The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 45 - August 22, 2012


Super Summer
Carol Whitmore


HOLMES BEACH – The usually quiet summer season on Anna Maria Island hasn’t arrived yet this year, with visitors steadily streaming in from nearby Florida towns, and tourist taxes breaking records.

“Normally we’d be slowing down, but we’re seeing a continued pace through November and December,” Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) member and Bradenton Beach hotelier David Teitelbaum said.

Many are from inland Polk County and even coastal Pinellas County, escaping crowded beaches there, he said.

Second quarter visitor numbers (April through June) are up 9.4 percent from last year, with 132,900 people visiting the county, Walter Klages, director of Data Research Services, told the TDC on Monday.

The very positive summer is outpacing tourism in the rest of the country, he said, partly because local tourists are increasingly upscale, and less affected by economic trends, he said.

TDC Chair Carol Whitmore credited short-term rentals and Pine Avenue in Anna Maria for some of the growth.

Second quarter accommodations occupancy rates were 66.8 percent with most coming from Florida and most of those from Tampa, St. Petersburg and Orlando. Room rates averaged $140 a night.

Beaches again topped the list of attributes visitors listed in surveys.

Resort taxes up

The resort tax collected by Manatee County accommodations’ owners in June, the most recent month for which statistics are available, was paid to the county in July and totaled $739,234, up 28 percent from last June’s $577,624.

All three Island cities’ resort tax collections were up in June, with Anna Maria up 60 percent, Bradenton Beach up 11 percent and Holmes Beach up 32 percent. Resort tax increases reflect both increased visitation and improved tax collections efforts, according to the county tax collector’s office.

For the first 10 months of the 2011/12 fiscal year, the county collected $6.93 million in resort taxes, nearly as much as the $6.97 million it collected during for the entire fiscal 2010/11.

Klages predicted that by the end of 2012, the county will have hosted 10 percent more visitors than in 2011.

The growth indicates that the TDC is on the right track, TDC member and restaurateur Ed Chiles said.

“What we’ve been doing here has supported us in the toughest economy of our lifetime,” he said. “That’s underpinning us and kept us from going in the tank.”

Branding to be unveiled

The county’s new tourism brand is scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 12 at the Manatee Convention Center, along with a new website, new visitors guide and new television advertisements.

The new brand will “protect the character and authenticity of the Island,” said Elliott Falcione, the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau director.

The current brand is florida’s gulf islands/Bradenton & Lakewood Ranch. The county’s tourism Facebook page is labeled Visit Bradenton Gulf Islands.

The county’s tourism consultant, Walter Klages, calls the county the other Florida, referring to the lack of high rise mega condos on the beach.

“That’s a major part of your brand,” he said.

“That’s the one thing we have to protect above everything else,” Chiles said.

Party houses are threatening the quaint brand of the Island, TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said, referring to short-term vacation rentals that residents say are overcrowded, noisy and cause trash and parking problems.

Sports destination

Sports will be a key component to drawing visitors in the future, Klages said.

Between now and Christmas, 46 sports events are scheduled in Manatee County, including soccer, figure skating and an event called Tough Muddy, an individual endurance race in the farmlands of east Manatee County, said Joe Pickett, the county’s sports commissioner.

The increase in sports marketing is partly a response to Island residents’ complaints to “Quit advertising just the Island,” Whitmore said. “We all said out here, ‘What the heck did you do?’ ”

The county is attempting to diversify its destination, she said, adding, “The Island can’t handle everything we’re bringing in.”

Big leagues

Anna Maria Island will be featured in a two-page article in the London Daily Mail’s Sunday edition, Mail on Sunday, sometime in February or March, according to the CVB’s Public Relations and Social Media Manager Tara Poulton, adding that the crew will be on the Island during Christmas week.

The Mail on Sunday has a circulation of 2 million with almost 5 million readers, according to its website.

Funding denied

The TDC voted not to supply any funding for the city of Holmes Beach to improve the technology in its commission chambers, where the TDC meets about three times a year.

Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino had twice suggested the TDC fund the improvements, saying at an earlier commission meeting that people can make presentations using a laptop computer and the pulldown film screen in the chambers.

In other business:

• Keiser University President David Reid announced that that the school, on the Manatee/Sarasota county line, is launching two hospitality-related programs, sports medicine and fitness and sports and entertainment management, with the goal of funneling graduates into the local job market.

• The CVB is advertising by billboard and other means for Republican National Convention attendees in Tampa to stay in or visit in Manatee County.


Peelen report prompts records request

HOLMES BEACH – A lawyer for Anna Maria Island developer Shawn Kaleta has made a public records request to the city of Holmes Beach for Commissioner Jean Peelen’s home computer records pertaining to her elected office.

Bradenton attorney Louis Najmy, representing Kaleta and the Anna Maria Island Coalition, which he described as a large group of Island property owners, made the written request by e-mail about three hours before last week’s Tuesday night commission meeting.

