Vol 8 No. 2 - October 3, 2007


Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Red tape can’t stop pier opening

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper New county budget cut by 15 percent

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper City seeks operator for pier bait, tackle shop

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Deputies stage hostage negotiations

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Possible settlement near in city hall roof case

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Scenic group mulls merger

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper Students, adults help celebrate peace

Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper County awards START $10,000




Red tape can’t stop pier opening

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – The wait is over.

After an agonizing week dealing with the county health department and other governmental agencies, Rotten Ralph’s at the Pier opened Saturday morning and those who had been driving or walking by the pier each morning to see if "the soup is on" finally got their reward.

Bud Bates, a worker with the Bradenton Beach Public Works Department, was their first customer.

"I ordered the meat lover’s omelet," he said. "It’s good eating. I wanted to be the first to show support for them."

He was joined by several others during that first hour, most of them opting for outdoors seating b the water.

Once again, their dining experiences were punctuated by the roar of car tires passing over the Cortez Bridge.

Once again, diners heard the sounds of the birds and the water lapping against the piling.

Once again, there was life on the city’s venerable gathering spot, which also serves as the city’s most recognizable landmark.

The skies were clear and the sun cast long shadows as those first customers filled the seats, waitresses jumping to serve them. It was a long time coming after more than three years of collaboration between the architect, the contractor, the building department and the team of city department heads that met every Friday to restore the pier and rebuild the buildings that would house the restaurant and bait shop.

It all began when winds from a nearby hurricane damaged the roof of the old restaurant. The city hired an engineer to look over the restaurant and he returned with a troubling report, that the pier itself was not safe.

The city scheduled a plan to replace some of the pilings under the pier, but that led to more problems when the contractor found out that the decay was worse than first thought. The contractor bowed out, saying he was not able to put that much work into the pier, and the city closed the structure to the public while it worked up financing and plans to replace pilings and the base where the restaurant would go as well as the restaurant itself.

Armed with a $2.2 million line of credit, the elected officials hired Tom O’Brien to draw up extensive plans for a bait shop, public restrooms, a bath house, an information kiosk, a floating dock for day sailors to use and eventually, a stop for a water taxi.

They hired Southern Cross Contracting to manage the construction and chose Rotten Ralph’s to serve the food and last Saturday, the pier was again alive with anglers, walkers and diners.

The only things still missing were the birds flying overhead, dive bombing the table to gobble the food scraps and steal the sugar packets and jellies.

New county budget cut by 15 percent

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

The Manatee County Commission adopted a $587 million budget for 2007-08 last week, following a legislative mandate to lower property taxes.

"We will downsize this government in a businesslike fashion over time," County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said, adding that some decisions will depend on the fate of a Constitutional amendment that would change the homestead exemption. The amendment, scheduled to appear on the presidential primary ballot in January, was removed from the ballot, but its removal has been appealed.

Since the Save Our Homes homestead exemption amendment was passed by voters in 1992, exempt property has grown faster than property values, causing a tax inequity that the Legislature attempted to address by mandating lower property taxes, according to Jim Seuffert, director of the county’s financial management department.

But the 15 percent decrease in the county’s property tax rate, which necessitated cuts to libraries, parks and mass transportation, was not enough, according to some taxpayers.

Landlords have been hit hard by taxes, said Gerri Holmes, a landlord and secretary of a landlord association representing between 7,000 and 8,000 landlords in Manatee and Sarasota counties, adding that five members have filed for bankruptcy and several more are in danger of going under.

With record high vacancies preventing refinancing, mortgage foreclosures, and tenants’ inability to absorb rent increases, "If I could sell out, I would," she said.

"Could you instruct the people doing the budget not to talk to the property appraiser’s office, because they think the building boom is still going full strength," quipped Ron Robinson of Holmes Beach.

County Commission Chairwoman Amy Stein suggested that voters attend public hearings of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which can place a Constitutional revision amendment on the 2008 presidential ballot.

"We had the Save Our Homes amendment, which is a good thing," Stein said. "But one class of property owners are limited to 3 percent increases, and another class is limited to 100 percent. We hoped the Legislature would fix it, and they didn’t, but this committee can put a referendum on the ballot."

The closest commission meeting will be held in Tampa on Oct. 3 from 4- 7 p.m. at the Frederick B. Karl County Center, Twenty Sixth Floor, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Hillsborough County Meeting Rooms.

The commission, which is meeting for the first time this year, will not meet again for another 20 years.

"Please get engaged in this process," Stein said. "I really think this is the best hope for this situation."

City seeks operator for pier bait, tackle shop

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – If you want to run the pier fishing kiosk, offering to pay anything less than $200 a month rent just won’t cut bait with the city commission.

That’s what they decided last week in a work meeting where they went over a sample request for proposals and contract for potential franchisees of the new fishing kiosk on the Bridge Street Pier.

If you only want to fish from the pier with your own equipment and bait, the good news is there won’t be any charge.

