Vol. 9 No. 5 - October 22, 2008
Bayfest shines even without bridge
SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT
Nice weather, lots of vendors, delicious
food and great
music brought people out to Bayfest last Saturday,
despite the Anna
Maria Island Bridge closure.
ANNA MARIA – While Bridging the Gap brought a lot of new events to the Island these past three weeks, Bayfest is an annual festival and it might serve to indicate what effect the closing of the Anna Maria Island Bridge has on the Island’s business community.
By all accounts, that effect would be small.
Bayfest 2008 drew a good crowd, according to Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ann Brockman. Although she would not hazard a guess as to the size of the crowd, she said if it was down from last year, it wasn’t by much.
"There were a lot of people who came out," she said, "and I don’t think the bridge had anything to do with it."
Bayfest had a record number of entries in the vehicle show this year. There were 110 classic, antique and modified cars and trucks ranging from a replica of a 1902 Curved Dash Oldsmobile to a Ford Mustang with a highly modified engine and paint job to support the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure cancer drive.
The stage was alive with music up to 10 p.m. and, despite strong winds and a threat of rain in the early evening hours, many of the various arts and crafts vendors stayed to the end. Brockman said if they agreed to do so in advance, the Chamber would set up lights in their tents.
The Chamber won’t have a clear picture of how much was made from this year’s event for several says, maybe weeks as they wait for bills to come in, but Brockman said several vendors were surprised at the traffic and how their sales went.
"People came out and they spent money," Brockman said. "I’m pleased with the way everything went."
Closed span no barrier to tourism
HOLMES BEACH – Locals continue to visit Anna Maria Island despite the Manatee Avenue bridge closure, according to members of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.
"Due in no small part to the Island Sun series of events called Bridging the Gap, the bridge closure is a ‘non-event,’" said Ed Chiles, of the Chiles Group, adding that business at his three restaurants is up for October.
Bridging the Gap may be become a regular promotion in the fall, when tourism historically is slow, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Larry White said. He labeled September through December as a "tourism gap."
"It could be a real fill-in," he added.
The events are not the only thing driving recent tourist activity.
"We’re picking up the drive market" because economic conditions are causing people to vacation closer to home, said David Teitelbaum about the Tortuga Inn, adding that his occupancy is up from 2007. "We’re full on weekends and 50 to 60 percent full during the week."
The Sun House restaurant is holding its own after five years in business, Barbara Rodocker said.
"I’ve seen the Island a lot emptier," added Kent Davis.
Still, hotel occupancy was down overall in September on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key compared to last year, according to the latest statistics from the CVB.
"That’s not surprising" due to recent economic events, White said.
Anna Maria Island hotel occupancy dropped to 32.8 percent in September, down from 35.1 percent in September 2007. In the Manatee County portion of Longboat Key, September occupancy was 24.6 percent, down from 30.4 percent last September.
Room rates were mixed, with Anna Maria Island room rates for September averaging $138.47 per night, up from $130.98 last September. Rates on Longboat Key averaged $132.92 per night, down from $145.08 last September.
The news for the fiscal year ending in September is brighter.
"We’ve done better than the rest of the state," said White, less than 1 percent off from fiscal year 2007’s record tourism in the county.
A favorable currency exchange rate attracted Europeans to the Island during the year, Chiles said.
But beaches are still the top draw for 97 percent of the visitors to Manatee County, followed by dining out, according to a CVB marketing study by Research Data Services.
From June through August, 116,800 people visited the county, spending $67.6 million in direct purchases, with a total $106.7 million economic impact, according to the study.
Of those visitors, 34 percent were from Florida, 16 percent were from the Northeast, 16 percent were Europeans, 14 percent were Midwesterners, 11 percent were from the Southeast, 3 percent were Canadians and 5 percent were from elsewhere.
"We have to not take things for granted," TDC Chairman Joe McClash said, explaining that the impact of tourism on the county is just as important as the impact of construction, which is dwindling. "This is how you survive."
Stoplight backs up
BRADENTON BEACH – Traffic to and from the Island on the Cortez Bridge continues at a good clip most of the time, unless there is an accident a stalled car or someone triggers the stoplight at 119th and Cortez Road. More often than not, the stoplight is the problem and members of the Island Transportation Planning Organization want the powers that be to take another look at the situation.
