The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 51 - September 22, 2010


Recall election certified

Harry Stoltzfus
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY The Anna Maria canvassing
board certified the recall election results Monday
at city hall. Pictured from left to right are
George McKay, Cheri Oehler and City Clerk Alice Baird.

ANNA MARIA — It’s now official. Former City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus has been removed from office, and Gene Aubry has been officially elected to fill the remainder of Stoltzfus’ term.

In a historic recall election – the first in Manatee County – the will of the people was finalized Monday morning by the city’s canvassing board.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal lifted a stay of the certification process last Thursday, and on Monday morning, City Clerk Alice Baird, George McKay and Cheri Oehler, officially certified the election at 9:16 on Monday morning.

“This is an historic moment,” said Mayor Fran Barford. “I feel said Mayor Fran Barford. “I feel glad that the city can move forward and honor the will of the people. It’s the democratic process.”

District Court Judge Edward Nicholas ruled that the recall petition was legal and sufficient on Sept. 3, but he placed a stay on the ballot count and the certification process.

Ballot stay challenged

At the circuit court level, the nonprofit group Citizens for Sunshine intervened in the proceedings and challenged Nicholas’ ruling sealing the ballots. The group cited Florida Statute, which makes election ballots public records once they are cast.

The appeals court lifted that seal, and the ballots were counted last week showing that the voters were in favor of recalling Stoltzfus from office by a count of 362 to 331.

Aubry beat Stoltzfus in the question of who should serve out the remainder of Stoltzfus’ term of office by a count of 363-333.

Now that the election has been certified, Aubry will be sworn into office Wednesday morning.

Stoltzfus' attorney Richard Harrison has argued that the recall petition itself was so vague that his client couldn’t mount an effective defense. The district court has given Stoltzfus 20 days to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed as moot.

Stoltzfus said he had no comment.

Harrison said over the weekend that he and his client intend to respond within the 20-day period as ordered.

Harrison said the ruling from the appeals court surprised him.

“It is highly unusual for the DCA to disturb a discretionary decision of a trial court (the stay order) without any explanation and to effectively decide an election that is in dispute without ever hearing the merits of the case,” Harrison said in an e-mail.

Emails impact

The recall process was begun last May by a group of citizens responding to information contained in e-mails Stoltzfus released due to a public records request.

Bob Carter chaired the recall committee after reading the e-mails and getting advice from Chuck Walters, an attorney with Blalock and Walters, as to whether or not violations of the Sunshine Laws had occurred.

Based on Walters’ opinion, the recall committee went forward with a recall petition charging Stoltzfus with malfeasance and misfeasance.

It was a process that ended with Monday’s certification.

“I am delighted the courts have made the decisions they did,” Carter said. “This was a long process to remove someone from a public office, and it shows that ultimately the citizens can prevail.”

Carter said the recall process cost about $10,000, which came mostly from contributions.

“But it’s disturbing that the citizens can’t remove someone from office for wrong doing without going through an expensive and lengthy legal process,” he said. “It’s not an easy process, and it’s not within reach of most citizens.”

Carter said the last minute intervention of Citizens for Sunshine was a huge help, and he thanked CFS Attorney Andrea Mogensen and Legal Analyst Michael Barfield.

Cutting edge case

Barfield said this case was on the “cutting edge.”

“There have been questions and problems about enforcing the Sunshine and Public Records Laws when elected officials use their private

emails to communicate,” he said. “This case was a perfect venue to challenge that.” Barfield cited an email in which Stoltzfus called himself “haughty, arrogant and dangerous” and that he would like to bulldoze the recently completed Pine Avenue Restoration structures in Anna Maria.

“That kind of thing leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths,” Barfield said. “This case sends a message to all elected officials that the rule of law prevails, people have to realize that if you accept public office, you are accountable.”

Barfield said that in the end, it was Stoltzfus’ own words that caused his downfall.

Fire chief defends district

HOLMES BEACH – After months of listening to resident Al Robinson assail the fire district, West Manatee Fire Chief Andy Price defended it at Thursday’s fire commission meeting.

“I spent the past couple of weeks going through all the items in here (a package of information Robinson left with the board at its August meeting),” Price explained. “Everything in it is either untrue or misinformation.”

Price addressed Robinson’s handout point by point, correcting errors in Robinson’s figures for the cost of equipment, work week hours, budget, wages and benefits, retirement program, administration building and education.

For example, Price said Robinson received specific payroll information but changed the overtime hours for the year from 3,595 to 26,099 and also based his figures on a 40-hour work week when firefighters work 56 hours per week.