According to the request for proposals, the city wants more than someone to sell live or frozen bait. A bidder would be wise to submit a plan for selling tackle and supplies and renting rods and reels to tourists. There should also be some marine and wildlife conservation brochures and you can also sell T-shirts, hats and other souvenir articles of apparel plus sunscreen.

No food, water or other drinks could be sold from the kiosk without the approval of Rotten Ralph’s on the Pier and the city. Copies of the 15-page request for proposals are available from city hall.

Commissioners discussed the minimal amount of monthly rent it would require and settled on $200, stating that the winning bidder would most likely bid more than that amount. In addition, the first year’s share of upkeep for the pier kiosk would cost $50 per month.

Mayor John Chappie initially asked Realtor Mike Norman, who was in the audience, how much commercial property was renting for lately and Norman answered $21 per square foot. The kiosk has 214 square feet, which computes to $449.40.

Commissioner Bill Shearon said before they compute a monthly rent, they should decide if the city would require the franchisee to collect a fishing fee.

Police Chief Sam Speciale said he talked with city clerk Nora Idso, who said when they previously collected a fee, it cost almost as much to count it as what they collected. He suggested no fee and the commissioners agreed.

The commissioners agreed to get started on searching for someone to sell bait, supplies and other items to the anglers on the pier.

Deputies stage hostage negotiations

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA – The scenario was every cop’s nightmare. The mayor of one of the county’s seven incorporated cities is being held hostage in her office by an irate citizen and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is called into action.

That was the reason for all the sheriff’s office vehicles in the Anna Maria City Hall parking lot at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28. In addition, one of the largest vehicles to be found on the Island was there in the form of the sheriff’s office mobile command center, a huge converted bus chassis with enough communications equipment to work with almost any police agency in the nation.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford, city clerk’s office administrative assistant Anna Maria Thorpe, public works employee Gary Thorpe and building department administrative assistant Diane Sacca all put in overtime to assist in this exercise.

Before they began, deputies from the department’s two emergency service teams got together in the meeting room to get the lowdown. One of the negotiators is Deputy Gary Sellitto, who has been assigned to the Island for more than 15 years. He explained what happens when they get a situation like this.

"The patrolman is the first to get to the scene and if it gets to the point where he determines there is a hostage situation, they call a team out," Sellitto said. "When the team gets there, they connect the equipment and a negotiator sets up communications with the hostage taker.

"A negotiator will do what he can to keep the suspect calm and not rush him," he added. "When you negotiate with someone under these circumstances, time is on your side. The longer you can go with the suspect, the better it is for you."

The sheriff’s department hired two actors to play the bad guy and his wife. Edwin Millheim was the irate citizen and his daughter, Shael, played his wife. Edwin was on the phone with the negotiations team for most of the time, talking about why he was irate. His language got a little salty as he voiced his despair about development ruining the Island.

"It was interesting to see the gamut of emotions he went through," Barford said after her release. "At times, I thought he was going to give up."

That’s one of the reasons the negotiators practice, according to law enforcement officials. They come up against a range of emotions, each person with a different problem. In fact, some of them said over and over that it is more difficult to deal with a practice situation than a real life one because actors may not have the same emotions as real life suspects.

After he gave up, Millheim joined the deputies back in the city hall meeting room to go over what he saw was good and what was bad with the practice.

After that, Capt. Stephen Litschauer, team commander, went over what happened and the team packed up and left. During his briefing, he recognized the fact that a standoff at Shell’s restaurant more than 20 years ago lasted 18 hours, the longest hostage situation in the history of the team.

The practices are essential, according to Lt. Lorenzo Waiters. They have to keep their edge so that they can be on top of whatever situation comes in the future.



Possible settlement near in city hall roof case

By Laurie Krosney
sun staff writer

ANNA MARIA — The city may be close to a settlement in its case against Roof USA. No details of the settlement offer have leaked out, but Mayor Fran Barford said she thinks mediation discussions have reached the point where the city commission needs to make some decisions. City Attorney Jim Dye agreed.

"We have a proposed settlement, and Mark Nelson, your special counsel in this case, thinks you should look at it for possible action, possible resolution," Dye said. "We’re at the stage where we need your input and advice."

The city sued Roof USA for damages resulting from two bad leaks that occurred in August 2006 while the roofing company was installing a new roof on city hall.

While the roofing project was underway, a rainstorm caused water to pour into the building. Several days later, a pipe broke, causing more water damage.

As a result of the leaks, mold grew in the walls, ceiling, carpets and in several other areas in the building. The city had to relocate all its operations to Crosspointe Fellowship Church while the mold was cleaned up.
During the preparations for the mold cleanup, asbestos was discovered and that had to be cleaned up before the mold remediation could begin.

In May of this year, the city retained Nelson, an attorney who specializes in construction litigation, to represent them and filed suit to recover the $108,000 they spent on repairs and relocation expenses. In July, Roof USA filed a countersuit claiming that the city "had a duty to mitigate its damages by taking the proper and necessary remedial steps in a timely fashion to prevent further damage to its property."

The city’s mediation team consists of Nelson, Barford, Finance Director Diane Percycoe and Public Works Director George McKay. They met with the Roof USA team in an all-day session last month.