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, who attended the meeting Monday afternoon, tried to get Manatee County to change the timing of the light, which is weight activated to stop traffic on Cortez when there is a car waiting on 119th. A pedestrian crossing Cortez can also activate a red light for Cortez traffic by pushing a button at the lightpole.
Speciale told The Sun two weeks ago that the county had told him it could not change the timing of the lights too much.
Audrey Clarke, public information officer for Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB), construction manager for the project, said the county’s engineer told her they could not allow less time for the side-street traffic.
"He told us that because the crosswalk is there, they would have to allow enough time for pedestrians to clear the intersection," she said, "He did adjust the time from 82 seconds to 62 seconds."
Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Michael Howe said that’s not enough.
"I think it still has to be addressed because it creates an unnecessary bottleneck."
Two engineers at the meeting, Ken Spillett of PB and Phil Chiarini, of Florida Department of Transportation, agreed to meet with Speciale to work on a solution.
Meanwhile, Speciale said he was losing his funding from the contractor, Quinn Construction, Inc., to have police officers at the intersection of Cortez Road and Gulf Drive during morning and evening rush hours on weekdays. He said they would continue to pay for an officer to sit there from 7 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. on Fridays and 12 hours on Saturdays, but he thinks they need to be there during the other days of the week.
“The problem is that extended trailers can’t make the turn from Cortez to Gulf Drive because traffic is in the way," he said. "When we have officers there, they can direct traffic."
Clarke started the meeting with the good news. She said that the project is going well and is on schedule. She said they have removed the old concrete from 22 of the bridge’s 26 spans, and poured new concrete on 15 1/2 of the spans. The work on replacing the steel in the moveable bascule is almost finished and they were about 50 percent done with removing lead paint.
"We are still expecting to reopen the bridge on Nov. 13," she said.
As of Monday, the bridge had been closed 21 days and there were 24 more days before that Nov. 13 deadline.
Will it be Barack Obama beagle or Sarah Palin poodle or perhaps Muhammad Ali, a boxer, of course, or Madonna the mastiff?
These may be some of the characters you may encounter at the Sun’s annual dog costume contest on Saturday, Oct. 25, at the AMI Sun Plaza, 202 Palm Ave., Anna Maria, weather permitting. And don’t count out the owners, who often dress in costume to complement their pooches.
Register in advance at The Sun’s office to guarantee your spot. Sign in the day of the event at 12:30 p.m.
First, second and third place trophies will be awarded for the most original, cutest, and best celebrity. All other participating dogs will receive ribbons.
All dogs must be leashed and owners are responsible for droppings.
For information, call 778-3986.
Condo association fined $2,283 in turtle violation
BRADENTON BEACH — A mediator has ruled that the Coquina Beach Club violated the city’s turtle protection ordinance when lights on the building caused a disorientation of hatchlings.
"The city has prevailed in the prosecution of the case," said Special Master Harold Youmans after hearing the case against the club on Oct. 16.
With that ruling, Youmans ordered the Club to pay $100 for each of eight baby turtles found dead in the road and $1,483 in administrative costs for a total of $2,283. Coquina Beach Club, which is located at 1906 Gulf Drive, was also ordered to come into compliance with the sea turtle protection codes by Nov. 16.
Tom Condron, president of Holmes Beach Property Management, represented the condominium association at the hearing.
"Every time they (the city) have asked us to do something with our lights, we have done it," Condron said. "We have shielded all our lights and we have all yellow turtle friendly lights."
Condron questioned whether the disorientation, which took place on Aug. 27, was caused by lighting at the Coquina Beach Club after Code Enforcement Officer Wendy Chabot noted that after being drawn by lighting under the condo building, the hatchlings were then drawn to lighting across the road at Runaway Bay.
But Youmans determined that had the Coquina Beach Club lights not drawn the hatchlings away from the Gulf, they wouldn’t have responded to the lighting at Runaway Bay.
Chabot testified that a total of 81 hatchlings had been found alive, and eight baby turtles had been found to have been killed by traffic trying to cross Gulf Drive.
