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Indian Shores loses two longtime leaders

INDIAN SHORES — Change has become the norm in this tiny beach town, and some of the biggest changes are happening next week when two longtime employees retire and two new council members are sworn in.

"It is like somebody reached inside me and grabbed my guts and yanked them out," Mayor Jim Lawrence said Tuesday when asked to describe his feelings about the pending retirements of police Chief and Town Administrator E.D. Williams and City Clerk Marcia Grantham.

Williams, 72, and Grantham, 70, have worked for the city a combined 62 years — a tenure that will be celebrated Saturday evening at an invitation-only party at Town Hall.

Monday will be their last official day on the job, while on Tuesday the Town Council will meet to swear in newly elected council members, Michael "Mike" Petruccelli and Patrick Soranno, who are replacing retiring Carole Irelan and Steve Sutch.

Elaine Jackson, formerly deputy clerk, will take over as the new city clerk, while interim police Chief Terry Hughes will become the town's new chief. They have each worked for the town for more than two decades.

"Terry has been with us for the past 21 years and is perfectly capable and ready to be a chief," Lawrence said.

Williams' second responsibility, as town administrator, has not been reassigned, but Bonnie Dhonau, who currently serves as administrative assistant at Town Hall, was promoted to a new position as director of community services and town administration.

"Indian Shores went from a small town that really was marking time to being a progressive town that has taken on and accomplished some pretty bold initiatives," said Williams, recalling his 27 years in the town.

During that time, the landscape in Indian Shores has changed dramatically: utilities were buried underground the entire length of Gulf Boulevard; that roadway was redesigned by the state Department of Transportation to include a wide pedestrian and bicycle path; the town built a new municipal center and just recently completed a new pavilion, playground and park on the Intracoastal Waterway behind the center.

Williams, who formerly served for 25 years as Tampa's deputy chief of operations, came to Indian Shores in 1987. In his first week on the job he and his department solved a homicide, one of the cases he still remembers.

"But really, we were never were a crime-ridden city. We have been fortunate," Williams said.

He firmly believes the town will continue to support operating its own police department, unlike other beach cities that have opted to switch to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement coverage.

The town's police department was formed in 1964 and now includes the chief, assistant chief, detective and nine line officers. An additional nine reservists with police training are on call for special events and activities.

The department also provides law enforcement coverage to neighboring Redington Shores.

"I have enjoyed working with the people in Indian Shores. I made a lot of friends here. It is not only a good place to live, it's a good place to work," Williams said.

Now, Williams said he is going to try to relax and perhaps write a novel — a mystery, of course.

Grantham is excited about her pending retirement and plans to do a lot of traveling with her longtime companion and visiting with family. She says she is going to miss most the camaraderie with the city staff, council members and residents.

"I have worked with nine mayors and 60 council members. You have to love your job to be here 35 years in a political environment," she said.

Her strongest memory is of working with city officials to convince property owners along Gulf Boulevard to allow the easements necessary to bury utilities along the roadway.

"The chief and Marcia have so much corporate memory, it is a big loss for us, but we are fortunate we had folks here ready to move up who have been with us a long time, as well," Lawrence said.

Lawrence has served on the council since 1998 and as mayor for the past nine years.

"I only have a year left on this term and if the right person decides to run —- a person who I feel comfortable with and trust — it may be time to retire. I have grandkids, too," Lawrence said.

As for the future for the town, Lawrence said the council is considering how to use its share of Gulf Boulevard beautification money from the county, as well as redesigning bus stops, and continuing to address flooding issues.

Indian Shores loses two longtime leaders 03/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 3:30pm]
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