When Cowboys Call It A Day

These are the features that writers love to write.

Just spending a few hours in what feels like the middle of nowhere, with a family of retired cowboys who will never tire of telling stories.

Someone spotted an ad about 1,000 acres of land being auctioned off in the eastern part of Manatee County, where it feels like civilization may not be seen again. And good luck if you have signal on your cell phone.

Cowboys call it a day: 1,000 acres to be auctioned off in Myakka City

BY CHARLES SCHELLE

cschelle@bradenton.com May 26, 2013

MYAKKA CITY — David Kibler’s voice comes through as clear as the scenery surrounding him.

“This is what Florida was,” Kibler says over the loud Jeep engine, riding shotgun with his brother Thomas Kibler, as they tour the family’s 1,000-acre ranch — or rather, a retreat that runs along the Manatee River.

Welcome to Kibler Ranch, where the deer roam alongside cattle eating green tomatoes, horses swimming in a pond near grapefruit trees. Bobcats can be spotted here, and snakes aren’t out of the question when navigating the Manatee River.

“You will see flora and fauna, you will see snakes,” says David Kibler, a bit of a humorist whose language is as salty as the earth. “It will be majestic, and you will be (expletive) scared.”

Continue reading When Cowboys Call It A Day

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Becoming A One-Time Flood Insurance Policy Expert

I’d guess that 80 percent of journalism is having to write about something you don’t know about.

Don’t ask me what the other 20 percent is, though.

It could be something as simple as you don’t know what’s going to come out of a meeting, or covering a religious event that you don’t celebrate or in this case, explaining to people what the hell was going on with skyrocketing flood insurance policies. Thankfully enough noise was made that forced the federal government to delay changes that were making people pay more for flood insurance than their mortgage.

I don’t own a home. And so I don’t pay for flood insurance. So, I have no idea how any of this works.

But I was told to tell people what happened in my community and what’s behind the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. It must have resonated because a law office decided to cite one of my articles as a source in a Tampa Chamber of Commerce newsletter and InsuranceNewsNet picked up the story.

Part of the reporting was to convince the Washington Bureau that the flood insurance problems are not just a Florida problem, but a national issue. I also contributed to a McClatchy Washington Bureau story on the issue, too, when the bureau was able to follow the goings-on in D.C.

Continue reading Becoming A One-Time Flood Insurance Policy Expert

Power Boat Exclusive

After tearing through public records about IMG Academy and other tourism initiatives, the lead tourism folks for the county decided to bring an exclusive to me about a major event planned for Bradenton.

It showed they trusted me and that I could do a thorough job. And sure, they wanted to have more control over the story…and they were asking my publisher for sponsorship money.

Still, it turned out to be a nice get. And the event itself was a success during its first year. A few minor hiccups with food, access and beer, but plenty of people turned out.

The one thing I regret not doing in my reporting was calling people in Pittsburgh about this event not associated with it. After I left the paper, I found out that the company that was bringing the festival to Bradenton, ISM-USA, lost the contract for the Pittsburgh event the following year as the city wanted to have someone new at the helm.

Not major but it would explain some of the motivation.

As the year progressed, I would cover minor updates from tourism council meetings and the urban affairs reporter would focus on the city issues from both Palmetto and Bradenton as this became more of a municipal story until the event itself.

Continue reading Power Boat Exclusive

Hotel Revitalization in Bradenton, Florida

Downtown Bradenton had an eyesore of a building that was once the most prominent in its skyline.

Whatever you called it, the pink building some folks contend wasn’t pink in the first place was being revived into an elegant Hampton Inn. Yes, that does sound weird. But the attention to detail in restoring and preserving an 87-year-old building and turning it into a modern hotel is quite the accomplishment.

I was fortunate to cover the lead-up to the hotel’s opening and help document some history, as well as share some ghost stories:

Continue reading Hotel Revitalization in Bradenton, Florida

How A Florida Airport Wrestles With Identity


The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was probably one of the more drama-free beats I had. It’s not to say there wasn’t controversy. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The small-hub airport, which goes by its FAA code SRQ, became debt-free, paying off its mortgage. It renovated its concourse and baggage areas, and continues construction today around its parking lot and infield. A new FAA control tower is being built, too.

But it always had a chip on its shoulder as it competed with a behometh to the north, Tampa International. To a lesser extent, St. Pete-Clearwater Airport, too. And to the south, there’s Fort Myers’ and Punta Gorda’s airports nibbling away.

