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Commentary: Change May Be Inevitable But I Don't Have To Like It
By Mitch Traphagen
Feb 16, 2006 - 8:03:00 PM

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Due to the nature of the things I write about, I rarely get negative letters or emails. In fact, over the years, I could probably count them on one hand and have a finger or two left over. I did receive one, however, a month or so ago in response to a commentary I wrote in which I was waxing philosophically about the good old days in Ruskin — the good old days being five, six or seven years ago. Basically, the writer told me that if I didn't like the changes around here then I should just leave.

By this point in my life I have come to understand that change is inevitable — but that doesn't mean that I have to like it. In fact, a couple of recent changes are weighing heavily on my heart.

Eva Stricker passed away just a few days ago. In all likelihood, she never knew who I was but for the past several years I shot her picture during the annual parties held for centenarians at the SunTrust Bank in Sun City Center. Eva was 107 years old. In a few weeks, when the party will probably be held again, I will very much miss her presence.

Likewise, I will miss Michael Tiberio. Tiberio was an American hero. I have no idea if he saved people or performed beyond the call on the battlefield or whatever — but to me, he was a hero. Since 2001, I have taken pictures of a Pearl Harbor Day ceremony at the Little Manatee River in Ruskin. As a Pearl Harbor survivor, Tiberio was there each year to honor and remember his fallen comrades from that fateful day. But this year, he won't be there. Michael Tiberio passed away on Jan. 18 at the age of 91.

The public, by and large, didn't turn out for the ceremony — just a few family and friends and Ruskin VFW members are all that I had ever seen in attendance. To someone driving by on U.S. 41, it would probably appear to be nothing more than a few old men standing on a bridge.

But it was much more than that. I learned that it was much more by meeting Tiberio. Somehow, someway, when I met him, I could see the young man that he was standing there just a glimpse away. I could also see the sadness in his eyes and in his heart when he tossed the wreath into the river and held a salute for those who were gone.

On Dec. 7, 2006, I will miss Michael Tiberio — and I will think of him when I am standing at the river.

Some change is sad and heartbreaking — it's not a matter of "like it or leave it."


But apparently I'm not the only one that is being told to leave.

The long-time marina manager at Little Harbor (formerly Mariner's Club, formerly still Bahia Beach) was recently informed that he no longer had a job with the company. George Kupelian had been a part of that marina for 12 years — and had recently been promoted.

The official line is that he was laid off in a staff reduction. There is word, however, that only two days before his termination he decided against standing up to speak in support of his company at the recent zoning hearing.

Is there a connection? I don't know. According to a recent St. Petersburg Times article, the company denies any connection. Oddly, however, a few company employees have mentioned that at least one person has been hired since the downsizing.

Having known Kupelian for more than a decade now, I have come to know him as an honest man with a strong sense of integrity. In my opinion, he is not likely to say something that he doesn't believe — even if standing by his convictions could cost him his job.

Connection or not — it all may have been a moot point. A review of the transcript from the zoning hearing reveals that the zoning hearing master specifically asked that people associated with the company not testify. The two people who did stand up in support, however, were both associated with the company.

No matter the reason, Kupelian will be missed by both his employees and customers.

I have friends on both sides of the Shell Point development issue. A few months ago I met with the project manager of Manatee Bay Associates, Richard McGinniss, and found him to be gracious, open and intelligent. He didn't at all appear to be a guy who simply wants to bulldoze the town just for kicks.

But I do have a concern that was beyond the scope of my recent article. And as this is a commentary and therefore my opinion — and mine alone — I will voice that concern here. In doing so, however, I will also pledge to write up an honest response — it's only fair, after all.

I believe in the rights of property owners. McGinniss had the trump card when he said that they take developer's rights very seriously. Of course they do, those rights are money — they paid for them and they should be allowed to earn a profit from them.

But my concern is this — the condos at Little Harbor have been under construction since 2003. Now I don't know squat about development but I do know that in that same time period entire schools have been built and are in operation. In that same time period whole developments have broken ground and already have people calling them home.

But no one is living at Little Harbor.

In fact, according to the county reports on the web, despite being under construction for going on three years, there hasn't been a single certificate of occupancy issued for the development. The inspector's reports do show a fair number of re-inspections. Are there more re-inspections than other developments? I don't know. But I do know that a whole section of Ruskin is now a big, bulldozed non-populated construction zone — it has been for a long time and it appears that it will be for some time to come.

As such, I have a few concerns about what might happen to that proposed nature preserve they say they'll build. That also makes me a bit concerned about the fate of some beautiful waterfront on the Little Manatee River.

And again, if anyone can shed some light on this I'll write up any honest, non-marketing hype-type reply. And there may well be one — I know that I sure don't have the ability to manage a project of that magnitude - and I am cognizant of that when voicing my concerns.


I do very much appreciate and consider all letters and emails — even the less than pleasant ones. But in the end, the best we can hope for is to leave behind fond memories in minds and warm feelings in hearts. Just like Eva Stricker and Michael Tiberio have done.

In the end, that's all that really matters.

Godspeed Eva and Michael.

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