The shade meeting has been set for Oct. 18 at 4 p.m. Governmental bodies in Florida are required to meet in the sunshine, in front of the public. One of the few exceptions is a shade meeting, which can be held behind closed doors when litigation is discussed and where public knowledge of the discussions could cause an adverse impact on the city or county’s position. Records of the meeting are kept.


Scenic group mulls merger

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

BRADENTON BEACH – A subcommittee studying a possible merger between the Scenic Highway Corridor Management Entity and the WAVES Waterfronts Florida group has decided to give it a trial run. The next move is to see if their prospective committees agree.

The subcommittee met for the first time Sept. 17 under the guidance of Bradenton Beach Projects/Programs Manager Lisa Marie Phillips, who talked about her research.

"I compared the bylaws of both groups and they’re very similar," she said.
"When I made up the WAVES Committee bylaws, I borrowed off the Scenic Highway bylaws," WAVES Vice Chair Tim Lyons said.

Phillips said that she did not find anything in the bylaws of either group that prohibited them from merging.

Metropolitan Planning Organization Public Transportation Manager Bob Herrington, who serves as a liaison to both groups for the Florida Department of Transportation, said that there are many Scenic Highway groups across the state that merge with boards or other city advisory groups. He cited North Port, where they merged with the city’s planning and zoning organization.

Both Scenic Highway and WAVES are advisory organizations that were born from the city getting a statewide designation and both deal with improving public areas in the city. The city is looking into merging them into one group because there are few residents who have volunteered to be on advisory boards and committees, and both groups have trouble getting enough people to form a quorum.

Phillips said they could go two ways. Either keep the separate identities and hold back-to-back meetings or merge into one group and tackle issues connected with both groups in the same meeting. Herrington strongly suggested they not hold back to back meetings because they would take to long.

City Commissioner Janie Robertson suggested they try holding meetings together for three months to see how it goes and the rest of the group agreed.

The first joint meeting is at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at city hall.



Students, adults help celebrate peace

By Tom Vaught
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH – As it has for the past five years, Anna Maria Elementary School celebrated the International Day of Peace last Wednesday with a ceremony in front of the school.

Delayed the previous Friday by the threat of inclement weather, conditions were ideal during the Wednesday celebration that ended with the release of white doves into the clear blue skies. After the birds circled the school campus before heading for home in Sarasota, AME Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison told the students the birds, international symbols of peace, would be taking their message of peace with them as they flew home.

The program began with students bringing a huge cloth dove across the lawn from the cafeteria to the peace garden, which was planted around a white Peace Pole that the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island purchased for the school in 2002.

After a round of applause for the dove with students holding flags of all nations trailing it, they gave the Pledge of Allegiance, led by fifth grader Holly Rizzo and her older sister and former student, Trina. The two used sign language as they sang the National Anthem.

After that, Harrison introduced several people who had asked to be a part of the ceremony. Cliff Pascal gave an animated performance of a song from the 1960s about love. Parker Keegan and Morgan Hackworth performed original music with a keyboard and drums that they wrote about peace. Jake Parsons and his mother read some poetry. Diana Pimental, Sarah Quattromani and Mrs. Constantino performed an original song and lyrics for the event.

Then came the doves from Jackie Greenough, of Sarasota. Several individuals were asked to release a bird while wishing for peace. They included Nick and Tori Boltwood, who were kindergartners when the first celebration was held and are now in fifth grade; PTO President Joy Murphy; Principal Tom Levengood; Chris Hanula, of the Holmes Beach Police Department; JoAnn Driscoll; and Jim Dunne, who was president of the Rotary Club at that time.

Following the ceremony, students filed into the building to begin their day, possibly with a little more peace in their hearts.


County awards START $10,000

By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

Solutions To Avoid Red Tide netted $10,000 in funding from the 2006-07 Manatee County budget, adopted last week by the Manatee County Commission.

The money will be used for several programs, said Sandy Gilbert, president of the Manasota chapter of START.

"We have new educational outreach programs that will benefit people," he said, including "Guardians of the Gulf," a documentary film on red tide scheduled for a premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival, with subsequent showings at Mote Marine Laboratory.

A 20-minute version of the film will be used as a teaching program by middle school science teachers, and another version will be available for presentation to civic groups.

The money also will fund a beach conditions report updated twice a day with information on red tide, temperature and other data to help people decide whether to go to area beaches. The report is available by phone at 388-5223 or online at http://coolgate.mote.org/beachconditions/.

Red tide is caused by a microscopic water plant that produces a neurotoxin that can cause respiratory problems when inhaled and digestive upset when consumed in contaminated shellfish. It also causes fish, seabird, sea turtle, dolphin and manatee deaths, and created a "dead zone" in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in 2005, hitting tourism businesses hard.

Very low concentrations of red tide were found last week at southern Sanibel Island in Lee County and background concentrations were found near Clam Pass in Collier County. Background concentrations also were found in an offshore sample collected 1.5 miles south of Sanibel Island.


"Write a letter to the editor about a story."


<< Go back to Index October 3

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper