

Prepare to pay more for less - that was the message to the members of the Sarasota County Bar Association at a lunch on Oct. 21. The message was reluctantly delivered by 12th Circuit Chief Judge Robert Bennett, court administrator Walt Smith, Sarasota Clerk of Court Karen Rushing and Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock.

The changes will arrive beginning next July, as the result of Revision 7 to Article V of the state constitution, which makes the state, rather than local governments, cover most of the cost of court administration. Rushing's office, for example, has been operating on a fixed annual county-based budget. The new rules, however, require her office to operate on the fees and fines collected, which vary each month. If the fees and fines collected are inadequate to cover costs, the clerk will have to cut expenses.

Last year, Rushing's office had an operating budget of $10 million related to its court functions, 83% of which is labor costs. In 2004, she expects expenditures to exceed revenues by at least $800,000, even with an expected increase in fees. She and Judge Bennett are working to increase automation to make up some of the difference. While the county can fund some optional court programs, like teen court and drug court, Bennett noted that the state has taken away the funds the counties can use for those programs. The result, says Bullock, is the county will have to critically analyze which program are functioning and which can be cut.

As they left the meeting, one lawyer stated to a colleague, "Well, that was depressing. I'm surprised they didn't pass around the collection plate."

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