There was some discussion during the hearing about the term "disorientation," which is not defined in the code. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox explained that the term is used whenever hatchlings are drawn away from the water and towards land.
"Artificial lighting attracts turtles," she said. "When lighting is properly shielded or turned off, the hatchings head directly into the water."
This explanation seemed to satisfy Youmans.
At the end of the day, Youmans ruled that the condominium association had violated city codes. It was ordered to pay for each hatchling killed, for the city’s attorney fees, administrative costs and the cost of the special master within 30 days and to come up with a legal lighting plan within the same time frame.
Condron said it would be up to the condo association whether to file an appeal to the ruling. He also said he already had an electrician working on a lighting plan that would comply with all city codes.
"We want to comply, but we have to balance that against the safety of our guests," he said.
Anna Maria voters to elect two candidates
When Anna Maria voters go to the polls on Nov. 4, they will be selecting two city commissioners from among four candidates. Incumbent Jo Ann Mattick is running to retain her seat while Commissioner Duke Miller is not running. Political newcomer Mark Alonso would like to fill one of the seats and two former commissioners, are also seeking election — Bob Barlow and Chuck Webb. Candidates were invited to write an article taking their platforms directly to the voters.
Mark Alonso has a fresh new outlook on the local political scene.
Alonso and his wife, Miren, have been residents of Anna Maria for 17 years. He is a supporter of all things Anna Maria and is seen at every community celebration, parade, and arts and crafts fair on the Island. A familiar figure, on his three-wheeled bicycle everyday, his energy is impressive.
Commonly known as the Loco Artist, he crafts native birds out of natural, found, plant materials which reveal his love of nature and respect for the environment.
Alonso is a veteran of two wars and is a positive, can-do person, whose natural patriotism shines through.
One of his aims as commissioner would be to make our city more accessible and friendly toward visitors and residents, some of whom don’t drive. He strongly supports a trolley route that could encompass the unserved north end of the Island.
"We need to make our beach access signs more visible so people know where the beaches are" he says.
Alonso would like to see funding and grants for the beautification of North Shore Drive and enhancement of the city pier area. Sidewalks, bicycle paths and better trolley routes would all work together to achieve the goal of fuel conservation.
He says, "If people can ride the trolley to the north end beaches, parking would not be such a problem."
My purpose for seeking election as an Anna Maria city commissioner is my belief that I can make a positive contribution to the professional administration of the city.
I feel that my engineering and construction background and prior service would complement the existing strength of the current mayor, commissioners, department heads and staff.
My private sector background includes:
• Bachelor of science-engineering, General Motors Institute
• Automotive engineering experience.
• Self-employed builder.
My past community service and Anna Maria City service includes:
• City commissioner and vice nayor.
• P&Z Board member and chairman.
• City Charter Review Committee member.
• AMI Community Center board member.
• Volunteer – Anna Maria Elementary School and AMI Community Center.
• Family: My wife, Marcia, and I and our four children have lived in Anna Maria since 1993.
My vision for the city as a commissioner is to preserve its small town atmosphere, retain its character and charm and preserve its ambiance for my children.
As a commissioner, I would help to establish broad city policy and gather the facts and weigh all sides of an issue before voting. I would not try to micromanage or demagogue the issues, but would allow the mayor/city administrator and department heads to manage the city on a daily basis.
As a commissioner, I would strive to get good value for our tax dollars, help to build consensus on the issues and use some common-sense when making decisions on our future challenges.
My philosophy for good government includes a belief in less government while maximizing private sector and citizen participation. Lower taxes, to allow our economy to grow within the private sector, not the government sector. I support private property rights as guaranteed by our Constitution. I trust our democracy, but we must question and verify.
I believe in providing the support and resources to our public works department for maintaining our existing equipment, roads, sidewalks and drainage systems. We must stress maintenance of our infrastructure due to the high costs of fuel, materials and equipment for new construction. Our city needs to provide support and resources for our full-time professional building official. We need to continue the user-friendly attitude of the building department, which in this city has not always been the case. Continued support for improving our flood insurance community rating by our building official reduces costs for all property owners.
We must try to establish more dialogue with our elected county commissioners to reduce city expenses for infrastructure needs for water quality, beaches and drainage, which impacts all of Manatee County, and to make sure we receive our fair share of county tax revenues.
My support for new development in the city is strong, providing it is compatible with our Island ambiance and our comprehensive plan. Please vote for leadership, experience and common-sense you can count on.
Two years ago I asked for your support when seeking the office of commissioner of the city of Anna Maria. There have been many challenging issues, some not without controversy, but every vote I have taken has been based on doing my homework and making my final decision, ultimately, on what is in the best interest of the residents and City as a whole.
Some of my positions have been:
•Opposition to the coastal overlay district which could have resulted in residences along our coast with a footprint of greater than 10,000 square feet;
•Opposition to a change in the comprehensive plan that was punitive to commercial property owners;
•Adoption of a balanced budget with a reduction in operating expenses of 3 percent;
•Revision of fee schedule in our fees reflect actual expenses incurred eliminating the use of our tax dollars to supplement the department’s operations;
•Continued support of a free Trolley with future installation of shelters at all stops, using funds from Manatee County rather than our local revenues. The Trolley has proven to be a wonderful service for residents and visitors alike and shelters would make it even better.
As the commission liaison to the Anna Maria Island Historical Society, if re-elected, I plan to continue to support its efforts to identify and preserve historically significant structures in the city. Also, as the result of a $350,000 grant that was awarded as part of my efforts in 2005, even before I became commissioner, I am working with the Transportation Enhancement Grant Committee to design a boardwalk and landscaping that would extend along the edge of the parking lot at the city pier.
It would provide a wonderful setting with built-in benches and tables where one can stop and have a picnic lunch, a cup of coffee in the morning, read a good book or just watch wildlife and people passing by. We envision it as a unique, totally handicap-accessible experience that would be a wonderful amenity for residents as well as our visiting families and friends. If approved by the residents and the commission, it will be completed in time to celebrate the city pier centennial in 2011.
I also plan to continue my support for the revitalization of the ROR district, as I consider Pine Avenue to be the heart of our city and I believe a thriving small business district benefits us all and adds to our quality of life. Tourism and small businesses are a vital part of our economy and we must do everything we can to maximize the financial return so that future revenues will increase in order to maintain and repair our infrastructure with no additional burden placed on our residents.
I pledge to continue to serve you to the best of my ability, making all of my decisions based on facts not feelings. Regardless of the outcome, it has been an honor and privilege to serve you for the past two years.
I am Chick Webb, and I am a candidate for the Anna Maria City Commission. If elected this will be the second time I have served on the commission. People have asked me why I am running again. I have been in public service my entire adult life. I recently retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve after 31 years of service and I now intend to serve the citizens of Anna Maria. My philosophy for government is simple: Government serves its citizens.
Good government is invisible. It quietly does its job providing public services and, more importantly, protecting its citizens. As much as possible, the city stays out of everyone’s life. However, since one person’s rights end where another person’s rights begin, the city must balance these rights by adopting ordinances to protect everyone.
Special interests of a few cannot take precedence over other’s rights. Furthermore, everyone has the right to use their property as they wish without government interference except when their use of their property would negatively affect the public health, safety and welfare. We cannot allow the city to infringe on these rights.
I am sure that many of you are aware that I represent Jack and Evelyn Fiske in litigation against the city. You may think that is inconsistent with seeking public office. It is not. The Fiskes have lawfully used their property as a marina since the 1940s. Based upon complaints of a few newcomers, the city is now wrongfully seeking to close their marina. I am proud to represent them in defending their rights.
I took an oath when I was commissioned as a lieutenant of Marines. That oath was not to the federal government or president. It was to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, i.e. to protect our rights. In defending the Fiskes, I am continuing to abide by this oath. My loyalty will always be to the citizens of Anna Maria.
As your commissioner, I will listen to all sides and opinions before reaching a decision. Everyone will have a fair opportunity to be heard and, while I may not agree with a position, I will not allow my personal opinions to obstruct anyone’s rights.
