Shore Set the Standard for Which All Public Officials Should Strive

Dennis Maley

Manatee County Clerk of the Courts and Comptroller R.B. 'Chips' Shore passed away yesterday at the age of 74. It is commonplace for newspapers to reflect on the contribution of public servants when they cross the great divide, and it is not abnormal for them to receive a considerably generous, perhaps even inflated posthumous appraisal. In the case of Shore's service, that doesn't seem possible. Immeasurable is the first word that comes to mind in terms of the contribution he made to good government in a county that has seen far too little of it. Still, that word seems grossly inadequate.

I first met Chips shortly after joining TBT in 2010. I was interviewing him for some story, the subject of which I don't recall, but we ended up engaged in a long conversation about transparency, fiscal accountability and the prevalence of corruption in small government. I liked him very much right from the start. My son, six at the time, had asked me to inquire about whether he had earned his nickname by being a big fan of the potato chip. Shore laughed and explained that when he was born, the doctor took one look at his enormous cheeks and told his mother, "Congratulations, you've given birth to a perfectly healthy chipmunk.” He told me that the instantly acquired nickname had managed to stay with him throughout his life.

I was always impressed by the amount of information he seemed to have at his fingertips, his insistence on nonetheless double-checking everything he told you, as well as his candid willingness to give you his thoughts on a wide range of subjects—not the most common trait among those who make their living by being elected to office every four years. As such, he has always been an invaluable source of perspective and history—the go-to guy if I was working on something that went back much further than my own time spent in Manatee County. It was only weeks ago that I last went to him for some historical fact checking after having no luck in the public record.

Shore was the rare public official who despite having participated in ten election cycles was the sort of person who, even if your life depended on it, you'd have a very difficult, if not impossible time finding someone to say something bad about. Most people, myself included, admired him as someone who knew far more about his job than they could ever hope to know about theirs. He has long enjoyed the sort of rare respect accorded to such uniquely-skilled individuals.

Shore has been Manatee County's clerk and comptroller since he was first elected to the position in 1976, and over the last four decades his realm of local government was perhaps the only one in Manatee that taxpayers could comfortably assume was running smoothly and never in danger of a burgeoning scandal. He was an innovator to the office he held, an early adopter of technologies who developed many processes that would become the standard for other clerk/comptrollers in Florida counties and even other record keepers nationally. His development of procedures for online court record access are perhaps most notable.

His awards and accolades are too numerous to mention and seem almost trivial anyway. Chips Shore didn't need a plaque hanging on his wall for people to know he was good at what he did, because it rarely went unsaid on any occasion that his name was mentioned.

Shore was not only a historian with a keen interest in and deep respect for Manatee's past, he was actually instrumental in preserving the physical history of our county. Many of the buildings and artifacts that serve to tie modern Manatee residents to their pioneering predecessors have benefited from, or even owe their continued existence to Shore's work through the Manatee County Historical Commission. In that regard, he was nostalgic to the point of romanticism, and places like the Carnegie Library, the Manatee Village Historical Park and our recently restored courthouse stand as monuments to his passion in that arena.

It's been said that Shore was one of the good good-old-boys, a guy who had all the connections of someone who had served nearly 40 years in local office, but still could see right from wrong in the gray areas of governance and wasn't afraid to stand up to even the most fearsome forces. Indeed, when a scandal-plagued Manatee County Sheriff's Office drew federal attention a decade ago, investigators (and outside media) noted how tight-lipped and nervous so many people seemed to be when asked about the subject. Shore was the only public officeholder who spoke candidly, issuing a colorfully critical appraisal of the organization's fiscal practices.

In an era in which the term open government is continuing to sound more and more like an oxymoron, to say that Shore's ethics in that area will be missed would be an enormous understatement. When our school district suffered a historic financial scandal in 2012, the most common remedy invoked by Manatee County residents was, make them run their expenditures through Chips Shore's office. That'll get things sorted out.

Shore had already filed to run again next November, and education activists have been calling on the school board to insist that any extension of the half-cent sales tax would go through his office, rather than internal auditors. Indeed, it would have likely taken his credibility to give the public enough faith to extend such an investment. Sadly, Mr. Shore won't be around for that effort and countless other matters within the machine of local government he so adeptly served all these years. He leaves behind a set of enormous shoes that will not soon be filled. Godspeed, my friend. You've earned your rest.

Dennis Maley is a featured columnist for The Bradenton Times. His column appears each Thursday and Sunday. Dennis' debut novel, A Long Road Home, was released in July, 2015. Click here to order your copy.