Siesta Key’s Volunteer Leaders

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By Bob Stein

Since Siesta Key is one of the few barrier islands in Florida that is not incorporated, the Island Associations and the Siesta Key Chamber are the closest local government Siesta Key has.  The County Commissioners pay close attention to the needs and wants of these Associations and the Chamber.

Siesta Key Association President, Michael Shay Michael Shay

The Siesta Key Association has a rich tradition of representing and proactively lobbying for the rights of the citizens of Siesta Key, and it is becoming ever more critical to have an active body that represents the interest of all property owners on Siesta Key.

Now in its 65th year, one of the biggest challenges facing Siesta Key is the proposed dredging of the Big Pass Shoal. Safeguard our shoreline from proposals of dredging or coastline hardening which could have a negative impact on our beaches, residential community, and natural coastal habitat. These are the words taken right from the SKA website under current projects.

On March 1st at the annual breakfast meeting the new board was presented to the Key. Catherine Luckner stepped back to 2nd vice president as Michael Shay became the new President of the 2014 Siesta Key Association.  Here is my interview with Michael Shay.

Michael, you were the vice president last year for SKA. What other positions have you held or chaired for the association? Also how long have you been a board member?
I have been on the SKA Board since 2010. I chair the Adopt-A-Road and other cleanups that we do here on the Key.

Prior to SKA, was this your first experience being involved with an association similar to SKA?
All my life I have tried to stay under the radar, as they say. This is my first experience with an organization of this size and scope.

Who or what prompted you to get involved with SKA?
Kind of a funny story:  I am an avid walker and when I first got down here I noticed that Ocean Blvd had, what I thought, was a fair amount of litter along the street.  I noticed that there was an Adopt-a-Road sign (SKA & SKVA working for you) on Ocean Blvd and called the County to complain & they said to call SKA.  I did, and they said why don’t you join us and help clean the street.  I guess the rest is history!

Are you now involved in any other associations on the island or in Sarasota?
No.  Between SKA, work, and family my dance card is full.

Are you a Florida native?
Nope.  Born & raised in Brooklyn, NY.  I lived in Freeport, Long Island for 20 years before settling full time on Siesta Key.

Are you retired or still working for a living?
As of very recently, I am semi-retired.

Besides the Big Pass Shoal dredging what are the other major issues SKA will be working on this year?
We are currently working on the parking issue at Avenida de Mayo, the outdoor display issue in the Village, recycling curbside in the Village, the no-right-turn on red issue at Stickney (which should be resolved shortly).  Those are just a few that come to mind.

Alana Tomasso The 2014 Chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Alana

On March 1st ,Debra-Lynn Schmitz started her role as the new Executive Director for the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce.  This position became available after Kevin Cooper accepted a job at the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce.  The Siesta Sand profiled Debra in our March edition.  As Executive Director, Debra reports to the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Chamber.

This year, at the Annual Chamber Luncheon hosted at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Maria Bankemper ended her term as Chamber Chair, and passed the baton to Alana Tomasso.  Under Maria’s leadership, the Chamber experienced a great year with increased revenues in addition to its sleek new look and location that doubles as a Visitor’s Center.

Although the Chamber Chair is a volunteer position, its importance is significant.

Here is our interview with Alana Tomasso.

I like to call Florida a huge refugee camp.  Are you a transplant or a native of Florida?
I like to consider myself a “semi-native”. I am technically a transplant from Rhode Island, but I moved here at such a young age so I was fortunate enough to grow up in Sarasota.  I vividly remember going to Siesta Beach on the weekends with my family as a child, then as I got older, spending my free time with my friends there.  Sarasota is a beautiful spot, but I have always had a connection with Siesta Key and I have been fortunate enough to live out here for the past 2 years.

Where did you go to school and how far did you go up the ladder in education?
I graduated in 1989 from Sarasota High School and I continued on to Manatee Community College for two years.

Being on the board you must be employed here on the island.  Where and how long?
I am the General Manager at Midnight Cove, and I am just starting my 4th week.  I am fortunate that my board of directors at Midnight Cove understands the importance of my role at the chamber and they fully support the time it takes to fulfill my responsibilities.  I was employed with Cunningham Property Management for about 15 years prior to this new position.

What prompted you to get involved in the chamber?
My former employer Sharon Cunningham stressed the value of being involved in the chamber, having served on the board herself, as did her son Rich Cunningham. My first contact with the Chamber was when Sharon asked me to volunteer at the 4th of July VIP party…so I helped park cars…I believe that was in 1999.  Within the next year, Sharon’s business partner Kevin Mattoni “suggested” (required) I start volunteering  at the Chamber visitor center and I enjoyed it so much that I later became involved in some of the events and committees. I had no idea what I was getting into, or that I would later be serving on the board, but I can say I have had such a great time, met some pretty amazing people and I have built business relationships as well as friendships through the years.

How long have you been on the board and in what roles?
This is my 4th year serving on the board, as incoming chair last year and now board chair.  I have also served on the event committees, co-chairing the Fireworks committee for the past two years.

Since Debra, the Executive Director reports directly to you, were you involved or instrumental in the hiring of Debra? Yes, I served on the Search Committee tasked with finding our new Executive Director.  There were 5 of us working together to find the best candidate and it wasn’t an easy task, as we had many qualified applicants. The interview process was long, but we all felt it was better to take our time and find the perfect fit.  We are very pleased with our decision to hire Debra, she has an amazing amount of  knowledge and experience, and we look forward to working with her and growing as an organization through her leadership.

What are the goals and challenges you face for 2014?
We always strive to increase our membership base, revenue and value to our members.  This year our focus will also be marketing ourselves as a visitor center as we have a brand new facility that we are so proud of. Another goal for 2014 is to make sure that we stay on top of all of the issues that are relevant to our community.  Our chamber has come so far in the past several years and each year we have certain challenges.  At this time, we have several “hot” topics on the table, including the dredging of Big Pass.  We have formally stated that we are against this project, along with the Siesta Key Association, Siesta Key Village Association, and the Siesta Key Condominium Council, and we will continue to fight to protect our island when faced with any other challenges.

As I ended with Debra’s interview, what would you like to say to the residents and the business community here Siesta Key?
Get involved.  Whether you are a resident or a business owner, we all have a responsibility to our community.   We live and/or work in paradise and it is our duty to promote and protect our #1 beach.


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