My qualifications are that I have served as a Marine Corps and U.S. Army officer, active and reserve. I am an attorney with 23 years of experience. For seven of those years, I was an assistant county attorney for Broward and Charlotte counties and, day in and day out, dealt with all of the issues that the city will face. I served on the City commission and on the Planning and Zoning Board. My goal is to protect the village atmosphere that we all love in Anna Maria. I will fight against any attempt to change Anna Maria into just another subdivision.
One commission seat open in Bradenton Beach
Voters in Bradenton Beach will choose a city commissioner for the fourth ward to replace John Chappie, who will leave to become a Manatee County commissioner. The two candidates are Bill Shearon, who served on the city commission for three years before resigning to run for mayor last year against Michael Pierce, and Bob Bartlet, a political newcomer who has served on the city’s Scenic Highway committee.
Although the city is divided into four wards, residents from all the wards vote on each candidate.
Bradenton Beach is my home, and I want to be more involved in it. I first moved here from Wisconsin a little over nine years ago and became a resident a year later.
Four years ago, I was asked to serve on the Scenic Highway Committee, became a member and started learning about how our city operates. I was impressed with the people I worked with. They are all very civic minded and have the best interests of our community at heart.
Scenic Highway eventually merged with the WAVES committee, as we had a number of overlapping areas of responsibility. The Scenic/WAVES Partnership really increased my span of interest, as it represents to me what the city of Bradenton Beach is all about – a working waterfronts community. Scenic/WAVES addresses environmental resource protection, retention of traditional waterfront economics, public access and hazard mitigation, in addition to Scenic Highway issues. I believe this committee represents the heart of Bradenton Beach by working to preserve its small beach town charm and old Florida character.
As I started attending workshops and conferences with these two committees, I became increasingly interested in the politics of the city. I wanted to become more involved in the process and felt that running for commissioner is the best way.
I have developed a working knowledge of the city, but am always learning more. I find my civic involvement a constant learning process. You can prepare for some things, but many things are only learned through on-the-job experience.
I believe John Chappie worked hard, along with the previous commission and department heads, to set Bradenton Beach on a solid financial base. And in these very uncertain and volatile financial times, working on fiscal responsibility and clarity will be of paramount importance. Maintaining budget constraints will be necessary, especially with the tax issues we are facing.
We need to remain fiscally solvent, while being creative in moving ahead with projects for which we can obtain alternative funding from sources such as grants and partnerships. We are looking into a dunes project right now with public-private partnerships. These types of projects can be a win-win situation for all concerned, lessening the financial impact on all the partners and providing opportunities that would have been difficult going alone.
I believe the city’s comprehensive plan, which was just updated, will help to keep our focus on the quality of life in our community. It complements the Bradenton Beach Vision Statement that reads:
"Bradenton Beach is a small, friendly island community that values the civic pride of both permanent and seasonal residents, maintains its old Florida charm and respects its bountiful natural resources."
These documents give us the direction in which I would like to move. They were developed over the years by many concerned residents and public officials who love this city. I will always vote in a manner consistent with the comprehensive plan and vision statement.
I also would like to expand the level of communication between the citizens and city officials.
I have been recognized by many as being fiscally conservative, a proven manager, and responsive to constituents inquiries. I have always been readily available to listen to residents’ ideas and concerns and willing to follow through to make sure appropriate action is taken to address the same.
I have 27 years of management experience as an independent marketer. I started with one employee and grew to 150 employees.
I was a commissioner for three years, vice mayor for one year. While in office, I attended all city meetings or reviewed the tapes to keep informed and up to date.
I was liaison to the Scenic Highway Committee, City Pier Team, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce, Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization and I currently serve on the city's Planning and Zoning Board.
My goals are to worki with the mayor and commissioners and create timelines for:
• Establishing new policies and procedures for city spending;
• Developing a new budget process;
• Accomplishing capital improvement projects and CRA district improvements;
• Grant funding resources;
• Our mooring field, that is self-supportive and enhances our waterfront;
• Our stormwater management plan;
• Gulf and bay street end improvements;
• Sidewalks for a more pedestrian friendly walkable, safe community.
Most importantly, with a variety of budget constraints due to state and county mandates and current economic concerns, it is important that every expenditure be fully justified and accounted for to ensure that essential services are available and properly maintained for all residents and businesses.
