Street Talk - April 2003

By staff April 1, 2003

There were plenty of raised eyebrows and politely hushed mutterings among Sarasota's cultural and social elites-remarkably similar here-when Time magazine named two of our most prominent as developers of a new Native American gambling casino just outside Sacramento, California.

The name Roy Palmer didn't really surprise anyone, because that's how he made a fortune in Wisconsin. But eyebrows shot up when it was revealed Sarasota Bay Club developer Bob Roskamp is part of the California deal, too.

To the social and cultural crowd, Roskamp's carefully cultivated-and genuine-image as a huge supporter of the arts and professed deeply religious person seemed to be in danger. It isn't like the money to the arts seems to be in any danger of stopping, but after all, would Jesus open a casino?

For his part, Roskamp thought the whole thing was a bit of a chuckle.

"They won a court case back in the '80s and we're helping them implement it," Roskamp says. "We help them and they help us. How does that old cliche go? 'No good deed goes unpunished.'"

The real old-timers

A certain element in Sarasota seems fixated on "How long have you been here?" Regardless of what they know about the community, have contributed to it or whatever, mostly they're proud they've been here longer than you.

But down on Siesta Key, and Casey, too, for that matter, some of the real old-timers have been popping up recently, especially when it's time to dig a pit for a swimming pool. They're the original key residents and some of them have been here for going on 3,000 years now-others for only, say 800 years or so.

County archaeologist Don Hughes (and we're one of the few counties in Florida that has an archaeologist to look after these things) explains that any time human remains are found, the police must be called and the site treated as a crime scene. That's at least until the medical examiner decides the bones are more than 75 years old. Middens, those piles of shells-and sometimes bones-tossed up by the original settlers beginning 3,000 years or so ago, were routinely bulldozed to build roads through the first half of the 20th century. But they're protected now, or at least are supposed to be.

An interesting "accidental disinterment" came a few years ago when the hole was dug for a new pool at Cherokee Park and they came on "a Christian burial." Apparently they can tell these things. Turns out this poor soul was apparently one Cuban fisherman who didn't make it back home.

One last zinger

Former Sarasota city manager David Sollenberger got in one last zinger at his old employers, the city commission, as he prepared to leave town to take up managing Plant City. Asked something about the commission there, Sollenberger relied that it included a very successful businessman, a school counselor and a retired full colonel among others, adding, "It's the caliber of commissioners you would have expected to find in a place like Sarasota."

We're the lawyers and We're here to help you

Couple of years ago the city decided to remodel the aging Van Wezel Hall and contracted with its original architect, Frank Lloyd Wright-founded Taliesin, to carry out the $20-million project. Well, guess what? As anybody who's ever remodeled a simple kitchen knows, these projects almost never come in on budget. In the case of the Van Wezel, it came in 10 percent over-or $2 million.

Our "great morning daily" newspaper got its knickers in a big twist over this and hasn't let go, so the city leaders obviously had to DO SOMETHING. So they sued the architect and held up payment to the contractor, too.

Now, using some very special counsel from Orlando suggested by the city attorney, the city finds itself having spent $350,000; and the special counsel is asking for another $300,000. And the case isn't even close to going to court yet, I'm told.

The contractor, Dooley & Mack, has sent a representative down to the commission table pleading with the city to just sit down and work out a settlement, cutting out the expensive lawyers. And at least some of the city commissioners are clearly of a mood to tell the city attorney to call off his special counsel and finally just work it out themselves.

Hot Seat

Forty-seven-year-old Peter J. Abbott, a 21-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, became the new police chief of Sarasota last fall and had a few months to move his family here and learn his way around town. Looking significantly younger than his age, Abbott has also proved to have a good sense of public relations-and if the street talk is right, that includes the nearly 200 uniformed officers he commands.

Q: What was the biggest surprise Sarasota gave you?

A: Coming from the North and a big city, the biggest surprise was the acceptance of me and openness of the people here. A lot of people in Sarasota aren't from Sarasota, and that was a surprise to me, too.

Q: What's the biggest need you see in our police department?

A: There are several needs, but the greatest one is to re-establish our reputation as a great police department. Several things have happened and we have to build our reputation back; and that doesn't happen overnight. We need to do positive things in the community and build on that.

Q: A lot of your senior officers are scheduled to retire in the next year or so. Do you plan to promote from within or look outside?

A: If the right person came along at the right time, I'd consider them; but there's lots of talent in the department here right now. A lot of the new leadership can come from inside.

Q: There seems to concern in the community about red-light runners. Would you consider cameras at intersections to combat that?

A: Absolutely. I favor cameras at troublesome intersections-something we did in New York City. I understand such cameras aren't allowed in Florida. People ask, "How can you tell it was me? Maybe it was somebody else driving my car."

Well, the fact is, we ticket the car; and it's very effective. I'll tell you this, it slowed down a lot of people in New York.

Q: What do you miss most about New York?

A: The people and the long relationships I had with them there. But I look forward to making new ones here. Heck, maybe what I miss the most are the bagels and pizza. Sarasota today reminds me of Long Island 30 or 40 years ago-people looking for a better quality of life.

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