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Watchdog seeks to slow down

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  • | 10:00 a.m. October 31, 2014
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The Argus Foundation, one of the leading pro-business groups on the Gulf Coast, is searching for a new director after the recently announced pending retirement of longtime head Kerry Kirschner.

The public face and behind-the-scenes orchestrator of all things Argus since he was named executive director in 1993, Kirschner will retire at the end of the year. Sarasota attorney Bill Merrill with Icard Merrill law firm and president of the Argus Foundation board, says Kirschner is difficult to replace given his think-big philosophy and the amount of connections he has in town. “He's a thought leader on so many things,” says Merrill. “He sees things before others see them, and that's been a huge benefit for Argus and the business community.”

Kirschner, who turns 68 in December, has been involved in Sarasota civics and government for years before Argus. A former executive with a fruit shipping business, Kirschner served three terms on the Sarasota city commission and was mayor of the city twice, in 1986-1987 and 1990-1991. Kirschner's son, Kelly Kirschner, is also a former Sarasota city commissioner and mayor.

“I don't want to completely fall of the face of the earth,” Kirschner tells Coffee Talk. “But I want to spend some time to find out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

The name Argus translates to “giant with 100 eyes” in Greek mythology, says Kirschner. That's why the organization monitors government activity, especially budget and fiscal policy. Says Kirschner: “I've been satisfied we served a worthy role in the community as a watchdog.”

Argus, with more than 170 members in 50 industries, holds luncheons where keynote speakers talk about issues of the day. A nonprofit founded in 1985, the organization has held an annual lifetime achievement awards dinner since 2000. Argus is generally nonpartisan, but it leans conservative on most big-picture issues.

Yet Argus under Kirschner has sometimes surprised members. Like the time in 2004 when it brought in billionaire investor and Republican critic George Soros for a Q & A event. That was held a week before Election Day.

Kirschner says his proudest moments in his Argus career include helping to turn the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport board from elected to appointed officials, partnerships with the Sarasota County School District, and recent efforts to help ease development and building restrictions in the Sarasota County 2050 plan.


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