Four fire commission candidates vie for two seats
For the first time in 10 years, there are four candidates for two seats on the West Manatee Fire Commission.
Randy Cooper and Steve Pontius are seeking Seat 5, being vacated by Commissioner Jack Emery, who is retiring, and Al Robinson is challenging incumbent Jesse Davis for Seat 1. Commissioners are volunteers and are not paid.
One issue facing the new commission is whether to replace or renovate the district’s fire stations and how to pay for the work. The commission recently accepted a recommendation from its facilities review committee to upgrade its facilities and proceed with an RFP for a needs assessment and evaluation of the existing buildings.
A second issue is whether to seek a referendum to increase fire assessment fees. The district charges an assessment based on building type and square footage. The district can only increase the yearly assessment by the percentage of Florida personal income growth. At present this increase is enough to fund operations, but not add any more firefighters.
A third issue is whether to resist if the city of Bradenton attempts to annex the district’s land between Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road from 75th to 43rd streets and the remaining portions of Perico Island and Palma Sola along the Palma Sola Causeway. It would be a third of the district’s jurisdiction on the mainland.
Meet the candidates
Randy Cooper has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and oversees management of construction projects. He is a former volunteer with the West Hillsborough Fire Department, has attended fire commission meetings for the past year and recently served on the district’s facilities review committee.
Steve Pontius began as a firefighter with West Side Fire District in 1977 and continued when West Side merged with Anna Maria to form West Manatee. He retired in January 2006 after 29 _ years as a firefighter/EMT. He regularly attends fire commission meetings.
Jesse Davis has been a county resident for 44 years and has worked for Manatee County Utilities for 26 years. He is currently in communications and emergency response. He served on the West Side Fire Commission and continued as a commissioner when West Side merged with Anna Maria to form West Manatee, a total of 16 years.
Al Robinson was a coal mine owner/operator in West Virginia before moving to the Island. He owned D Coy Ducks in Holmes Beach from 2003 to 2007. He has a master’s degree in safety from West Virginia University and is certified in underground coal mine rescue and firefighting.
Candidates discuss issues
Q: Why would you like to serve or continue to serve on the fire commission?
Cooper: I want to get involved with the community. Manatee County is a great place to live and I’d like to help maintain that reputation and feeling.
Pontius: With my background in the fire service, I think I could serve well. I’d like to explore the possibility of consolidating the fire districts to see if it would be good for the districts and the taxpayers.
Davis: It’s an honor to have served the people of my district for 16 years. I feel there is a lot more to accomplish and I enjoy the challenge.
Robinson: I’ve made a pledge to myself to get more involved. I don’t know the people on the fire commission, but I’ve seen what goes on and how the money is spent.
Q: Which stations should the district renovate or replace?
Cooper and Pontius: We should wait for the results of the needs assessment.
Davis: I would wait for the results of the needs assessment, but if I had the money and had to choose, I’d start with renovating Station 2 in Cortez.
Robinson: I’m not educated enough to answer that.
Q: Should the district seek a referendum to increase its assessment fees?
Cooper: No. The district is doing an excellent job of keeping a stable budget.
Pontius: With the ad valorem being voted down three times, I can’t see going there. We can get by right now.
Davis: I believe assessment is the fairest way to go, but the economy is in a downturn and people are losing their houses, so I don’t think it would fly at this time. Maybe we need to take a hard look at how we’re spending our money.
Robinson: I’d have to rely on the staff to educate me on this.
Q: Should the district fight further annexation by the city of Bradenton?
Cooper: I would try to discourage the city from annexing more of the district’s land. It will hurt the district’s funding source and may not result in the best fire service for those people. The people who live there should know the ramifications.
Pontius: I would fight it. The district will lose a lot of funding. Cedar Hammock and East Manatee also will be affected by the annexation. We should get with them to see what we can do together to stop it.
Davis: We should put up as much effort as possible to fight it. If they take our property, it will increase the taxes on the people of our district and increase the taxes on the people who live in the annexed portion. It’s lose-lose situation for everybody but the city of Bradenton.
Robinson: The city likes kingdoms and palaces. They’re going to do what they want. Let them have everything on the other side of the bridge.