Navigating politics in the wake of Hal Lenobel
Editor & Publisher
Although Longboat Key may be a small town — an insular community where one would expect congeniality among town commissioners and agreement on the fundamentals that guide town policy — nothing could be further from the truth.
Pettiness abounds, back room politicking, backroom backstabbing and small agendas are often magnified like a bad stage production of King Lear with connivance and strange allegiances formed and forgotten as the days and years pass us by.
Yet somehow Dr. Hal Lenobel — arguably Longboat Key’s finest and longest standing friend — always sidestepped the fray and held his head high.
Now could Hal Lenobel be frustrating? Yes, because although he listened, you could never get Hal to go against his belief. And that is because he stuck so close to his conscience. Hal tortured himself at times over what he believed in his heart and in his head was the right course of action for Longboat Key in every circumstance.
For instance, Lenobel was not the only commissioner who managed to be supportive of the Longboat Key Club approval — after all he is the longest-standing golf member at 43 years. But Lenobel railed against twisting our town codes and rewriting our zoning laws to accommodate a redevelopment plan.
He saw that those rules got us where we are today and those close to him can hear his echoing voice saying, “Those land use regulations have served us well; why change what has worked?”
And at the same time, Lenobel is a very close personal friend of the Key Club’s Manager Mike Welly and the two enjoy dinners and conversation and a strong relationship.
Lenobel has that ability. If you disagree with him on an issue, it would not affect a friendship. And that quality is lacking in many other people we all know wherein an agenda transcends humanity.
And Lenobel was always the maverick — the one lone vote. Mr. six to one, and he was the one. Lenobel needed no club and could not be harnessed by lesser minds. And while you could bend Lenobel’s ear, you never owned his ear. He would take in what was said and mull it over and rule from his gut — like a strong baseball manager.
Lenobel also knew the current Commission was intractable and heading in many directions he questions. He lamented that Former Police Chief Al Hogle and former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis were not merely removed from positions, but castigated in the process.
Hal had guiding principals that informed his policy decisions.
“We need a beach; we are primarily a residential community with strong codes; we need to support and pay our medical emergency personnel and police and staff slightly more to hire the best and have an unparalleled level of service; we need to keep Longboat unique and desirable and residential, not touristy” — those are just a few of the guideposts of Hal on and off the Commission.
And now, in Lenobel’s wake, we need big thinkers more than ever.
Hal leaves a vacuum. We do not need one less Lenobel; we need six more Lenobels leading the community.
Where are they? The big thinkers — the people who look at the entire policy of our island. We do not need leaders who debate the color of the toilet paper in the men’s room; we need leaders who talk about the look of the street and the building.
Lenobel was a strong continuation of the leadership he joined when he first got on the Commission. He did not chart and map every inch of beach. He did not pour through the greenbar looking to find out if the fire station needed a five-ton or four-ton a/c unit. He did not get interested in the Town Manager’s gas card usage.
What Hal looked at were long-term policies. He advocated the very thing the Vision Plan supports without self-consciously needing a Vision Plan to make a decision. He wanted to maintain a premier community that is residential, not touristy, in nature and has strict codes and enforces its rules.
Lenobel never bent over for a developer under the guise of revitalization — he looked at the rubric that is and will hopefully continue to be Longboat Key and he remained steadfast.
We should all hope the current Commission sees that as his legacy. We should all hope a new generation of long-range planners and thinkers join the board so we can leave the micro-management to Dave Bullock — our very competent new Town Manager and implementor of all policies and executor of the Commission’s direction.
In fact, Bullock, if directed correctly, will be one of Longboat’s best assets. With misdirection and petty policies, he will execute our Town’s very own unraveling — he is that good at his job.
Lenobel gave the community strong direction with class and with wit and with grace and charm. Whatever crowd Hal is in he always rises to the highest level of respect and decision-making. A sharper mind we will not find. But let us hope and pray his template of leadership is not honored and then forgotten.
And do not think of Hal as retreating into an apartment of inactivity. Rather, he has battled illness and still is planning on getting back to golf. He will still be there at breakfast at the Carousel where he has met with friends for years and at the Cortez Café. He will still write his golf column.
But in the Rock and Roll analogy, Hal wants to step off the stage like the Beatles. The Beatles never made a bad album and their work was consistent.
Lenobel’s qualities are singular and distinct — he embodied the very thing we all want in a leader — the strength and wisdom to lead a ship, not the flailing of an individual oarsman rowing away with his back turned to the future.
Under Hal’s 12 years of leadership — three times as Longboat Key’s Mayor — we had an advocate worthy of our island. And Hal, like Longboat Key itself — is simply irreplaceable.
Thank you, Dr. Hal Lenobel.