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Date of Issue: April 30, 2008

Cortez election warms up, sort of

Political competition has hit Cortez. It’s downright genteel compared with the national traveling burlesque, but warm enough for the small, history-laden fishing village.

Candidates have begun to make their rounds to convince their neighbors to support them come 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, when the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage holds its annual membership meeting and potluck dinner at the Florida Maritime Museum.

There are no fat political goodies involved, just the privilege of serving the village by presiding over meetings, giving of their time, attending a crisis here and there, and listening to plenty of criticism.

FISH is the premier civic organization of Cortez, involved in every aspect of public affairs, and most of its board members have served for some years, often without election competition.

And most on the board are expected to continue in office, said FISH president Allen Garner. But corresponding secretary Maxine Myford has decided not to seek re-election and that creates a vacancy at the top.

In addition, four board seats are up for election under FISH guidelines, so there is competition there, too. A nominating committee will bring four candidates to the membership Tuesday Sheila Mora and Carolyn Doig for corresponding secretary, Glen Brooks and Sam Bell for three-year seats on the board.

Other officers serving with Garner are Richard Culbreath, vice president; Karen Bell, treasurer; and David Zaccagnino, recording secretary.

FISH has been the leading organization of Cortez since 1990, Garner recalled, when other organizations decided a consortium was needed to take on bigger projects and to become the focus of the village.

That’s when the Cortez Village Historical Society, Organized Fishermen of Florida, the Cortez Volunteer Fire Department and its auxiliary came together to establish FISH.

Its first project was to save the 1890-built Burton Store, all that was left of the Albion Inn that the U.S. Coast Guard demolished to make room for Station Cortez.

The store now is at its permanent home as part of the Florida Maritime Museum, itself a major dream of FISH. The organization rebuilt several old docks, installed historic signs and planned and erected the a memorial statue to lost fishers on the waterfront.

Early on, members talked of acquiring a 95-acre tract of mangroves and uplands as a nature preserve and a buffer to ward off development. An outrageous notion for a little village with almost no money in the bank, many scoffed.

But FISH’s treasurer, Karen Bell, with plenty of help from other villagers, pulled it off. The land owner, a Michigan widow of a Florida investor, offered to sell the valuable property to FISH as a nature preserve for $250,000. A bargain, but still a challenge for empty pockets. Undaunted, the organization financed that purchase through its annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival.

FISH also has played a large part in the development of the museum, which has been brought alive in the 1912-built schoolhouse by the state, nonprofit organizations and Manatee County. In this case, the county means largely Richard “Chips” Shore, clerk of the circuit court who is in charge of matters historic in the county. The museum is at the northwest corner of the FISH Preserve, an association which supporters are quick t point out.

Coming up on the FISH agenda are moving its traditional boatbuilding program to a house it bought on the Preserve property, and continued restoration of the Preserve, starting soon at the east end.

And FISH reminded members and friends in notifying them of the membership meeting Tuesday, dues are due now too $10 individual, $20 family, $100 sponsor, $300 life, $1,000 perpetual. Checks to FISH should be mailed to P.O. Box 606, Cortez FL 34215.