By Jessica De Leon, Claire Aronson and James A. Jones, Jr.
BRADENTON — Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. “Chips” Shore, a state leader in access to public records and in the county’s historic preservation, was found dead in his home Wednesday. He was 74.
At 12:04 p.m., paramedics responded to Mr. Shore’s home in the 1200 block of 21th Street West, according to Manatee County EMS Chief Steve Krivjanik.
A death investigation is underway by the Bradenton Police Department, but no foul play is suspected.
Late Wednesday afternoon, 12th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Charles Williams appointed Angel Colonneso, general counsel for the clerk’s office, to be interim clerk and comptroller until Gov. Rick Scott fills the vacancy. Mr. Shore’s term was set to expire in January 2017.
Mr. Shore, who was clerk since 1977, was found dead by his daughter, who had gone to the house to check on her dad after he missed two meetings Wednesday morning, neighbors said.
Doug Connours, a neighbor for 2 1/2 years, said he had just seen Mr. Shore on Tuesday.
“We always waved at each other,” he said. “He was a great guy.”
Mr. Shore lived there with his wife, Carol, and their dog.
“They’re good people,” Connours said.
In 1972, Mr. Shore was selected as city clerk and treasurer for Bradenton. In 1976, he was elected as clerk of the circuit court and chief financial officer and took office in 1977.
Mr. Shore had already filed to run in the 2016 election for a 12th four-year term as clerk.
“I am shocked and saddened to learn that Chips passed away,” County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said in a statement. “He was a visionary who understood the importance of using technology to improve government transparency and accessibility. We had a great relationship and I will truly miss him.”
Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith was preparing to hear a case when his clerk whispered the news that Mr. Shore had died.
Smith immediately called a recess. At 2 p.m. Wednesday, the county’s Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller’s Office and Historic Courthouse closed to allow staff to process their grief. While employees will report to work Thursday, the clerk’s office will be closed to routine business to allow for the transition to a new clerk.
“It’s such a shock. It’s sad losing him, but it’s special that he accomplished the spectacular project with the Manatee County Historic Courthouse,” Smith said. “I just sent him a letter thanking him for letting me be part of that.
“Chips put his heart and soul into that project,” he added. “I told him I can’t wait for his next project.”
Circuit Judge Lee Haworth, who worked with Mr. Shore during the conversion to the paperless court system, called him a visionary and innovator.
“He had people from all over the country coming to look at his case management system,” Haworth said.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who has known Mr. Shore since 1990, said she couldn’t believe he had died, as she just saw him at the Historic Courtroom reopening ceremony on July 15.
“He’s always been there for us as a county,” Whitmore said. “He’s an icon for this county. He did a lot of good things for this county. … He was always a gentleman, never got mad and was always respectful. That’s why he was so successful.”
During Mr. Shore’s career, the nation went through a sea change, including the online revolution and most recently gay marriage, with clerks across the nation issuing gay marriage licenses.
Mr. Shore piloted the only Child Support Enforcement Program run by a clerk of circuit Court in Florida.
“He made the clerk’s office one of the best operated in the state, if not the nation,” Smith said.
Mr. Shore was a leader in making public records available to the public, including putting them online.
“He was ahead of the curve in making records public. We have constantly been visited by others clerks and judges. He was very, very involved with young people,” Smith said.
First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, who was saddened to hear the news Wednesday, said Mr. Shore was a “remarkable man in a lot of ways.”
“I think he did more to move the clerks of the court into the 21st century than just about anyone else in Florida,” Petersen said. “I can’t think of anybody more than Chips who ensured we had access to court records electronically. … Chips was instrumental in that. I’m really very sorry and sad at his loss. We’ve lost a very good man in Chips.”
Mr. Shore created the prototype in the state, Petersen said.
“He led the effort,” she said. “He has helped ensure that Florida remained the gold standard. We are what many other states aspire to.”
Leader in preservation
Mr. Shore was also known for his devotion to historic preservation of buildings, documents and monuments.
He helped preserve Manatee County’s past through the office’s Historical Resources Department, and he earned the 2008 National Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History for his contributions to historic preservation and heritage education in the county.
Through his duties as a comptroller, Mr. Shore was the auditor and custodian of Manatee County’s funds.
Former county commissioner Pat Glass was elected to the board two years after Mr. Shore was elected as clerk. Glass said the title seems to be “mundane” for someone with so much responsibility.
“I considered him to be trustworthy,” Glass said. “He always came through with any issue concerning us. … He was a good friend to Manatee County.”
The community’s respect for Mr. Shore is evident in the fact that the county kept re-electing him, Glass said.
“There isn’t anything in Manatee County that he didn’t have something to do with as far as our finances are concerned,” Glass said. “There is a debt of gratitude and he will be collecting it now. He was a really dedicated person, and dedicated his life to service in Manatee County.”
The clerk’s office was referring calls Wednesday about future operation of the office to Eddie Mulock, Mr. Shore’s attorney for 38 years.
“He was one of my best friends in the world. We graduated from Manatee High School together, and attended Stetson University together,” Mulock said.
Ken Brown, another neighbor of the Shores, was shocked at the news.
“He was a great man,” Brown said. “He would do anything for anyone.”
Brown said he knew Mr. Shore for a long time, before the Shores moved into the neighborhood several years ago. Mr. Shore truly loved his wife and family, as well as his job.
“He was an icon,” Brown said. “There’s not a house in this community that does not have at least one piece of paper in it with his name on it.”
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012. [Original Story]