News Up & Down the Trail

Restoration and Remembrance Mote

Great things happen when teens and veterans and Mote come together to restore Florida’s reef. Click on image to see video.

Compiled by Debbie Flessner/Bob Stein  

Mote Creates Special Reef Restoration Site as Remembrance for Fallen Warriors

Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, SCUBAnauts International and Gold Star Teen Adventures will maintain underwater site through ongoing partnership.

Over the last two years, veterans wounded in combat and youth interested in learning leadership skills through scuba involving marine science activities have been volunteering at Mote Marine Laboratory’s underwater coral nursery in the Florida Keys.

Not only do these combat wounded and youth volunteers provide important support to Mote — accelerating the coral reef restoration work undertaken since 2006 — they also inspire and challenge one another in a way that only the undersea community can provide.

Sarasota County Schools

“A” Rating for Sarasota School District

School grades for elementary and middle schools were released by the Florida Department of Education, showing that eighteen Sarasota County schools retained their A grades from last year and five schools rose from B to A: Cranberry Elementary in North Port, Garden Elementary in Venice, Gulf Gate Elementary in Sarasota, Imagine School at North Port and Venice Middle School. The Sarasota County School District maintained its overall A grade, one of only 10 of the 67 countywide school districts in the state to achieve the highest grade possible. It is one of only five Florida school districts that has received an A every year since 2004.

Homeless in the City of Sarasota

The police in the City of Sarasota are combing the streets looking for Veterans. The city has a adopted an informal policy that No Veteran Shall Be Homeless. The veterans are qualified for case management and housing. The city has teamed up with Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). HOT’s motto is to help people one individual at a time. The goal is to reconnect the homeless veterans with family.

North Port to Take Full Ownership of Warm Mineral Spring

The decision to take full ownership of Warm Mineral Springs by the City of North Port was recently passed after the County Commission voted to sell its share for the original price tag of $2.75 million along with a stipulation that the City pay all the closing costs. This puts an end to the multi-year long wrangling between Sarasota County and the North Port City Commission over the future of this popular European destination.

The county and city jointly purchased the 81-acre property in 2010, with each contributing $2.75 million. Since that time, neither party could agree on how this property should be utilized. The County Commission’s aggressive redevelopment plan included a possible hotel while the City Commission just wanted to renovate and replace existing structures, leaving the land surrounding the springs virtually untouched. Unable to come to a consensus, the County made the decision to sell its share.

The sales process will begin after the County Commission summer recess of Aug. 20. Once the sale is finalized, the City of North Port will make the ultimate decision on how the future of Mineral Springs will unfold. 

Mote Marine Expands Fleet

The animal rescue and recovery team at Mote Marine Laboratory recently received funding from the Sea Turtle Grants Program to purchase a new boat that will enhance Mote’s response to distressed marine wildlife and enable new research about the threats they face. Between 2003 and 2013, Mote responded to 697 sea turtles — the most common stranded marine animals locally — and 30 percent of cases during the past year required a marine vessel.

Longboat police save drowning woman after boating mishap
(Longboat Key News)

The swift response of Longboat Key Police Marine Officers Shawn Nagell and John Majka led to the rescue of a drowning woman who could not swim and fell into deep water following a boat mishap in a fast-moving storm.

At about 3 p.m. on July 1, Officer Nagell and Officer John Majka was patrolling in the 24-foot skiff in the shallow waters off of Moore’s Restaurant on the north end of Longboat Key. Nagell observed a disabled vessel drifting quickly in the wind toward an anchored sailboat.

The adrift boat was a 45-foot race boat that had lost power and the wind and current were quickly moving it in the direction of the moored sailboat. The two boaters, a 54 year-old woman and 67 year-old man, yelled out to Nagell that their motor had broken and they were unable to control the vessel.

At one point as the boat was moving quickly in the wind, the two jumped out when the boat hit a sandbar. The woman went around to the rear of the boat on the grass flats to try to push free the 45-foot boat from the sandbar, and in the process she stepped off into a deep pocket of water and immediately yelled that she was unable to swim as she fell below the surface.

Officer Majka immediately removed his gun belt, dove in the water and rescued the woman pulling her to police boat.

“If it wasn’t for their quick action, I think we would have faced a drowning,” said Deputy Police Chief Frank Rubino following the event.

Rubino said the woman was coughing up salt water but quickly recovered and expressed gratitude for the officers’ swift action.

Rubino said he will be presenting what is referred to as a Life Saving Award in recognition to the officers for saving a life in the line of duty.

“We have a really strong team on Longboat Key and I think we have hit a home run with a good bunch of officers who are not only nice to work with, but serve the community far above and beyond the norm,” Rubino told Longboat Key News.

County terminates SCAT director

Looks like Glama Carter should have kept her position as public transit manager for Collier County.

After less than two years on the job, Sarasota County administrators have fired Sarasota County Area Transit Director Glama Carter. Carter was hired by former County Administrator Randall Reid.