In another example, Price said Robinson said the district paid $175,00 for a multi-purpose vehicle, then changed it to $80,000 then to $100,000. Price said the actual cost of the vehicle was $39,595 plus $9,161 for accessories and shipping and $13,440 for the transport trailer.

“He’s been before this board several times, all of it trying to read these letters,” Price pointed out. “He’s been rude and obnoxious.

“The board told him no less than six times, if you have questions and want answers, come to this administrative office and they will help you. He has yet to come in.”

Formal complaint

Public comment followed, and Robinson began to read from a document, which he stated was a formal complaint against Price and Deputy Chief Brett Pollock for their conduct toward him at a district stakeholders’ meeting on Sept. 8. The meeting was by invitation to seek input from community leaders to help the district develop its strategic plan for the future.

When Robinson’s two minutes were up, Chair John Rigney asked him to stop speaking. Robinson continued, and Rigney asked him to stop again, then asked a Holmes Beach police officer to escort him out.

Robinson stopped reading and said, “I was so involved in reading this I didn’t hear you.”

As the officer escorted him out, Kim Jasinski, said to Robinson, “That’s another pamphlet of fiction. Unfortunately, all those people in this community read fiction like that and tend to believe it because that’s all they see, and that’s wrong.”

Regarding Robinson’s complaint, Price told the board that he was not invited to the stakeholders’ meeting and his conduct there was “loud and boisterous. He was not respectful and acted totally inappropriately.”

Work session set

Price said surveys filled out at the stakeholders’ meeting would be compiled, and the information would be used to draft the district’s strategic plan. The draft will be presented to commissioners in a work session on Oct. 11 at 5 p.m. at Station 1 in Holmes Beach.

“We were extremely surprised at the comments we got back,” Price said. “We really didn’t have any negative ones.”

Price also told the board about a book, “Government of Deceit,” written by Holmes Beach resident Pat McConnell. He said the book contains a chapter on the fire district.

“This information is almost the same as Mr. Robinson’s,” he said. “I can’t believe that someone would write something like this and not come in once to talk to us.”

During comments, Commissioner Mike Mulyck thanked Price for “setting the record straight. It needed to be done. It upsets me how it affects our firefighters.”

Commissioner Jesse Davis told firefighters in the audience, “I don’t like it when Mr. Robinson comes in and besmirches your character.”

Commissioner Larry Tyler said the board must address Robinson’s complaint, and Rigney asked Tyler and Commissioner Randy Cooper to investigate it. Price said they should talk to the board’s attorney about meeting the requirements of the Sunshine Law.

Trolley route gets new life

BRADENTON BEACH – After a week of talks with Sarasota and Manatee county transit officials, it appears the Sarasota trolley run will be safe until the end of the year.

Manatee County Commissioners will to finalize an arrangement next week in which each county would pay its share to continue the southern extension of what was originally the Anna Maria Island trolley route.

For a while it looked like the extension would be doomed when a $1.2 million state operational grant ran out in August, short of its Sept. 30 deadline. Manatee County, which would normally pay one-third of the expense of operating the three trolleys, ended up footing the entire bill for a short while.

Manatee County commissioners discussed the possibility of putting an end to the extension at a meeting last Tuesday, but ended up agreeing to pay the county’s share of the operating costs until at least the end of this year if Sarasota County would pay its share. At that meeting, former Longboat Commissioner Jeremy Whatmough urged the Manatee Commission to work with his town and Sarasota County.

“We all knew it would take time for this trolley to take off,” he said. “I see it when I’m walking at 6 a.m. and there are riders on it.”

Whatmough said the three governments should apply for economic stimulus funding.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who has been a trolley booster since before there were trolleys, told The Sun that if they drop the Sarasota County portion, it would be a bad omen for their efforts to promote mass transit in the face of budget cuts.

“The Anna Maria trolley is the most successful one in the state,” she said. “Next year, however, we may have to cut another $18 million to $20 million from our budget.”

Later in the week, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker spoke with the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. He said they would do what they could to continue the Longboat trolley run up through the end of the year, and hopefully through the tourist season through next Easter.

Another meeting between Manatee and Sarasota counties is scheduled for this week and Hunzeker said it looks like they are all “on the same page.”

Real estate sales improve

Real estate sales for August continue the trend toward recovery, at least on Anna Maria Island. That’s the word from Alan Galletto, of Island Real Estate, in his latest monthly newsletter.

