By Tracy Knight
Last November, Venice voters chose three new people to represent them on City Council. We all heard the campaign speeches and read the official bios, but what really drives these newly elected officials . . . and what might we expect from them? We interviewed them one-on-one to gain some insight beyond rumor and rhetoric, and help Venetians better know the people who worked hard for the privilege to serve their city.
John Holic: Life-Long Sleeve Roller
John Holic brought his family to Venice in 1990 when he took over the local A.G. Edwards office as its manager. The path that led him here was interesting and varied. Originally from the Chicago area, he got bored with school when he was just a few credits shy of earning his bachelor’s degree (which he later completed), and became a volunteer with AmeriCorps VISTA, the national service corps created to fight domestic poverty. He then spent some time working for Western Electric, was an on-call firefighter, and delivered bottled gas for a while.
Eventually, he heard about an opportunity to become an air traffic controller and took the assessment test, on which he scored high and was subsequently offered a position in the country’s busiest regional air traffic control center. Then, in 1981, the controllers went on strike and the rest, as they say, is history. President Ronald Reagan laid off the strikers and hired all new controllers. Thus, Holic was forced, once again, to reinvent himself. He became a stockbroker, and a successful career with A.G. Edwards ensued. He finally retired in 2009.
Since being elected mayor of Venice, Holic has gained attention for his hands-on approach to governance. He has spent time with virtually every city department in an effort to understand its inner workings including waste management on a trash pick–up route. His willingness to roll up his sleeves and do a lot of hard work has defined his life and his career.
VM: What kind of work did you do with AmeriCorps VISTA?
JH: I was sent to New Orleans, where I lived with a couple of other volunteers in one of the five pocket poverty areas. As a former editor with my college newspaper, I was assigned to help the neighborhoods communicate through the creation of a newspaper. In my free time, I would find unemployed kids, pick them up off the street and help them apply for jobs. That was most rewarding for me—seeing them take some direction in their lives.
VM: You mentioned that you were at the front of the picket line when the nation’s air traffic controllers went on strike. In retrospect, do you think President Reagan made the right decision?
JH: One of the reasons we were striking was that we had issues with the safety of the national air traffic system. It wasn’t easy for us to sacrifice our jobs, but as a result of the whole thing, the government did upgrade the system; so in the end we achieved our goal. I never did write the President and thank him.
VM: What has been the hardest part of living in Venice?
JH: Although I think it’s one of the best places to live anywhere, if there was any difficulty it was providing enough things for our kids to do when they were young. Venice has always been a little short on activities for young people, and that hasn’t changed.
VM: What kind of car do you drive?
JH: I’m not a brand person, but for the first time in my life I’m driving a Lexus because I got a good deal on it from a client who could no longer use it. I’ve always been a Chevy or Chrysler man, and I believe in paying cash. I made car payments only once in my life, and I’ll never do it again.
VM: If you could only make one major contribution in your current term as mayor, what would it be?
JH: Making the city fiscally responsible and getting the budget in balance. If we can’t do that, nothing else will matter.
Bob Daniels: Fix-It Man
With his engineering brain, Bob Daniels approaches practically everything analytically. So, it was no surprise that his decision to move with his wife to Venice about five years ago didn’t happen on a whim. He made a list of the things he wanted in a new home and neighborhood. Near the water, but not on the water. Not a golfing community. Reasonable cost of living. Not too big or too small. And most important of all, no snow or frost. His thorough research ultimately landed them in a town that met all of his criteria.
Before arriving here, he spent a long career fixing things or teaching others how to fix things. A one-time carpenter and machinist, he went on to teach industrial technology and vocational education at the high school and college levels, working his way up to dean of engineering at a community college. He later joined General Electric and fixed quality problems as a top quality improvement manager.
Daniels has a special passion for fixing and collecting old things. He once had a construction business that specialized in the restoration of old homes, and has lived in several historic homes himself, all of which he painstakingly restored to their original character—right down to the paint colors. He is also an avid collector of rare and valuable antiques.
