The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 27 - April 7, 2010


Egg scramble nets kids sweet treats

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
This young man loved the rubber ducky inside his egg
at the Sandbar restaurant annual Anna Maria Island
Sun Easter Egg Hunt. SUN PHOTO/ TOM VAUGHT

A huge crowd of children took part in the annual Easter Egg Hunt behind the Sandbar restaurant, sponsored by The Anna Maria Island Sun. There was a glich this year when a false start resulted in all the age groups hitting the sand at the same time instead of the usual orderly process by age group.

Following that, many kids and their families went to Pine Avenue to participate in an egg roll and check out the shops and goodies there.

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E-mail case widens

ANNA MARIA — A former city commissioner and four private citizens are now the target of an expanding public records search.

The request was made by legal consultant Michael Barfield, who has been working to obtain all the e-mails dealing with city business that sitting Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus sent from his home computers.

Former Commissioner Duke Miller, Robert and Nicky Hunt, Cathy Stoltzfus, wife of the embattled commissioner, and Robin Wall have all been asked to turn over any e-mails dealing with city business that they sent from or received in their private e-mail accounts.

Barfield has stated that the group has been operating with Commissioner Stoltzfus as a shadow government.

“These people have gone way beyond the scope of what ordinary citizens do when they communicate with their government,” Barfield said Monday. “They have acted as an ad hoc committee with input into every aspect of city government.”

If it’s determined that they have, in fact, acted as an ad hoc committee, their communications could be subject to the public records laws, and they might have to produce the requested records.

More issues

There is also some indication in the e-mails produced by Stoltzfus that some of the group may have served as conduits between sitting commissioners.

In a January e-mail to Nicky Hunt, Stoltzfus asks her to call Commissioner John Quam to find out “the latest on 216,” which refers to a property at 216 Pine Avenue under development.

“I will call John Quam as he will have had to sign off on 503,” Hunt said. She refers to a Pine Avenue property formerly owned by Pine Avenue Restoration and currently owned by the Thrasher family.

“Gotcha,” Stoltzfus replied. “Let me know what he says. You can ask him about the latest on 216 as well.”

This e-mail exchange also raises the question of whether or not there is ex parte communication here.

Under the laws, Stoltzfus, who was lobbying to have the site plan for 216 Pine Avenue come to the city commission for final approval rather than be accepted finally by the planning and zoning board, is not allowed to have any communication out of a site plan hearing about the property he might be ruling on.

Should that matter have come to the full commission, Stoltzfus would have had to reveal any conversations he had outside the hearing itself.

The blog question

There are also e-mails circulated among the Hunts, Miller, the Stoltzfuses and Wall about what to post on a blog that Miller manages. (

According to Barfield, postings on blogs are an evolving legal issue. He said a blog was part of a lawsuit in Venice in which city commissioners were accused of trying to skirt Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

“It was part of the Venice suit, but the city admitted there were Sunshine violations before a judge ever ruled on it,” he said.

In the Venice case, three sitting commissioners and the mayor admitted to the Sunshine violations. The whole thing ultimately cost the city more than $1 million.

“I don’t really care re: posting on the moratoria thing,” Stoltzfus wrote to the Hunt’s e-mail address. The communication was copied to Wall and Miller.

The city was considering a moratorium against building mixed-use projects in the residential/office/retail district, which runs the length of Pine Avenue and a short distance of Gulf Drive south of Pine.

Nicky Hunt also said she was not sure about a moratorium as she felt it might impact the construction of the three-story mixed-use building she and her husband have planned for their property on Pine.

“One of the problems with a blog is that it can raise issues with the Sunshine Laws,” Barfield said. “People can mask their identities and no one knows who the blogger is. Then we run afoul of the ability to have our issues thrashed out in public.”

The IP (internet protocol) addresses can be obtained electronically from a blog, according to Barfield. “In the Venice case, the mayor was posting under three separate IP addresses,” he said. “The IP addresses are sort of like fingerprints in that each computer has unique characteristics, and when you download the blog, you have the IP addresses.”

