New SKA President Harold Ashby talks of plans to expand the organization’s membership

Annual breakfast meeting draws capacity crowd

Siesta Key Association members gather in the Community Room at St. Boniface for their annual breakfast meeting. Rachel Hackney photo

Members welcomed a new president during the 2017 Annual Breakfast Meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA).

Harold Ashby, who joined the board in early 2016, accepted the gavel from Vice President Catherine Luckner during the March 4 event, which was held at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.

“I didn’t expect that,” Ashby told Luckner as he eyed the gavel. “I didn’t even know there was [one],” he added, drawing laughter from the approximately 145 people present.

Ashby extended his appreciation to Luckner for encouraging him to take the position and for serving as a mentor to him. “It’s a great honor for me to step into these shoes,” he told the audience.

Ashby also recognized Luckner for all the work she has undertaken on behalf of the organization. She joined the board in 2009, she told him. Luckner served as president from 2011 until 2014.

Luckner will remain vice president of the SKA, while acting President Bob Stein will just serve as a director next year. Joyce Kouba will continue as secretary, Kouba reported on behalf of the Nominating Committee, and Bob Miller will remain treasurer. The other directors are Dan Lundy, Joe Volpe and Gene Kusekoski, who just joined the board last month.

Harold Ashby accepts the gavel from Catherine Luckner as Gene Kusekoski (left) looks on. Rachel Hackney photo

The SKA represents all the property owners of Siesta Key, Ashby pointed out. “Most people know us for our activism. We protect Siesta Key’s interests. … But we’re more than that. I’d like to say we make paradise better,” Ashby continued. “Remember that. You will hear it again.”

Among his top goals as the incoming president, Ashby pointed out, is expansion of membership. He extended his appreciation to those present that morning and then added, “We need more of you. Members give us influence; they give us resources.”

Earlier this year, a news release the SKA issued about one of its initiatives said its membership numbered about 1,300 households.

Explaining on March 4 that he is a former accountant, Ashby told the audience he likes statistics, and he had a few to present. Out of all of Siesta’s property owners, he said, 71% do not live on the Key and only 6% of them are SKA members. The goal is to convince all of them that joining the organization is a good investment, he added.

SKA members go through the buffet line. Rachel Hackney photo

Of all the island’s residents, he continued, 13% are SKA members. “Those numbers are not because we have had a decline in membership,” Ashby said. “They’ve been at that level a long time.”
In fact, he pointed out, “as of about a few weeks ago, we passed last year’s membership [total] for the full year [of 2016]. Our growth has been on a nice upswing.”

Ashby continued, “We know where they live, and we’re going to hunt ’em down and we are going to convince them that the Siesta Key Association is a good investment. … I predict in two years we are going to have double the membership that we have now.”

Joyce Kouba. Rachel Hackney photo

If that goal comes to fruition, Ashby added, the SKA will need a bigger place for its annual breakfast meetings, “and we may even have to raise the price of the free breakfast.”
The latter comment drew more laughter.

(Before Ashby made his remarks, Kouba told The Sarasota News Leader that this was the first year SKA members had to turn people away who wanted to register for the breakfast meeting, given the amount of space available in the Community Room at St. Boniface. Altogether, she said, 152 registered for the gathering this year.)

Other pursuits

Among other SKA goals going into its next year, Ashby said, will be the continued push for a “Do no harm” solution to Lido Key’s need for more sand on its beach. The SKA has been fighting the $19-million proposal of the City of Sarasota and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido. The initiative is on hold, thanks to legal action the SKA has taken. (See the related story in this issue.)

Additionally, Ashby said, the SKA will “be front and center on the Siesta Promenade project.” He pointed out that Benderson Development’s plan for the a mixed-use project at the northwest corner of the U.S. 41/Stickney Point Road intersection is going through “the grinder of the CAP process.”

The County Commission on Jan. 25 approved the scope of work Benderson Development must pursue — including detailed traffic studies undertaken during the height of tourist season — as the firm pursues approval of a Critical Area Plan (CAP) for Siesta Promenade, as well as a rezoning of the approximately 24 acres.

Ashby continued, “Of course, we will always advocate for the judicious management of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and the Siesta Key Overlay District.”

The latter is the special zoning district approved in 1999 for the Key, Luckner noted. The SKA was one of the entities that participated in the process that led to its final adoption, she said. The overlay district — referred to by the acronym “SKOD” — governs density and intensity of development on Siesta, she added.

“We’ll push for better traffic management,” Ashby continued, and alternatives to motorized transportation.

Todd Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, holds up a rendering of a residential building for Siesta Promenade during the June 2, 2016 SKA meeting. File photo

As he mentioned during the organization’s Feb. 2 meeting, he and new Director Kusekoski are working on an initiative that they hope will win Siesta Key the designation of Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists, which is based in Washington, D.C. “They recognize communities that promote bicycling and provide the facilities necessary to do so” and those that advocate for bicycling safely on public roads, he added.

“We also want to push for better pedestrian safety around the island, particularly in [Siesta] Village,” Ashby said.

Yet another major goal, he continued, is to build up the Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund the SKA established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in January.

Earlier, in her remarks, Luckner credited Ashby with originating the idea for that “forever” fund to enable the SKA to take legal action, if necessary, to protect Siesta Key’s environment. Luckner pointed out that when the SKA was founded in 1948, language in its charter called for it to put focus on the island’s environment.

“I will daresay we are probably one of the largest civic organizations of its kind in the state of Florida,” Luckner added.

Condominium towers stand on South Lido, across Big Sarasota Pass from Siesta Key. File photo

She referred to the proposal to dredge Big Pass as “a wake-up call.” The Environmental Defense Fund will enable the organization not only to continue to pursue legal challenges of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s intent to issue a dredging permit to the city and the USACE, she said, but it also will assist with any other efforts to try to prevent potential harm to the Key.

“We hope that you will donate if you’re able,” Luckner told the audience: “Twenty-five dollars here; $10 there.” None of it will be spent for any purpose except legal action on behalf of the island’s residents, she stressed. No money will go to marketing the SKA, for example, she pointed out.

Ashby also encouraged donations to the fund, joking that Treasurer Miller “used to be a car dealer. … He’s ready and willing to take your check. Today Bob is giving a double tax deduction.”

A special honor

Catherine Luckner presents the award to Deet Jonker. Rachel Hackney photo

Just before the close of the annual meeting, Ashby asked Luckner to return to the podium to recognize Deet Jonker, whom she called “a super volunteer extraordinaire” for the SKA and other organizations.

“For many years,” she continued, “he was our membership chair.” Sadly, because of health concerns, he had to stop attending meetings, she pointed out. Still, the SKA kept his name on its list of board members as if he still were serving, she said.

“Today’s our day to celebrate all the things he did for us … and to thank him for guiding us.”

She presented him an award inscribed with the following: “Our gratitude, forever, Deet Jonker, for your 15 years of service as Membership Chairman. You made it happen.”

Ashby and Luckner also pointed out that in his storied career before retirement, Jonker produced the 1984 Winter Olympics — held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia — for ABC and that he won an Emmy for his work.

Jonker’s wife, Lynn, accompanied him to the annual meeting.