VM: Did your love of historic homes have anything to do with your decision to move to Venice?
BD: Yes, I suppose it did. My wife and I wanted to live in a place with a real downtown and character. Venice is one of the best planned cities there is, and its architectural code has helped preserve its character, which includes some very interesting old homes.
VM: Yet the home you live in now, is a new, Florida-style home. Why?
BD: I just didn’t want the maintenance anymore. Not only does it take a lot of time to keep up with older homes, but by my calculations it also costs you about 15 percent more. However, I kept some of my better antiques and have them displayed throughout the house.
VM: You seem to have plenty of things to keep you busy. Why did you decide to run for office?
BD: I felt that in the city and at all levels of government, for that matter, there was a lack of accountability and responsiveness to the taxpayers. When we brought problems forth, viable solutions weren’t researched or offered. I wanted to change that.
VM: What brings you joy?
BD: Knowing that I have helped solve a problem and in the process made someone’s life better. For instance, I recently helped some very close friends of ours get their northern home sold after it had been on the market for five years. They were desperate to get rid of it and only had 90 days remaining if they were to avoid two mortgages. I took on the project and did some things differently than their realtor, and it sold on day 85.
My grandchildren, including two boys and two girls, are also great fun and a true joy.
Jeanette Gates: Common Sensibility
For 18 years or so, Jeanette Fee Gates lived under the local radar screen. She and her husband worked diligently to build a company from a small remodeling business to a respectable general contracting firm with a repu tation for building quality custom homes throughout Sarasota County. They raised two daughters, and she became deeply involved in their lives and education at Venice schools. For most of those 18 years, politics wasn’t even on her agenda.
Hard work always has been, though. The granddaughter of an Irish immigrant, she came with her family to Sarasota by way of Wilton, Connecticut. Her parents owned a number of businesses and she and her siblings were always expected to pitch in, whether it was working at the family’s convenience store or running a fork lift at their gas company. No doubt the experiences are partially responsible for her forthright manner, which is balanced by a dry and self-deprecating sense of humor.
Gates started attending Venice City Council meetings when she and her husband felt that city politics and policies were becoming anti-business. A new sense of urgency grew when the economy went south and local businesses—not the least of which were builders—had enough problems dealing with the recession, let alone what they perceived as over-regulation. She devoted herself to understanding the nuances of local government, and in her typical no-nonsense fashion she decided that she couldn’t complain if she wasn’t willing to step up to the plate and do something about it.
VM: For as long as there have been city council elections, every candidate has said that he or she is motivated by a love of Venice and you did, too. Can you explain why?
JG: I know it can sound clichéd, but I also believe in being honest about my motivations and intentions. I just find comfort in Venice. It fits me like a glove. I’m not a huge beach or boating person, so that’s not the reason. What I like is that I am surrounded by friends. I know the people at the grocery store, I’m on a first-name basis with my dentists and doctors, and I know my kids’ friends’ parents. I feel that there is a network of support here that is unique.
VM: Most of the other council members are retired. How are you finding the time to devote yourself to this responsibility?
JG: It sure is the fullest part-time job I’ve ever had, but I knew what I was getting into when I put my name in the hat to run. Our kids are older, which helps, and I’m just prioritizing differently. My family and I feel that this is vitally important because there are so many issues that need to be addressed or fixed. And since I never plan to leave Venice, I want to be sure that it’s in good shape when I can finally be a retiree here, too.
VM: You’re never leaving Venice?
JG: Actually, yes—when they carry me out of my house in a box.
VM: What is your greatest fear for Venice?
JG: My fear is that the economy and government will make it a place where young people won’t or can’t come to find work, settle down and raise a family. Although I don’t want my kids to move back home literally, I want them to come back to their hometown if that is their desire. Therefore, we have to lay the groundwork now for future economic diversity.
VM: What is your favorite thing to do in Venice?
JG: Sitting on my front porch with good friends, good food and wine, watching the sun go down.