Barfield said he was meeting this week with the attorneys he works for, whom he declined to identify, to determine how they’ll handle the issue of the blog.

Early warning

Early after the blog was first posted on the Internet, Mayor Fran Barford wrote to Miller cautioning him about Sunshine issues:

“Anyone who serves on a board/committee or a commissioner who receives information or contributes and then must vote on an issue, may have to declare their participation on the blog.”

Barford added that the city attorney had rendered a concurring opinion about blogs.

Miller shared the mayor’s communication with Stoltzfus in an e-mail in which he cautions Stoltzfus about putting anything in writing that he didn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.

Island's season not over 'till it's over

AMISUN News Robbery Banker
SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT Beachgoers flock to Coquina
Beach after the arrival of warm weather.

The sun has set on Easter, the traditional end of Anna Maria Island’s heaviest tourist season, but its early April arrival and the sudden advent of spring weather are making visitors linger longer.

After an unusually long, cold winter, Easter week ushered in the first spring weather of 2010, with traffic backed up to 75th Street in Bradenton from the Manatee public beach every day from Thursday through Sunday. Regions Bank near the beach had to post workers outside to keep beachgoers from monopolizing their parking lot, and on Easter Sunday, the empty Publix parking lot was annexed by beachgoers.

The rush to the coast is good news for local business owners.

At the Sandbar in Anna Maria, Beach House in Bradenton Beach and Mar Vista in Longboat Key, people who had been shying away from outdoor dining swarmed the waterfront restaurants.

“The really weird winter we had kind of thwarted our business, but it’s kicking in now,” marketing director Karen Hodge said, adding that business is expected to stay brisk. “People aren’t leaving just yet; it’s an early Easter.”

Shelves were disheveled at Publix in Holmes Beach on Saturday as shoppers stocked up for Easter dinner. A Walgreens clerk said that customers streamed in for sunscreen and sunburn remedies, a sure sign that spring has sprung.

Business also has picked up for Capt. Kathe’s boat charters at Star Fish Co. in Cortez, where lines are up to an hour long for lunch.

“I’m booked this week,” she said, adding that bad weather forced the cancellation of several charters this winter. “People were saying it was warmer in Buffalo than it was here,” she said, adding that this week’s spring weather arrived about a month later than normal.

The newly-renovated Holiday Cove RV Resort, 11900 Cortez Road W. in Cortez, is booked solid through April, Donna Campion said, adding that the cold winter did not deter guests.

“We were booked from January on, with a waiting list,” she said, adding that the park holds about 200 people when it’s full, most of them staying and shopping for more than a month at a time.

The Anna Maria Island Art League, 5312 Holmes Blvd. in Holmes Beach saw more people enroll in its art classes and workshops than ever this season, director Joyce Karp said.

“They made decisions on how to spend their money,” she said, learning to create art rather than purchasing it. Still, sales from the gallery also were brisk, she said, adding, “I don’t think there was any casual buying. They bought only when they fell in love with something.”

The Island’s largest art fair, Springfest, sponsored by the Art League, also was well attended, she said.

That was not the case for the weekly Saturday Bridge Street Market in Bradenton Beach, where attendance fell well below last year because of the weather, organizer Nancy Ambrose said.

“Last year every Saturday was gorgeous, and we got spoiled. This year we had to cancel the market once because the weather was so bad, and we should have canceled a second one,” she said. “Most of March was really not nice, and we had not as many vendors or customers.”

But as the weather improves, she predicts better news for the market, which is on through the end of May.

Despite the long, cold winter, rentals at Wagner Realty were very strong, sales and property manager Sandy Greiner said.

“People were disappointed in our weather,” she said. Still, they are coming back.

“We’ve had a huge influx of calls for winter 2011, and this is way early,” she said, adding that those who didn’t come had even worse weather at home, and will not make the same mistake.

