CINDY LANE | SUN
Village volunteers were instrumental in turning the
county-owned 1912 Cortez schoolhouse into the
Florida Maritime Museum.
Business dealings among the Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and the Cortez Village Historical Society have not always been shipshape, but soon will be, according to Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller Richard "Chips" Shore.
Shore's office oversees historical resources in the county, including the county-owned museum, which has – along with the two main Cortez organizations that support it – operated in the casual style that personifies the historic commercial fishing village.
Shore met on Monday with board members from FISH and CVHS – both closely intertwined with the museum's acquisition, restoration and operation – to untangle the three.
"It's not a divorce," Shore said. "It's a negotiation process."
The discovery of $12,000 in a box in the museum with no indication of which group it was donated to prompted an audit and the move to put some new procedures in place, he said.
The county has formed a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, Friends of the Maritime Museum, to promote the museum throughout Florida and operate a gift shop in the museum that was formerly run by CVHS, he said. Half of the money will fund the new group, he said; the rest is still to be determined.
Museum finances also are in the process of being separated from FISH finances, Shore said.
"It's just so hard because of the way it's always been," FISH President Kim McVey said. "It's more like it was all one entity. That's the hardest part of it."
Changes and charges
The biggest change is that FISH will have to rent the museum property for its annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, she said.
When FISH or CVHS hold events at the museum, they will have to pay a fee unless the event has something to do with the museum, Shore said.
The county purchased the museum in part with a grant from the Florida Communities Trust, which requires revenues generated at the museum to be returned to the museum, CVHS President Sam Bell said, adding that the requirement is the reason why CVHS has closed its gift shop at the museum.
The gift shop will open again at CVHS's Family Life Museum, which it hopes to open in the Monroe cottage, relocated from Bradenton Beach to FISH property, when CVHS raises enough funds, Bell said.
At that time, CVHS will remove its items from the maritime museum and display them at its own museum, according to Bell, who said the meeting on Monday was cordial.
The CVHS museum was previously planned for the Bratton Store, behind the maritime museum on county property. The county has pledged to the finish restoration of the empty Bratton Store, using the upstairs as office space and allowing CVHS films to be shown there, Shore said.
FISH and the county still are negotiating other concerns, McVey said, adding that some FISH items in the museum probably will be placed "on loan" instead of donated outright.
"We're just trying to get everything done the way it's supposed to be, the way it was supposed to be all along," she said.
A related concern is the resignation this week of master boatbuilder Bob Pitt from the county. Pitt oversees a volunteer group of boatbuilders at the boatshop on FISH property; crew members have won nationwide recognition for their craftsmanship.
"What's expected of my position has changed, and I don't want to go in that direction," said Pitt, who has worked and volunteered at the museum and the boatshop for nearly a decade.
"I hate to lose him," Shore said.
"We will withdraw from boatbuilding and go back into the museum business. The boatshop building is on FISH property, and they should run it," he said, adding that an inventory of the boatshop is in progress, with some items belonging to all three organizations.
Another boatshop, the historic Pillsbury boatshop on the maritime museum grounds, will probably not be converted to a working shop but may host some classes, he said.
"We have to figure out what to do about Bob's leaving," McVey said.
Volunteer boatbuilders have discussed following their chief and resigning, said volunteer and Florida Gulf Coast Traditional Small Craft Association President Doug Calhoun.
The FGCTSCA recently learned that they must remove their records from the museum and can no longer use the museum or the assistance of the museum's Ted Adams to organize their festivals, held on FISH property.
"This offhand treatment occurred despite the fact that over the years our volunteers had literally built much of the interior of the museum," Calhoun wrote in a recent letter to his membership.
Adams, a county employee who worked at the maritime museum, also resigned last week.
It takes a fishing village
Some in Cortez say it took a village to turn the 1912 Cortez schoolhouse into the Florida Maritime Museum, and they resent the county's move to separate the museum.
The 21st Annual Cortez Picnic, sponsored by CVHS, was held at the Few/Miller dock in Cortez last month instead of at the schoolhouse/museum, even though the picnic celebrated the 100th anniversary of the schoolhouse.
But Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the county must answer to taxpayers that it is managing its assets properly and not using taxpayer's money inappropriately.
Internal disputes within FISH have created turmoil that may be another reason to separate the museum, she said.
A bitter board election two years ago left a rift that resulted in relocating the fishing festival to the end of the village where the museum is located, and a boat that was donated to the museum by the Fannon fishing family and later sold by former museum employee Roger Allen further divided the FISH board.
"The (FISH) board needs to take a deep breath and step back and see what the issue is or they're going to lose something great that they have," Whitmore said.
The FISH board is expected to discuss the issue at its next meeting, Monday, May 7, at 7 p.m. at Fishermen's Hall, 4511 124th St. W. in Cortez. `