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THE RIVER RAT REMEMBERS Episode 21 Disaster and Recovery


BKistler
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Episode 21 Disaster and Recovery

It’s not easy to write about the darkest chapter of your life.

I remember that morning like it was yesterday. I had gotten a surprise visit from a member of the AWSA Executive Committee. I told him I was losing sleep over reports that one of the recently-certified towboats was experiencing handling problems in turns; drivers were afraid the boat was unsafe. The AWSA tests were not designed to gauge a boat’s safety or maneuverability, just its ability to pull skiers; still I was worried sick about the liability implications for AWSA.

My guest seemed preoccupied and didn’t seem to be listening to what I was saying. He stopped me in mid-sentence, took a deep breath—and said he regretted to tell me that the Executive Committee was asking for my resignation.

Talk about a sucker punch. How could a group of people decide your fate behind closed doors and give you no hint, no phone call, no meeting, no opportunity to fix whatever they thought was wrong? In short, no courtesy. I knew it was a fight I couldn’t win, so I wrote a letter of resignation, packed up my personal effects, and cut ties with the organization that I had given my heart and soul to.

I had done my best. I had accomplished a lot. I always balanced the budget and was leaving the organization financially sound. AWSA was a better organization than it was before I arrived. I could hold my head up high. Coaches get canned all the time, I told myself. This is just a bump in the road. Things will work out.

Well, things took a long time to work out. Just as my wife’s career was getting into high gear, mine was going nowhere. I did some freelancing, wrote my book, looked for work and struggled with depression. AWSA had been my life and all that was gone.

I eventually got a job as a planner with Polk County, helping to write the county’s Comprehensive Plan. I later worked for the Central Florida Regional Planning Council, writing plans for small cities that did not have their own planning departments. When the City of Lake Wales plan was adopted (the first in the county to be approved by the state), the City Manager offered me a job as the city’s first Community Development Director, overseeing the planning, code enforcement and building inspection functions. When the opportunity presented itself a few years later, I took a job with the City of Lakeland, a much larger city, first as Principal Planner then as Planning Manager. I handled all zoning and development review. I became a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. I spent nearly twenty years with Lakeland, which, of course, is famous for having the oldest water ski club and the oldest collegiate water ski team in the nation. I wrote one of the first zoning regulations in the country governing the height and location of cell towers, which won an Award of Excellence from the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association. Before retiring, I rewrote the city’s zoning code, which is still in use today.

In the end, things did work out. If I never left AWSA, I would never have had a rewarding career as an urban planner. C’est la vie.

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