New Siesta Key Association president Harold Ashby

| June 1, 2017

By Bob Stein

Since Siesta Key is one of the few barrier islands in Florida that is not incorporated. The Island Associations and the Siesta Key Chamber are Siesta Key’s closest form of local government. The Siesta Key Association is one of the largest and oldest associations in all of Florida representing a barrier island. The County Commissioners pay close attention to the needs and wants of SKA.

The Siesta Key Association has a rich tradition of representing and proactively lobbying for the rights of the citizens of Siesta Key, and it is becoming ever more critical to have an active body that represents the interest of all property owners on Siesta Key.

Harold Ashby is the new SKA president taking the helm at the March 2017 annual breakfast meeting. I recently sat down and had the pleasure of doing a question and answer session with Mr. Ashby.

Prior to SKA, was this your first experience being involved with an association similar to SKA?
I’ve been involved with not-for-profit organizations most of my adult life. When I was in my 20s two other guys and myself formed a non-profit club, raised about $200,000 in memberships and built a neighborhood swimming and tennis club that is still thriving today. I was Chairman of the Baltimore Metro YMCA when we acquired the site of the former Memorial Stadium, where the Orioles and Colts once played, raised millions of dollars and built a state-of-the-art, full service, YMCA in the middle of Baltimore City. For seven years after I retired, I was a board member of a large group of non-profit retirement communities for seven years. During that time, we more than doubled our capacity to where we were taking care of about 25,000 people. More recently, I completed a six-year term as Vice President of Siesta Isles Association.

Who or what prompted you to get involved with SKA?
I started to attend the monthly meetings because somebody told me that SKA was the organization that made things happen on Siesta Key. I was impressed by the Board and the interest shown by the other attendees, so I became a member. After about a year, I decided to approach SKA and ask them if they would be interested in working with me on a bicycle safety campaign; something I had been thinking is needed but realized that I couldn’t get it done as an individual citizen. I thought SKA was the perfect organization to work with because of their reputation, purpose and their ability to open doors for me. I presented a plan to the Board and they asked me if I wanted to join the Board. I thought being a Board member would be an even better opportunity to leverage the bicycle safety program, so I agreed. I’m glad I did.

Are you now involved in any other associations on the island or in Sarasota?
No. It looks like SKA can be almost of full time job if I let it. I have other hobbies that I like. I call myself a competitive photographer because I like to enter my photos in competitions. I belong to several camera clubs as well as non-profit art galleries which sponsor competitions and juried exhibitions. I really enjoy the learning experience as well as winning, which doesn’t happen very often. When I’m not working on SKA stuff, I’m traveling, working on photography or riding my bike.

I like to call Florida a huge refugee camp. Are you a transplant or a native of Florida?
Transplant. Judy and I moved to Tampa from Annapolis, MD when I retired in 2001. Our son and his family live in Tampa and that’s the only place in Florida that we knew anything about. After five years in Tampa, we decided we wanted to live in a place that was not so city-like, so we started to look around. One day, some friends from Annapolis called to invite us to visit them at the Turtle Beach Campground. We had never been to Siesta Key. We loved it. That was Friday night. We bought a house the following Sunday morning.

Where did you go to school and how far did you go up the ladder in education?

I had a lot of fun in high school, but not in the classroom. My parents didn’t have much money, and no college wanted me, so after high school, I went to a non-accredited two-year school—on probation—that taught accounting. I finally realized that going nowhere was not a good career choice, so I knuckled down and did well. While going to school I got a job with a small CPA firm, but wanted to be part of a bigger operation. I got real lucky. The Viet Nam war was raging and one of the then Big-8 accounting firms desperately needed more accountants. They hired me, even though I didn’t measure up to their education requirements. Nine years later they made me a partner. I managed significant parts of the business and landed some big-time clients for the firm. I loved my career with PWC because initiative and creativity were rewarded. Early in my career I felt I had to dodge questions about my education because I was in a profession full of people with fancy degrees. After a while, I found It didn’t matter.

Are you retired or still working for a living?
I retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2001 after 32 years.

I’m aware of your passion for bicycling. What challenges do you see for the Key to make it safer for everyone; riders, pedestrians and auto drivers?

During Season, about 20% of Siesta Key’s population turns over every week or so. Added to that are the daily visitors. A lot of drivers, bikers, pedestrians are in unfamiliar territory and many of them are looking for where they want to be. They’re not paying attention to what’s happening around them. Whether its drivers, pedestrians or bikers, we should be in their face to make sure they see the dangers. A good example is the cross walks on Midnight Pass Road. They’re hard to miss and people quickly understand their purpose. They work. On the other hand, the crosswalks in the Village and South Village are just paver strips across the road. People don’t see crosswalks like that at home and they don’t recognize them as crosswalks. I think they’re dangerous. They need to be more obvious.