Carter will receive salary and benefits for four weeks. Director of Community and Intergovernmental Relations Rob Lewis will take over in the interim. Former County Administrator Randall Reid hired Carter, who made $103,000 annually.

City of Sarasota hires its very first emergency manager

Getting in office just in time for hurricane season, Todd Kerkering assumed his role last month as the first emergency manager ever for the City of Sarasota.

Kerkering used to work with Sarasota County Emergency Management, so he is no stranger to disaster preparedness. In his new role, part of Kerkering’s job will be to coordinate with federal authorities in the event of a major hurricane strike, though in his position, he will be qualified to prepare the city for whatever is needed during any emergency situation.

The new emergency manager served for 20 years in the United States Marine Corps, so he knows a thing or two about how to handle himself and others around him in a crisis. In this particular position, Kerkering will be working under the authority of the Sarasota Police Department.

“Venues Today” ranks Van Wezel tops in its category

The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall announced this month that “Venues Today” magazine had ranked it the number one venue in the country, in the 2000-seat category.

This marks the third time the Van Wezel has ranked at the top of its category, and executive director Mary Bensel attributed the success to the quality of entertainment that performed there. Her staff has concentrated on bringing the absolute best stars and biggest shows to Sarasota, and the public responded, coming to see performers like comedian Jay Leno, the night after he retired from “The Tonight Show” and singer John Legend, at the height of his “All of Me” fame.

The Van Wezel is now preparing for the 2014-2015 season, and tickets for upcoming shows like Peter Frampton, Lyle Lovett, Susan Boyle and Bill Maher are already on sale. The full season will be announced in early September, and sales of single tickets will begin soon afterwards.

Sarasota Police Department no longer accredited

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino voluntarily withdrew from the reaccreditation process, leaving the Sarasota Police Department unaccredited by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement (CFA) for the first time since 2002.

The department was found to be out of compliance in dozens of categories, including training issues and failure to notify schools and day-care centers when sexual offenders moved into nearby neighborhoods, as is required by law.

When evaluating an accreditation, the CFA looks at 39 standards for law enforcement agencies, including the areas of recruitment, fiscal activities and traffic crash investigations. A police department accreditation provides standards to measure and monitor a department’s performance, while providing consistent and effective operations, but probably most importantly, it helps to earn community confidence.

In a statement issued after the withdrawal, Chief DiPino said that the department would be working hard to reinstate the accreditation status as quickly as possible, by fully committing to the standards set forth by the CFA.

City Pulls Out Of Homeless Shelter Search

The City of Sarasota efforts to locate a site for a come-as-you-are shelter for the homeless will no longer have the city’s resources. City commissioners voted unanimously July 21 to back out of the process.

Sarasota County Commissioners sent a letter expressing frustration that the city administration was not cooperating with an agreed upon approach to address the problem. “The County Commission is concerned about the continued viability of our partnership on homelessness,” wrote County Commissioner Charles Hines, noted the county and city jointly hired consultant Robert Marbut to craft a 12-point plan to address homelessness and the shelter was a major part of the proposal.

Resistance to having a shelter within city limits has frustrated the city officials. The city would continue implementing the other 11 points of the Marbut plan. Plans are moving forward with new programs for the homeless at the city location of the Salvation Army.

Formula for a More Prosperous Community

Despite recent hype to the contrary, it’s a documented fact that “the more you learn, the more you earn.” Scarborough Research and the U.S. Dept of Labor independently agree that this is the case.

Here are a few more salient facts as we outline a formula for a more successful community:

  • The average cost of a high school dropout is estimated to drain a community of $295,000 over that person’s lifetime (Mindtrust). As such, those who dropped out just this past year alone will cost us nearly $20 million. Staggering, right?
  • Sarasota/Manatee is below average – #56 of 100 – amongst metro markets in educational attainment and household earnings. (Scarborough) Not bad, but not great either.
  • Increasing attainment of high quality degrees, certificates and other credentials by just 1% will produce an additional $350 million each year for our Sarasota-Manatee region. Now, that’s a huge positive impact.

So, it’s a natural, then, that the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce would join with others to create and support a business-education initiative called Talent4Tomorrow. And it’s not surprising that funders have supported this effort to combine and align community efforts to create a system to focus on encouraging career preparation and creation of jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related fields. These are the high-demand, high-wage, high skills occupations needed the most in our 21st century workplace.

Building a world-class regional workforce is imperative as we compete in a global marketplace where talent is scarce. Creating a career pathways system to inspire students to imagine, explore, prepare for and create high-paying jobs is our combined responsibility. Providing new ways and more opportunities for success via mentoring, job shadowing, internships and externships is a must.

Our work has just begun. We are still at the early stages of broadening our business and community base. More will be invited to join the cause… and we hope even more will step forward to offer to make a difference.

Vicki Vega is the Initiative Manager

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