Businessman steps up to make city grant possible for the hearing-impaired

After downtown Sarasota businessman Tom Mannausa offered a $750 contribution to match a proposed $750 city grant to the Hearing Loss Association of Sarasota, Mannausa joined members of the HLAS's board of trustees for a celebratory photo in the Sarasota City Hall lobby. From left are Kathy Kelly-Ohlrich, chairwoman of the Citizens With Disability Advisory Board of the City of Sarasota; JoAnne DeVries, immediate past chairwoman of the CWD and a member of the HLAS board of trustees; Mannausa; Edward Ogiba, president of the HLAS; and Kelley Anderson, HLAS board member. The photo was taken by Donita "Maggie" Sumney, manager of risk and employee relations for the City of Sarasota.

Ed Ogiba confesses he thought a request from the nonprofit Hearing Loss Association of Sarasota for a $1,500 grant was going to go down to a 3-2 defeat during the April 16 City Commission meeting.

That was before a member of the audience came to the rescue.

Commissioner Shannon Snyder already had complained that he felt it was unfair for the city to be asked to cover the cost of two new CART (Communication Access Real-Time Translation), or hearing loop systems, for association meetings, while the Sarasota County Commission was not offering any support.

The money was being requested from the city’s Handicap Parking Fine Fund, from which the City Commission had given the Hearing Loss Association $2,500 last year.)

Ogiba told the City Commission he had not approached the County Commission for any funding.

Vice Mayor Terry Turner earlier had expressed concerns that the city’s Citizens With Disabilities Advisory Board — which had requested the money for the Hearing Loss Association — was working outside its scope in seeking $2,500 from the city at the same time for a Stroke Association of Sarasota publication, which would be designed to educate residents and caregivers about strokes. (The City Commission turned down the Stroke Association’s request.)

At the very least, Commissioner Willie Shaw said, people or organizations in the community should be willing to cover half the $1,500 cost of the hearing loop equipment.

In fact, Ogiba told the commissioners, the Sarasota Lions Club already had contributed $1,500, half of the total needed for the two systems. The equipment was critical to enable residents to participate fully in the association’s meetings, he added.

Nonetheless, Shaw wanted to amend a motion by Commissioner Paul Caragiulo for the full $1,500, saying the city could put up $750 if someone in the community put up the other $750 — “maybe some of the businesses in our area,” Shaw said.

Caragiulo protested. “It’s a question of the value of the service,” he added, noting he has hearing loop equipment in his downtown restaurants. “It’s a modest cost with a tremendous effect,” Caragiulo said.

Shaw was insistent on help from the community. Perhaps the matter should be tabled, Shaw said, until an effort could be undertaken to find community support.

Just then, a man seated in the audience walked down to the table in front of the commissioners, where Ogiba was seated with Maggie Sumney, the city’s manager of risk and employee relations as well as the CWD advisory board facilitator; and Kathy Kelly-Ohlrich, chairwoman of the CWD board.

The man spoke softly to Ogiba.

“We’re fundraising here,” Mayor Suzanne Atwell announced with a chuckle, as it became clear to the commissioners and the audience that the man, Thomas James Mannausa, was offering the $750 Shaw had requested from the community.

“You’re a prince, Tommy; that’s all I can say,” Caragiulo told Mannausa as Mannausa headed back to his seat.

Caragiulo then made the motion that the city contribute $750 to the Hearing Loss Association out of the city’s Handicap Parking Fund. Shaw seconded it, and Atwell joined them in voting for it.

Vice Mayor Terry Turner and Snyder voted “No.”

In an interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Mannausa said, “My money is hard-earned, but I do have a family member who has a hearing impairment” — his father, a retired surgeon. “I just thought (the contribution) would be a good thing,” Mannausa added.

Mannausa is a real-estate manager and developer with an office on Main Street in Sarasota.

When Shaw mentioned tabling the matter, Mannausa said, “I had to jump in. It worked out perfectly for everybody.”

Ogiba was unacquainted with Mannausa before the April 16 commission meeting, Ogiba told The Sarasota News Leader. “I’m glad he did (step forward).”


Ogiba working toward community goals 

Ed Ogiba, president of the Board of Trustees of the Hearing Loss Association of Sarasota, remains dedicated to his mission of making Sarasota the friendliest city in the nation to persons with hearing loss.

As he told the Sarasota City Commission during its regular meeting April 16, more than 60,000 residents of Sarasota County have some form of hearing loss. The figure for Manatee County is 50,000.

For the two counties together, Ogiba said, 16.1% of the population has some form of hearing loss, the highest such incidence in the United States.

Europe is far ahead of the U.S., Ogiba told The Sarasota News Leader, when it comes to making sure people with hearing loss can enjoy activities those with good hearing take for granted.

As a result of his efforts and those of others in the community — including the Sertoma Club and the Selby Foundation — all but one theater in Sarasota County has hearing loop systems for patrons. The exception, the Mertz Theatre in the Ringling Complex, has technical issues that must be addressed before a system can be installed there, Ogiba said.

The theater installations had been accomplished within a year, Ogiba said. “We became the first city in the United States where more than four theatres were looped.”

About 13 houses of worship have loops, he added.

People he has consulted in London told him to start with the theaters, then reach out to the houses of worship. The latter are critical, Ogiba said he was told, “because that’s where people will use (the hearing loop system) the most.”

Once theaters and churches and temples were on board, he said, his contacts in London had told him the business community would follow.

Ogiba is gratified, he said, by how fast Sarasota County has been moving forward with hearing loop systems. “We’re probably two or three years ahead of our goal.”