Tourism statistics for March – the busiest month of the year – are not yet available, but January and February tourism was not chilled by the cold, according to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

January tourism on Anna Maria Island was up from last year at 51 percent hotel occupancy, compared to 44.2 percent in January 2009. In February, occupancy reached 74.9 percent, up from 66.6 percent in February 2009.

Paradise Cafe gets 8 weeks to move

HOLMES BEACH – Jackie Estes, owner of Paradise Café in the Anna Maria Island Centre, said she’s been given eight weeks to relocate to make way for a move by Walgreens Drug Store.

The move is part of a plan by officials of Benderson Development to relocate Walgreens from the north end of the shopping center on East Bay Drive into the former Shell’s storefront at the south end of the center.

The proposed plan shows an expansion into storefronts now occupied by Paradise Café and formerly occupied by video and baby rentals stores and into the parking lot on the East Bay Drive side. Estes said she had no knowledge of the plan until contacted by this reporter three weeks ago.

“The person who was supposed tell me three months ago, was transferred, and they dropped the ball,” she said. “They just told me yesterday (March 30) that I have eight weeks to rebuild on the other side of the beauty parlor and move my restaurant.

“I have to wrap my mind around it. I have to find contractors, electricians, plumbers and get permits. I don’t have a choice; I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Estes estimates it will cost her between $15,000 and $20,000 to rebuild and move. She plans to take everything she can from the current restaurant, such as the tables and chairs, but the cabinets are built in and can’t be moved.

“After the story in The Sun (March 24), I had over 1,000 responses from customers and friends wanting to help,” she said. “It’s overwhelming how much the community cares. I can’t thank people enough for their concern.”

In addition to a bigger store, the Walgreens expansion will allow for a drive through to the back alley and around to the Gulf Drive side, where a drive up window is shown. This would allow people to pick up their prescriptions without leaving their vehicles.

The city’s plans examiner and inspector Bob Shaffer met with Benderson officials on April 1, to go over the site and parking plans.

“They were five short of the required parking,” he said. “They’ll go back to the drawing board to provide the five and come back to the city.”

Once the parking is satisfied, Shaffer said the building official and mayor will review the plan, and the company must notify all neighbors within 500 feet. The plan would then go to the city commission for review and approval.

“They said they hope to have it all done by mid-May so they can start construction,” Shaffer said.

Compromise drilling proposal remains unpopular

Community leaders are largely opposed to President Barack Obama’s plan to expand oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The federal plan, announced this week, would allow drilling in the eastern Gulf, 125 miles from Florida’s west coast. Current regulations prohibit drilling within 230 miles of Tampa Bay, an area used for military training exercises.

A state legislative proposal that recommended allowing drilling from three to 10 miles from the coast failed last year.

“I’m appalled that they would consider drilling off the coast of Florida,” said David Teitelbaum, vice chairman of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC). “There are tremendous consequences.”

The fact that the new proposal is significantly farther from shore than the state Legislature’s 2009 proposal “doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s a very big mistake.”

“I’m not for any drilling period,” agreed Ed Chiles, a TDC member, restaurateur and Anna Maria Island developer.

The distance is equally insignificant to Manatee County Commissioner and Bradenton Beach resident John Chappie.

“I hate to see it,” he said. “The economy is in bad shape as it is, and in Manatee County, we’re so dependent on tourism, to risk that on technology that is flawed – I don’t see how we can take that risk.”

Limiting drilling to 125 miles from the coast also does not change environmental group ManaSota-88’s stand: “Not here, not now, not ever,” according to spokesman Glenn Compton, who favors an energy plan that emphasizes conservation.

Surfrider Foundation’s Sarasota chapter also remains opposed to any new offshore drilling, according to spokeswoman Jessica Respondek, citing the risk of spills to the recreational, economic and ecological benefits of oceans and beaches.

“We can’t lose the beach,” Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Larry White said. “That’s what we are.”