It became problematic in 2012 when Southwest was ready to phase out AirTran. SRQ was among the first airports for Southwest to pull AirTran from, taking away one-third of the airport’s business.

The airport positioned itself well playing the victim, but then I found out that they were talking to Southwest about the possibility of some type of return as they all but bashed the airline publicly.

Since then, the airport did two large identity campaigns as well as battling a perception that SRQ is more expensive than Tampa. That’s still up for debate depending on which routes you look at for ticket prices, but there are also parking fees and gas and tolls to consider.

Looking at the numbers, the airport was able to mostly recover. But it didn’t mean it restored all routes. Most notably, a route to Baltimore (and nearly Washington, too) wasn’t restored. That’s awfully difficult to get Marylanders down to Sarasota for Orioles spring training at Ed Smith Park. But not any more difficult considering the official airlines of the Orioles is…Southwest.

Anyway, here is a collection from my time covering SRQ:

Continue reading How A Florida Airport Wrestles With Identity

Boating Bandwagon at Benderson Park

During my time at both Sarasota Patch and the Bradenton Herald, I got to learn about the merits of sculling, rowing and whatever other boat-related sport you can have.

The development of what became Nathan Benderson Park into a world caliber venue for aquatic sports—namely sculling and rowing—was a fun journey. It wasn’t without its controversy considering the costs, and it still is and probably will be after the World Rowing Championships finally come to the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties in 2018.

Here’s the downlow on how this all came to be in as much as I can reduce it before you dig into my clips:

-A few folks noticed how perfectly rectangle a old borrow pit that became a lake was and thought, huh, this would be cool to use for rowing.

-These folks talked to Nathan Benderson, the founder of powerful Benderson Development Company, about getting behind this cause. The man, who would ride his bike around this park up until the day he died, was convinced. They just needed to convince Sarasota County.

-The county said sure, they took the money from Benderson after talking to rowing officials that this could work. Benderson also saw how nice it would be considering how much land owns for retail sits just north of it. The lake was expanded for regulation racing over a period of time. A road was expanded and connected for better access.

-Donations were hard to come by through fundraising so the local rowing officials kept asking the State of Florida for millions of dollars to help finish the park and the buildings needed for the championships. (This is still happening in 2016.)

-In 2013, the park was awarded the 2017 World Rowing Championship plus additional events. Construction of the park still has not finished, but some main components are in place.

Continue reading Boating Bandwagon at Benderson Park

When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

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via @JDeLeon1012 on Twitter

One of the more interesting assignments I had was covering the Bradenton Housing Authority after a federal raid and investigation.

At the time of the raid, the paper hadn’t regularly covered the BHA meetings for at least a year, thanks to layoffs and cuts. I was asked to cover what was going on to assist a rookie reporter and the crime desk. The crime desk covered the initial raid and as the crime beat picked up with activity, I had to take the BHA over full time until another city reporter was hired, who has since then dutifully covered the beat. Mark Young has done a great job when he came on and I was very thankful he could tackle the beat as the Mall at University Town Center and another huge land development, Lake Flores, were about to consume my beat again.

What I found was a public board that was complacent by saying yes to everything by the executive director, signing off on policies without looking at them or fully understanding them and either ignorance or apathy. And for the longest time, denial, until a few of the members came around and realized what happened.

The interim director, who was the authority’s financial director, revealed later she was the whistleblower, but the question was always why did she allow this to go on for so long and not alert anyone else? The inflated salaries for staff certainly helped keep folks quiet. The interim director was also looking for a raise from her financial director salary.

Eventually she resigned for medical reasons and so did another official making $130,000 a year. The agency saved salaries from both of them and paid an experienced director $130,000 to lead it back on track. The new director also pointed out the bias and flaws in a salary study completed under the interim director’s watch.

I filed plenty of FOIAs for this one, some still awaiting to be fulfilled because of the ongoing investigation through HUD-OIG. Just getting coherent information and documentation from the Housing Authority was a mighty struggle, where I had to rely on experts from other housing authorities to verify what I was seeing.

I tracked down the main players, who of course, weren’t willing to talk. My work also grabbed the attention of a U.S. Senator who is known for making a stink over housing authority scandals–mainly pointing out that in one way or another the federal oversight is broken. And the various state and local laws make it difficult to find a solution.

