MANATEE -- Bob Hutches, who served on the county commission during one of the its most progressive eras, died this month. He was 78.
Mr. Hutches served on the five-member board with Ken Burton Sr., the last surviving member, Dan McClure, Kenneth Dierks and Bud Forston. During their tenure on the board, they completed the Manatee County reservoir, which still serves the county; they brought Port Manatee to fruition; they took ambulance and Emergency Medical Services services from private hands and made them public; and they expanded utilities, including water and sewer lines throughout the county.
The year Mr. Hutches was elected to the board of commissioners, Manatee County purchased 357 acres near Piney Point for $900 an acre to launch the Barge Port and Industrial Port, later renamed Port Manatee. That year, the Legislature passed the Manatee County Port Authority Act, officially creating the port and its oversight board.
During the 1970s, Port Manatee primarily served the petroleum and phosphate industries. In 1971, the year Mr. Hutches served as chairman of the port, Port Manatee hosted the largest ship to call on Tampa Bay at the time. The 732-foot ship carried 12,000 tons of potash.
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Mr. Hutches served as the liaison with the Manatee County Utilities System and served on the water and sewer commission, as well as the Health Council, Safety Council, and as an alternate on the Tampa Bay Regional Council.
Burton, 74, recalls that the County Commission at the time was made up of three Democrats and two Republicans who all got along.
“Politics wasn’t that big back then,” Burton said. “We said ‘let’s just get things done.’ We went one year with just four commissioners and we never did get hung up on anything.”
Burton remembers that Hutches pushed on getting utilities throughout Manatee County -- “a great job.”
“Hutch was a big pusher on the utilities,” Burton said. “He pushed that along real good.”
As progressive as they were for pushing public utilities at the time, the county commissioners came under FBI scrutiny for the water and sewer project. The county hired consulting engineers Russell & Axon Inc. for the county water and sewer project, and the firm was accused of giving gifts to commissioners. Mr. Hutches later went to work for the firm after he lost his bid for re-election.
While on the commission, Mr. Hutches worked with other commissioners to bring consistency and professionalism to the county’s EMS.
Before they created a professional EMS team, ambulances were run by funeral homes and private people and whoever got to the call first delivered the patients to the hospital.
Burton said the commissioners at the time were just “trying to bring things to Manatee County.”
“Back in them days, kids graduated and they left,” Burton said. “We were just trying to bring in jobs and keep local people busy.”
The county’s coffers weren’t flush with cash at the time, but there were a lot more grants available and interest rates were low.
“Grants were easy to get,” Burton said. So when it came to big projects, such as the port, water, sewer and emergency services, “we took them all on. Thank the Lord we got them all done and they all turned out pretty good.”
After serving three terms as county commissioner, the Myakka City resident was defeated by Louis Driggers, a planning commission member.
On his last day in office, members of the Manatee County Emergency Medical Services brought Mr. Hutches a cake in the shape of an ambulance.
After leaving the county commission, Mr. Hutches continued his public service. He served as a Myakka City fire commissioner for more than 25 years.
Barbara Anson, Myakka City resident and Realtor, said he remained concerned about the EMS and firefighters throughout his life.
As members of the Myakka City Fire Commission, “we used to meet under an oak tree before we had a fire station,” Anson said.
“He liked to do things that meant something,” she added. “He was involved in a lot of different things.”
She said she was always surprised at how much he could get accomplished.
Before bringing the fire station to Myakka City, the state’s forestry service took care of fires, said David Parks, who served on the commission with Mr. Hutches.
“A home fire, you could just forget it,” Parks said.
Mr. Hutches was also director of HOPE in DeSoto County, a member of St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Sarasota and the School Advisory Board for Cardinal Mooney High School. He was a member of the Manatee Kiwanis and served as chairman of the Manatee & Florida Key Club.
Born May 17, 1932, in Bradenton to Manatee County Sheriff Clinton James Hutches and his wife, Eva, Mr. Hutches died May 9.
Visitation is from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. May 24, at Shannon Funeral Home Town Chapel in Bradenton. Mass of Christian Burial will be at 1 p.m. May 25 at St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Sarasota. Survivors include his wife Ruth (Wedig) of Myakka City; daughter Virginia Mol of Pleasant View, Utah; sons David of San Diego, Calif., and Ronald of Palm Coast; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.