Another problem is Midnight Pass Road between Beach Road and Stickney Point Rd. The road has raised edges between the sidewalks and the asphalt that are downright dangerous to cyclists. Many of our visiting cyclists are inexperienced. They fall when their bike wheel bounces off one of those raised edges. I’ve seen the accident statistics. The overwhelming majority of cycling accidents involving cyclist injuries or property damage occur in that stretch of road. SKA has met with FDOT to review the issues. They understand. We’re hoping for a solution, but it’s hard because there isn’t much room to add more space for cyclists and pedestrians in that area. We’re working on it.

Besides the Big Pass Shoal dredging what are the other major issues SKA will be working on this year?
One of the great things about SKA is that we have a Board consisting of people who are very talented and really committed to making Siesta Key better. We follow just about everything that is happening on the Key if it involves land use, traffic, parking, safety, environmental concerns, etc. When I became President I asked every Board member to pick an issue that they were passionate about and take it on. It’s working great. I think everybody knows that Catherine Luckner has been all over the Big Pass issue for years and she’s doing a magnificent job. Now we have Gene Kusekoski monitoring Siesta Promenade, Joe Volpe following the hotel issue and, Bob, you’re working with the County to get the Sheriff’s training site converted to a much needed parking lot south of Stickney Point Rd. We also have Bob Miller handling our treasury and membership records. He’s been a busy guy as we have processed over 1,300 new memberships and renewals since the beginning of the year. That’s more than 2,000 individual members. Joyce Kouba has been our Secretary and she is now taking on managing our “info line,” making sure all communications from our members are handled by the right person. Gene Kusekoski has taken over our technology platform from the contractor we formerly used, which has reduced our costs and improved our response times. This summer we’re planning to revamp our website to a more modern format to better serve our members. Then there’s Dan Lundy who is a retired lawyer. He is a quiet guy who always seems to chime in with a sensible answer when we need one. We don’t necessarily take on every issue out there, but we give every issue consideration.

We’re also making progress on our objective to make Siesta Key a Bicycle Friendly Community. That’s a designation by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), the foremost bicycle advocacy organization in the US. That designation will make a big positive statement about the quality of life on Siesta Key. To help us qualify as a Bicycle Friendly Community, we need to show that our streets are safe for cyclists and we have an inviting cycling culture. A recent positive step to that end is, with the support of SKA and the Siesta Key Chamber, the County has agreed to install bicycle safety street markings and signs in the Village. We’re also hoping to get bicycle racks installed in the South Village where there are none. That’s a big void, because LAB looks for things like bike racks at destinations like parks, shopping areas, restaurants, etc.

What are the goals and challenges you face for 2017?
I’m not like most of my predecessors. I’m not an activist. I wouldn’t be good at working complex issues like Big Pass or Siesta Promenade. It’s too much detail for a guy with a short attention span. I view my role in SKA as a leader and a manager. One of my major goals is for all the Board members and volunteers to enjoy their roles as volunteers. Volunteers’ rewards are satisfaction and a sense of achievement. SKA works best when the volunteers are pursuing their passions and we’re sharing our successes and ideas among the other board members and with our members. I am very pleased with how quickly that “team concept” is coming together. A big challenge is being able to do all we want to do. We’re eight Board members. Hardly a day goes by when we’re not emailing or talking to one another about something. Our Board members are working at full capacity. We need more volunteers.

In January we formed Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund which gives us the ability to raise tax-deductible contributions targeted to address environmental protection and preservation issues on Siesta Key. SKEDF is quickly getting traction and we’re very optimistic that our goal of raising $80,000-$100,000 this year will be achieved. We’re real excited that a retired marketing executive from the second largest consumer products company in the world has started to work with us to develop and implement fund raising strategies. That’s real fire power.

At our Annual Breakfast in March I described our goal of growing our membership. We now have more members than we’ve had in quite a while. But we really need to be much bigger if we want to wield the influence to tackle the issues. I think we can have 2,000 memberships and 3,500 individual members by 2019. To do that we need to be really good at engaging our members and being effective in our advocacy.

Another big goal that we have is to work more closely with, and strengthen our relationships with, the peer organizations on the Key, like the Chamber, the Condo Council, condo associations, homeowners’ associations, SOSS2, etc. There should be no significant differences among us. We’re all working for Siesta Key.

What would you like to say to the Siesta Key residents and the business community?
Just one thing. A big Thank You!!! Whatever successes SKA has enjoyed is because of the support we get from the residents and business community. It means everything. Please keep it up.

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