Real Florida Festival coincides with Founder’s Day

HOLMES BEACH – The beginning of the three-day Real Florida Festival is also Founder’s Day in the Island’s largest city, so the two celebrations will be held together.

The city of Holmes Beach is celebrating its 60th anniversary on Friday, April 16., at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Here’s a look at the schedule.

There will be a meet and greet in the front lobby from 9 to 10 a.m. featuring live music by the Anna Maria Concert Chorus and Orchestra, with coffee, tea and refreshments.

At 10 a.m., American Legion Post 24 Color Guard will present the colors and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger will make introductions. Historical observations will be presented and the city will make its annual Holmes Beach Community Partner Award.

The city will then dedicate its new outdoor restroom with a ribbon cutting ceremony at city hall field.

Following that, the public is invited to tour city hall until 3 p.m.

At 5 p.m., the action picks up again at city hall field for the Real Florida Festival featuring an arts and crafts fair, an Island food court with local specialties, soft drinks, beer, wine, and rum drinks and live music, special events and games. The Island Idol karaoke finals will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. featuring the best performers from the auditions held earlier plus performances by the youngsters who participated in a talent contest at the Anna Maria Island Community Center. on March 27.

On Saturday, April 17, there will be a skateboard competition at the city skate park starting at 8:30 a.m. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,there will be an arts and crafts fair featuring an Island food court with local dishes and refreshments at Holmes Beach City Hall field.

Bohnenberger invites everyone to enjoy the day by celebrating the 60th anniversary of the city and attending the Real Florida Festival later. Every dollar raised by the festival will go toward keeping the trolley rides free.

County puts hold on business tax

BRADENTON – Putting unrest to rest, Manatee County Commissioners agreed last week on a one-time grant to the Manatee Chamber’s Economic Development Council for its recruitment effort to encourage businesses to relocate to the county.

The $400,000 grant will be added to the $196,000 budgeted for the EDC, which was to be approved at the meeting. Commissioner Carol Whitmore had the item pulled from the consent agenda for discussion.

The move puts a hold on an EDC recommendation to fund the effort by imposing a $35 tax on every business in the county. Many business owners had expressed their opposition to the tax in a March commission meeting.

“I pulled it from the agenda because of double taxation for those who pay a business tax to their city and because each hairdresser and real estate agent would have to pay,” Whitmore said.

Other issues commissioners had raised regarding the tax were that the tax collector said it would cost $800,000 to collect it, landlords would have to pay on each rental unit and home businesses would be affected. Business owners told the board that they couldn’t afford another tax.

In March, commissioners had agreed to a work session on the tax before going to the ordinance process. Last week they agreed to hold on both until County Administrator Ed Hunzeker can research the issues.

Stoltzfus says he’s done - again

ANNA MARIA — City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus has announced again that he’s produced all the records on his home computers that are subject to the public records laws.

This is the fourth time he has said he was finished.

“This is it,” Stoltzfus said in e-mail to City Clerk Alice Baird, when he produced his first batch of records on March 19 in response to a public records request from legal consultant Michael Barfield.

Stoltzfus again said he was done – two more times – over the course of the next two weeks.

After an analysis of the records, Barfield said he noticed there were numerous e-mails missing. He requested that Stoltzfus produce them. In a letter to City Attorney Jim Dye, Barfield noted that he had spoken with Baird.

“I spoke with the city clerk, who indicated that several e-mails marked as d1 through d4 and d6 through d7 (I did not receive any item marked d5) were ‘deleted’ e-mails that Commissioner Stoltzfus had somehow recovered,” Barfield wrote.

He said that gave him several concerns in that it was his understanding that Anna Maria has an official policy requiring commissioners to use their city e-mail accounts and not their private, personal e-mail accounts.

“Stoltzfus failed to comply with that policy and has made himself the individual custodian of public records,” Barfield continued. “Regardless of the city’s policy, state law is quite specific on the retention of e-mails as public records no matter their location. That Stoltzfus acknowledged deleting e-mails that are public records is a serious violation and requires immediate attention to determine what additional e-mails have been deleted.”

