University Park

SANCA President Paul Blackketter apologizes for video outburst

UNIVERSITY PARK -- After a nearly five-minute apology from Paul Blackketter, the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates' Board of Directors on Wednesday voted to conduct an external investigation of a video of Blackketter, the nonprofit's president, screaming and using expletives.

During the emergency board meeting at the Meadows Community Center in Sarasota, the board did not say who would conduct the investigation, but board member Ron Shapo mentioned two possibilities: Kelly James Thomas, an FBI special agent for more than 20 years, and Jessica Farrelly, who works at Kunkel Miller & Hament.

"I want to have an independent person look at it and look at the facts," said Shapo, who was tasked with selecting and coordinating the activities of the investigation. Blackketter was not in the room when the board discussed possible action.

In a letter to the SANCA board, Sarasota County government asked the nonprofit to investigate Blackketter after the video surfaced.

As of this time, Blackketter will not be suspended or otherwise disciplined.

"I see no reason to terminate or have any consequences other than what Paul has brought on himself," SANCA board Chairman Bill Robinson said Wednesday. "Paul is needed. Very much needed. He has a great team, but he is the leader of the team."

During his apology, Blackketter said he will begin counseling Thursday morning.

"I take full accountability and responsibility for the actions in that video," Blackketter said. "I regret my behavior and will take all necessary steps to ensure this issue will never happen again. ... After watching the video for the first time last week, I was appalled simply. I never want to see myself ever act that way again. I see this as opportunity to live in a mental and physical healthier way of life."

On Sept. 26, a video posted to YouTube showed Blackketter in SANCA attire screaming at a man not shown on the video. The man is Mike DePriest, who is no longer employed with Benderson Development. In the one-minute video, Blackketter can be heard using profanity at least eight times.

Board member Joanne Fava, present at the time of the encounter, said it happened outside the hospitality tent at the end of the International Breast Cancer Paddlers' Commission Dragon Boat Festival, held at Nathan Benderson Park last October. Fava said the incident began about 15 minutes earlier than what was captured in the video when DePriest and Blackketter were "yelling, screaming and using profanity."

DePriest walked away, grabbed his phone out of his pants and walked back to Blackketter, setting him up, according to Fava.

"Paul gave Mike ample opportunity to leave the facility," she said. "He wasn't videoed when Mike was also using profanity. ... Mike was just as guilty."

Nathan Benderson Park, a Sarasota County park, is run by the nonprofit SANCA. Nathan Benderson Park has hosted a number of high-profile events and will host the 2017 World Rowing Championship.

Board member Jerry Marlar said he would like to talk to DePriest, who no longer lives in the area.

"It concerns me that of this apparent seriousness, it occurs a year later," Marlar said of when the video surfaced.

All three members of the public who spoke Wednesday commended Blackketter on his work.

Len Smally, former manager of The Meadows Community Association, said he came to support Blackketter.

"I think he's done a great job," he said. "Maybe he said very bad words, but that's all he did. I feel like he's done a great job. He's a great guy, a great leader. I think he's brought us to this point. I think he should remain as your president."

Shapo said several "highly reputable people" in the community contacted him to say it was not an isolated incident. Shapo did not name the individuals, adding he told them to not come to the meeting because he didn't "want this thing turning into a circus."

"People have come forward to me, as a board member, and told me that this was not an isolated incident," he said. "I don't want to go into detail here. I don't think it's appropriate."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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