Here are the highlights of my Housing Authority coverage:

Continue reading When Nobody’s Home at the Housing Authority

Freedom of Speech, Religion and French Fries

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Staff Photo by Marc Masferrer

When I reported that a controversial pastor would be moving into my coverage area, I thought that would be mainly quiet after he settled.

Rev. Terry Jones earned international notoriety for burning the Quran along with his views about Islam. He lived in a rural town in Polk County, Fla., and then a Central Florida news outlet mentioned in passing he would be moving to Manatee County.

[Forgive the difference in spelling of Koran and Quran in the clips. The editors and copy desk were battling over style preferences.]

I checked property records and found that yes, he is in the community.

Two years later, my business editor received a call from a reader saying Jones had opened a place in the DeSoto Square mall food court.

It was the most bizarre news tip I ever received. I checked it out and there he was.

When local outlets cover a story I broke first, I typically get miffed. But it was quite an honor to see Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anne Hull write her version for The Washington Post. It’s the tone that I would have wanted to write but knew it wasn’t write for a local audience. Her style is perfect for a national view.

After my story ran, I actually received more complaints about one of his other businesses I didn’t know about—furniture moving. Continue reading Freedom of Speech, Religion and French Fries

Of Course There’s a Florida Connection: McDonnell Trial

There’s an old saying in newsrooms found in the Sunshine State: Of course there’s a Florida connection.

The trial of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell proved that. This story shared those connections in the Sarasota and Bradenton communities.

It involved a relocated pharmaceutical company, a local medical research lab known for its Alzheimer’s studies, a tennis coaching legend and a reader who contacted me to share her experience testing the drug at the center of the trial.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2014

In Bradenton and Sarasota, Anatabloc crossed many paths before McDonnell trial

A Sarasota woman shares her story of being in the clinical trials for the drug Anatabloc, which suspended its sales in the midst of the corruption trial of Gov. Bob McDonnell and wife Maureen McDonnell. The McDonnells were found guilty of accepting bribes to promote the drug while leading Virginia.

MANATEE — Ten days before Jonnie R. Williams stepped down as chief executive of drug company Star Scientific, Janet Wilmink got the OK to be part of a clinical trial for Williams’ wonder drug, Anatabloc.

Wilmink, a Sarasota retiree, didn’t know anything about the company, the drug or an impending indictment of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell when she was approved last December to participate in the clinical trial. To her, it was another test for science, this time at Manatee County’s Roskamp Institute. That’s what she does to fill time: volunteering her body to test new pharmaceuticals and supplements.

“This may sound patriotic, but I believe in these clinical studies. Somebody has to be willing to test these things,” said Wilmink, a former Department of State foreign services secretary. “There have to be institutes like the Roskamp and pharmaceutical companies, and there have to be people that are willing to risk a little bit.

“I didn’t risk much,” she added. “I was careful in what I took part in.”
Continue reading Of Course There’s a Florida Connection: McDonnell Trial

Companies That Call On The Do Not Call List

This story was part of a submission that won 2014 Third-place Business Writing, Class B, Florida Press Club.

One of the business owners decided to harass me on the phone and online after this story.

July 17, 2013

Tampa Bay companies dominate top Do Not Call complaints

By Charles Schelle, cschelle@bradenton.com

MANATEE — Four of the top five companies in the state that logged the highest complaints for violating the Do Not Call list are based in Tampa Bay, and the state is aggressively pursuing violators.

Telemarketing is a regulated business in Florida that requires the company and each salesperson to be licensed, and companies have restrictions on when and with whom they can do business, said Erin Gillespie, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which handles the state’s free Do Not Call list.

“If you’re on the Do Not Call list, companies are not allowed to call unless you’ve done business with them within 18 months,” Gillespie said. Even if your name is not on the list, businesses cannot call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., she said.

The Herald requested the five companies in the state that have the most Do Not Call complaints in the last fiscal year from the Department of Agriculture, and the majority are based in Tampa Bay:

1. Travel Link Corp., 5700 Memorial Highway, Suite 221, Tampa

2. Evo Security, 1940 Harrison St., Hollywood

3. Mortgage Investors Corporation, 6090 Central Ave., St. Petersburg

4. Morgan Air Conditioning, 14807 N. 12 St., Lutz 5. Harrell Home Services, Inc, 6015 Benjamin Road, Suite 324, Tampa Continue reading Companies That Call On The Do Not Call List