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Bullock managed the insanities of a Town Commission all while keeping a sense of humor

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

I want to thank former Town Manager Dave Bullock.

Dave did not create Longboat Key. In fact, he came to an island of sublime beauty with a history and culture of protecting its lifestyle, physical beauty and the integrity of its codes.

Dave came first from a childhood as a farmer and then selling sewer equipment and systems and then he spent decades in municipal government. He worked as second-in-charge of Sarasota County before being handpicked by the Longboat Key Town Commission to replace Bruce St. Denis.

I was worried. Bruce had many faults and flaws, but his strength was he understood Longboat Key and its guiding principles.

 

Adapting to Longboat Key

But times had changed. Bruce would not champion pension reform. Bruce was not a master of long-range planning. Bruce had successfully run the Town for 14 years and his time and relationship with the Commission abruptly ended.

Bullock seemed far different.

Would he understand the intimacy of Longboat after working in such a large government entity?

Could Bullock interact at the very personal level of the community — its employees and its residents?

Could Bullock handle the pushy type-A personalities that swirl around Town Hall and tell staff how to approach everything from Colony redevelopment to what kind of air conditioning the Fire Station needs and which police cars need replacing? Could he handle micromanagement?

Bruce had the luck and joy of working with commissioners who were true policy makers. Bullock had to suffer the last decade, which has seen our leadership devolve into those who think at the ground level and cannot operate at the 30,000-foot view. They get involved in the nuances of what developer is doing what instead of setting overall rules that guide the community. On other issues, such as the beach, they try to out-engineer the professional engineers.

But with all of these obstacles and the decline in effective leadership, we could not have asked for better and stronger leadership in a Town Manager than Bullock.

 

Cell towers nixed…

First, Bullock helped steer the town through many dangerous currents — much like Odysseus in Scylla and Charybdis.

Commissioner George Spoll and others a few years back were pushing tirelessly on the scene and behind the scenes to bring a cell tower to Longboat Key. They argued it was a safety issue, etc.

Bullock, and in many ways Jack Duncan, helped bring objective thinking and consultants who told us just the opposite. We were told the very tower they desired would not remedy any problems and that the evolution of the technology was away from cell towers. We dodged a property-damaging bullet, but it was the skillful use of consultants to counter the local push that saved our island from that atrocity.

 

Commission fails Colony process…

Bullock also helped shepherd and implement the Urban Land Institute plan. That plan become a guiding document that helped our community focus on what makes sense for Longboat and what does not.

We have not executed many of its mandates — such as the Town Commission’s failure to create a zoning and redevelopment process to shape the future redevelopment of the Colony and other parcels in need of redevelopment. We have argued for years and have accomplished nothing on that front.

Instead, the Commission did nothing but continue to grandfather the old 237 Colony units as it floundered and failed to adopt a thought-out planned unit development policy that anyone could apply under. In short, Murf Klauber remains the principal planner of the Colony zoning and site.

Now our community and the applicant have to watch the torture of uncertainty and utilize strange methods of underlying zoning and grandfathering and all other mechanisms — none of which serve our community well in this most important issue.

But Bullock tried. In fact, the Commission exhausted several Planning and Zoning directors in the process.

 

Electrifying our Key!

Dave Bullock did see through the discussion and vote to bring undergrounding to Longboat Key. What a triumph!

And while many are not happy with the cost and the way the cost is meted out, Bullock worked tirelessly to be fair, to listen, to ease the burden on some of those who would suffer the most onerous expense.

Most importantly, he was looking foreword. He was looking at how to make an already beautiful island that much prettier. No more lopped trees above power lines, no more inability to landscape our Gulf of Mexico Drive corridor.

And functionally, the undergrounding will serve us the next time an Irma blows through. That means safety, savings and a tremendous selling point that will enhance all of our property values.

 

Sand in the machine

Bullock also did his very best and did it well to renourish the beach given the parsimonious nature of the most recent commissions.

Over the past decade, we have taken a less comprehensive approach to renourishment and have gone in the cover the “hotspots” mode. That approach left buildings vulnerable on the north key and the south key and residents without beaches for months and months at a time.

It was Bullock who brought remedies and got the Commission on board to truck sand. And he made that tolerable.

 

Bullock’s bloody axe

As for the pensions, Bullock had the tough task of walking around with a metaphorical bloody axe and sit through meeting after meeting with firefighters who at the time viewed him as a cross between Stalin and Chainsaw Dave.

But Bullock prevailed. The firefighters and the Town found a way to thread the pension needle in such a way to contain the Town’s exposure to cost while still allowing the firefighters into a defined benefit FRS plan. He kept the integrity of the organization and helped the Commission achieve its goal.

 

Small acts reveal

There are many more examples. But perhaps most significant is the human side of an individual. After all it is in small acts and gestures where character is revealed. In that sense Dave Bullock won me over.

Dave, as I came to find out, had qualities that were consistent. He took time to answer every phone call and explain issues and truly work with the press. At 5, 6 and even 8 p.m. Dave would offer quotes, explain staff input and was available to help get a story correct. He would email memos, he would give insight and he would give smart, viable quotes. He was articulate and in today’s world that is a rare commodity.

Also, when I interview, I like to push people, be snarly and challenge the person on the other end. Bullock could not be rattled. He never criticized the Commission on or off the record — in other words a true professional — but he never dodged anything. I will miss that rapport. I can only assume the Commission had that same relationship as did staff. It is rare.

 

Off to Lobster Heaven…

Lastly, the most important qualities in Dave Bullock are these three and they have nothing to do with Longboat Key:

• It is abundantly clear he has had a long and loving relationship with his wife. You can tell they value each other, enjoy each other’s company and I sense he may be a boss on Longboat, but when he goes home his long-term planning instincts tell him he is second in charge.

Also, many of my conversations in the evening with him were punctuated by, “Steve, hold on, I have to deliver a slice of pizza to my grandkid,” who could be heard in the background.

In other words his children and grandchildren are all part of this other side of Dave most of us do not know, but it showed a depth of soul and character.

• Another trait that is admirable is Dave is a complete fishing and lobster diving and eating maniac. All of this career and work might have been fun, but anyone who knows him knows that he lives to start the diesel engine on his Mainship and he heads south out from his canal to anywhere crustaceans and fish call home.

• And last but most importantly, Dave Bullock has a sense of humor. Sometimes dry and dark. Sometimes sarcastic, but it is always there. Even if he is getting worked up he waxes funny and edgy. I love that.

Bullock always would tell me when I believed I had some great thought: “Be careful of falling in love with your own idea.”

And that is and was Dave. He worked tirelessly. I am not sure how he personally sits on many issues, but that is what made him great at what he does. He knew the room was full of ideas and know-it-alls. Bullock could implement. Bullock could get it done.

On that note, I wish that Dave sails away soon on a great adventure on that Mainship. Know inside, Dave, that you made a difference and left a great impression. We cannot ask for much more from ourselves or anyone.

Bon Voyage!

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1 Response for “Bullock managed the insanities of a Town Commission all while keeping a sense of humor”

  1. Suny Gravy says:

    When 87% of those that last voted for the Colony development proposal said “NO”, the Developer came back with a new proposal which sidesteps the voters and this, although no vote was taken ,by the Commissioners, was again withdrawn as too many voter’s told the sitting Commissioner’s that “they vote”.
    The Commissioner’s wisely took no action on the latest Colony proposal which the next day was withdrawn. Should the next proposal anger this same block of voter’s, the Commissioner’s should take notice that section 100.361 of the State of Florida allows for recall.

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