'Intent to hide'

Several of the e-mail messages produced by the commissioner are marked “Confidential,” “For your eyes only” and other similar connotations, showing an obvious intent to hide records from public inspection, according to Barfield.

On April 2, Stoltzfus produced the disc with the e-mails in the format in which they were created, as was requested by Barfield three weeks ago.

“It appears that there may be gaps in the e-mail records,” Barfield said.

He added that he and his clients, whom he declined to name, were not confident that Stoltzfus had produced everything.

Additionally, Barfield has requested records from the commissioner’s iPhone – a request that Stoltzfus has declined so far despite a letter from Dye advising him that under the law, he has to produce the records.

Barfield requested that that Dye and/or Stoltzfus provide a written acknowledgement that Stoltzfus has finally produced all e-mails dealing with city business from his personal computers and that no e-mails which are public records were ever deleted.

“If, in fact, Commissioner Stoltzfus has not been able to recover public records that were deleted from his personal computers, I respectfully request that you notify me, as well as the appropriate law enforcement officials, on an immediate basis.”

Bike team offers first aid at local events
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT West Manatee Fire Rescue
Bike Team member Rodney Kwiatkowski adjusts a
helmet for Hailey Jonatzke as he demonstrates
the correct way to wear one to the kids at the
Anna Maria Community Center TLC program on
Friday, March 26.

You see them at festivals and at holiday parades and gatherings gliding smoothly through the crowd on their bikes dispensing first aid and offering help.

They are the West Manatee Fire Rescue Bike Team with eight fully equipped bicycles and nine members, who are specially trained to ride in crowds. Typical medical emergencies they encounter are heat related problems, falls, exhaustion and basic first aid.

‘We are a work in progress,” team leader Chris O’Kelly explained. “The team was started in 2004 by Battalion Chief Rich Losek and received donations through Dr. Soler (the district’s medical director). We bought two bikes and had four members.

“Since 2007, the district has funded us for $1,000 per year. The money is spent on bikes, helmets, equipment, uniforms, maintenance and specialized medical supplies. We also take donations.”

Two to four members of the bike team can be seen at Bayfest, the DeSoto parade, Privateers’ parades, the Fourth of July fireworks, the Cortez Commercial Fishing and Folk festivals – anywhere there’s crowds and traffic. In addition, they provide mutual aid at Southeast Guild Dog events.

“The team started when there was a cardiac at Bayfest and we couldn’t get the fire truck through,” O’Kelly recalled. “It took a long time to get to the patient. We saw police officers on bikes and said, ‘We could do that,’ and Rich started getting donations.

“It’s much quicker to ride a bike to treat a patient in a crowd than get an ambulance or a fire truck. We provide the medical aid and the district’s Centaur ATV stands by to provide the transport.”

O’Kelly said team members take a 30-hour training class through the International Police Mountain Bike Association based in Indianapolis, Ind., “We learn how to ride through a crowd,” O’Kelly said. “There’s a technique when you’re carrying 30 to 40 pounds on a bike. You have to learn how to get where you’re going and be effective. There’s a lot of tricks that you don’t know until you meet someone who specializes in this.”

The team’s services are free, and members receive a specialty stipend of $600 per year. They hold monthly training drills and have to attend four drills or events.

The team is slated to receive a 26-foot trailer with 30 bicycles and equipment through the National Safe Routes to Schools program and dispensed by the Florida Department of Transportation, said member Rodney Kwiatkowski. Team members will be trained through the Florida Traffic Safety Education Program to the teach bike safety in schools and then host bike rodeos with the kids.

In addition to O’Kelly, Losek and Kwiatkowski, members include Jim Davis, Barry Brooks, Chris Shepard, Brian Gaskill, Andrew Lauricella, Mike Bugel and Ben Rigney.

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