According to his findings, using sales figures from the Manatee County Multiple Listing Service, which tracks Manatee Board of Realtors' member sales, Galletto reported 26 properties on Anna Maria island sold in August 2010 compared to 23 in August 2009. The homes sold last month included 16 single-family homes and 10 condominium units. A year earlier, 15 single-family homes, six condos and two lots were sold.

Year-to-date sales through August are also up 36 percent over year-to-date sales through August of last year, according to Galletto’s report. This year’s tallies include a total of 198 homes sold, of which 119 were single-family homes, 56 condominium units, 15 duplexes and eight lots. The previous year, 146 homes had been sold with 78 single-family homes, 53 condos, six duplexes and nine lots in that mix.

The types of homes on the increase are single-family and duplexes.

Galletto reported that 66 home sales were pending when his report was written last week. Of that, 33 are single-family homes, 21 are condo units, eight are duplexes and four are lots.

Inventory dropped a little from July’s 544 to 540. Of those, 262 are single-family homes, 186 are condo units, 36 are duplexes and 56 are empty lots. Galletto said that when inventory drops below 500, the average prices of homes sold will likely rise.

Distressed properties (bank owned and short-sales) dropped from July’s 53 to 44 in August. Year-to-date, distressed property sales have remained around 25 percent of total sales.

Interest rates are at their lowest in 40 years, being offered as low as 4.4 percent for a 30-year, fixed rate loan.

Galletto said rental properties remain a good buy and tax assessments continue to drop as governments trim their budgets in light of the continued drop in property values.

Celebrate a decade of Bayfest

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Choose a T-shirt design from the three finalists
submitted by (from top to bottom) Olga Martinez,
Joe Bird or Michal Thrasher and e-mail your
selection to by Sept. 30..

ANNA MARIA – Pine Avenue will take on a gala appearance on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15 and 16, as the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce and the Island Historical Society celebrate the Tenth Annual Bayfest to kick off the season of festivals and other events.

The theme this year is the 10th anniversary, which is the same theme carried by the Anna Maria Island Sun, celebrating its 10th year of publishing and serving as the event’s main sponsor. Other sponsors include LaPensee Plumbing, Miller Electric and Bright House Networks.

In honor of the first decade, the Chamber is asking readers to vote for their favorite festival T-shirt design from the three finalists. You vote must be in by Sept. 30. You can e-mail The winner will be announced in The Sun.

This year, like last, the event starts on Friday evening with food, refreshments and dancing in the field next to Norht Bay Boulevard from 5 to 10 p.m. and resumes Saturday up and down Pine Avenue from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

This year, expect more of what makes this one of the most popular festivals on the Island. There will be great live music, tantalizing local dishes served hot, refreshments served cold, arts and crafts for gift-giving and home décor, a huge children’s section with hours of fun for the little ones at a reasonable cost and the Island’s premier auto show with a hundred custom, antique and unique cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Island Dojo Kevin Bergquist is in charge of the children’s area and the proceeds from the admission will go to abused and neglected children. In addition to the bounce house, a slide and other rides, there will be a martial arts demonstration and a white tiger in a cage for the kids to observe. Former Historical Society Director Carolyne Norwood will unveil her Island history sequel, “A Tale of Three Cities,” and sign copies at the Island Historical Museum. There also will be a children’s paint-a-coconut area and a photographer will be available to take pictures of people in the old city jail. There will be a dunk tank with local politicians and personalities.

Car show organizer Bill Mergens reports there is no more room for entries. Local car club members and Island regulars have already taken all the available spots. The same is true for food vendors. For information on other or future vending possibilities, call organizer and Chamber Board Chair Cindy Thompson at 761-4766 or the Chamber at 778-1541.

Homicide detectives investigate woman’s disappearance
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


The wife of a former Island restaurant owner’s disappearance is now being investigated as a homicide, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

Dawn Marie Viens, 40, disappeared Oct. 18. 2009, from Lomita, Cal., after she got into an argument with her husband of 15 years, David. The couple owned Beach City Market, in Bradenton Beach, and a home in Holmes Beach when police raided the establishment Jan. 6, 2005, and charged David with possession of marijuana with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of opium and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

On April 5, 2005, the state dropped all charges, but the Viens closed the restaurant and moved to California, where they opened Thyme Contemporary restaurant in Los Angeles less than a year before Dawn Viens disappeared.

According to the sheriff’s office, David said he got into an argument with his wife because he wanted her to enter a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. When she left him she took a Louis Vuitton bag with her, but left her car and $640 in tip money she had saved and left with her sister in case of an emergency. She has not been heard from since.

The case was originally classified as a missing person, according to the sheriff’s office. A flyer from the Charley Project Home website said friends of the couple reported she was happy with her marriage, but that her husband had a criminal record in Florida for drug-related offenses and she was concerned he would get in trouble with the law again. The website also reportedx that David discouraged his wife from making friends.

Anyone with information on her disappearance is asked to call the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office at (323) 890-5500 and ask for Det. T. Abraham or Det. Diane M. Harris. The file number is 009-0429-1711-400.

Monetti gets local meetings on oil spill damages

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioner John Monetti has secured one meeting and a second tentative meeting in the area for businesses to learn about getting compensation for negative economic impacts from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.

“So many businesses weren’t pursuing compensation because they weren’t down from 2009, but 2009 was a terrible year,” Monetti said. “We’re talking about potential, unquantifiable losses.”

Monetti, a board member of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said at a recent state board meeting, members discussed the issue of compensation.

“Kenneth Feinberg’s (appointed by President Obama to manage the Gulf spill damage claims) original position was that you had to have oil on the sand in order to be compensated,” Monetti explained. “We felt they needed to be more inclusive – have you been injured and can you prove it?

“Hotels and restaurants are mostly independent, mom and pop operations and don’t have the resources to fight this. We have 1,500 to 1,800 rentals in our city alone. How many of those owners know how to fill out a claim form?”

The FRLA hired a Pensacola law firm to help business owners sort through the issues, Monetti said, and they suggested holding 12 to 14 town meetings around the state to advise business owners.

“I feel like there’s been a change in Feinberg’s openness to proximity rules,” Monetti pointed out, “and a realization that attorneys aren’t necessarily a bad thing because they can lead large groups of people to a settlement.

“I want people to realize the picture has changed. I’d hate for any business with a legitimate claim not to get compensation. That’s why we hired the pros to tell us the facts.”

Monetti said both meetings are planned for Tuesday, Oct. 5, The first will be in Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive, at 10 a.m., and the tentative meeting is planned for the Ritz Carlton, 1111 Ritz Carlton Drive, Sarasota at 7 p.m.

Board nixes Mainsail lease request

HOLMES BEACH – Commissioners refused to modify a lease agreement with Mainsail Development to change from yearly to quarterly payments for a portion of the boat basin along Marina Drive.

The city owns five feet into the boat basin, including the seawall, which holds up Marina Drive and where Mainsail’s docks are attached. The lease was transferred from Reliance Realty to Mainsail when it bought the property in 2005. Mainsail pays $12,000 annually.

Originally the city leased the seawall to Tidemark, the property’s first developer, for $100 per year. When Tidemark went into bankruptcy, the city terminated the lease. When Reliance bought the property, the city asked for a new offer.

Reliance proposed an increase to $11,200, which was for the first year of the lease. In subsequent years, the amount increased according to the percentage increase in the consumer price index. The lease is for 20 years with 10-year renewals.

In a letter to the city, Mainsail President Joe Collier said, “… the ownership of that marina is a small entity that is designed to support an empty development site, pay the taxes, insurance, etc. and is currently only funded by a very small marina. This change to quarterly rather than yearly will help us with our monthly burden and accruals.”


City Treasurer Rick Ashley said Mainsail is currently in default because it hasn’t paid the lease. He said to change to quarterly payments would be extra work for the city.

“If we do a new lease, they’ll pay the attorney fees,” Chair Sandy Haas-Martens declared. “I can’t see us changing it.”

“We only own the seawall and a smidge into the waterway there,” City Attorney Patricia Petruff pointed out. “The property is only beneficial to Mainsail.”

She said there are two options: ask Mainsail to pay and

if it doesn’t, terminate the lease, or ask it to send the first quarterly payment now and agree to negotiate a change with additional costs. Ashley said the company offered to send a quarterly payment, but he didn’t have the authority to accept it.

Haas-Martens and Commissioner David Zaccagnino said it’s not fair to people who pay the city for annual dock rentals.

Commissioner John Monetti agreed it’s not fair to others, but stressed, “We want it to be developed. We want it to be successful.”

“If they want quarterly payments, tell them it would require renegotiation of the lease, and they would have to cover all the expenses,” Mayor Rich Bohnenberger suggested.

Commissioner Al Robinson asked if $12,000 is a bargain price for the lease.

“When the lease was negotiated, the $11,000 was thought to be fair compensation, and it was based in part on what a dock rental was at the time,” Petruff replied.

Commissioners agreed to keep the payments annual.

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