At the meeting, Peelen read aloud the first five pages of a 21-page report entitled “The Crisis in Holmes Beach,” which began, “One developer in Holmes Beach, Shawn Kaleta, essentially invaded Holmes Beach around 2004 and has transformed it – and not in a good way.”

Peelen said she intends to fully comply with the public records request and is waiting for the city to advise her about the administrative process, estimating she may have sent 400 e-mails from her personal e-mail address.

The city’s e-mail system does not allow her to hide the addresses of all the recipients so that private e-mail addresses will not be published to strangers, but her personal e-mail does, she said, adding, “I didn’t want to have people hitting ‘reply all,’ and everyone getting unwanted e-mails.”

Crisis report

The report, which she had previously e-mailed to some constituents, the press, and others, detailed residents’ complaints about multiple-bedroom vacation rentals, which she terms “big houses,” claiming that they are disrupting the quiet enjoyment of residential homes and changing residential neighborhoods into rental districts.

Complaints about construction include public urination by construction workers, unauthorized use by construction workers of neighbors’ water and electricity and street flooding from improper pool pumping.

Complaints about rental use include overflowing trash, noise violations, especially from water slides in swimming pools, overcrowding and illegal parking. Seemingly incessant activity from both construction and rental use also was cited.

Peelen headed one of the commission’s five committees established earlier this year to study the issue and make recommendations. Later in the meeting, the commission discussed, but did not vote, on a draft ordinance based on the committees’ final recommendations to regulate pool noise and setbacks and require one parking space per bedroom. They unanimously passed a hike in the business tax receipt; the annual cost for rentals is $27.56.

Attorney makes demands

Najmy, one of several people who received a copy of the report in advance of the meeting, wrote City Attorney Patricia Petruff, in part, “… we hereby demand the following from the city of Holmes Beach: 1. You prohibit Ms. Peelen from reading her report at the meeting, as such report contains many inaccurate statements directed expressly at my client and such inaccurate statements are meant to and will directly hurt my client both financially and less tangibly from a goodwill standpoint. 2. You require Ms. Peelen to publicly retract all the statements made below and issue a public apology for such statements. 3. You require Ms. Peelen to turn over all of her records from her home computer that deal with, arise from or are related to her position as a city commission…. Such request is warranted given that the e-mail… came from her personal email account.”

Petruff responded that she did not intend to prohibit Peelen from “any action that she feels falls within her responsibility as an elected official” and stated that she would forward the public records request to the city clerk for action.

While Najmy’s e-mail had been distributed to commissioners just prior to the meeting, Peelen said she did not see it before she made her report.

It wouldn’t have made any difference, she said.

“I am comfortable that everything that was said was supported in the appendices,” she said.

After Peelen read the report, Najmy addressed the commission, calling the report “libelous,” asking her to “cease and desist” and saying that he objected to the widespread distribution of Peelen’s report, its substance and inaccuracies.

For example, he said, Kaleta did not build property inconsistent with the LDC (land development code). The report states: “Taking advantage of the lax land development code, over the last six years the developer built houses that are drastically out of scale with the neighborhoods they are in.”

Najmy said the report’s claim, “When building the big houses, the developer repeatedly violated regulations about working early, working late, working weekends, and working while red-tagged,” is unsubstantiated.

He also denied that the Anna Maria Vacations rental website,, listed “gap fillers” or rentals available for less than the city’s allowed minimum rental stay, which varies from seven to 30 days depending on the zoning district.

Filling in the gaps

That was Najmy’s most troubling comment, Peelen said.

In the appendices to her report, she listed houses advertised as gap fillers on the website. Peelen said that she later realized that an address had inadvertently been left off the report listing one of the houses owned by Kaleta.

On the Anna Maria Vacations website, the house is listed as Tropical Oasis, 204 72nd St. According to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office, the house is owned by Kaleta.

Anna Maria Vacations is a fictitious name for Florida Gulf Coast Vacation Homes LLC, whose registered agent and manager is Joseph Varner and whose address is 5702 Marina Dr. Unit 108, Holmes Beach, according to the Florida Division of Corporations. The address also is Kaleta’s Beach to Bay Construction address.

Kaleta was listed as an officer of 39 active companies and 20 inactive companies in Florida as of the end of July, according to the Florida Division of Corporations, some with Varner as a co-officer.

Many of the companies are clearly named for a single property under construction, either with the address or with a house name, such as Bean Point Cottage LLC. Others have more obscure names, like Modus Operandi Development LLC. All 20 inactive companies were administratively dissolved by the state, allowed by the officers to lapse into non-existence.

“I admire entrepreneurs,” Peelen said. “I just object to the particular projects in which he’s been involved because they threaten to ruin the very ambience of this Island which we value.”

Kaleta defended

Najmy told commissioners that owners have rights to develop according to codes, and that while some fear that Kaleta is “taking over the Island,” most of his properties are now owned by others, who also have property rights.

“This is America, the land of opportunity,” said Adam Vehman, of Holmes Beach, who described himself as a political refugee and a satisfied Kaleta customer.

“If we keep going at each other, we’re going to become the Detroit of the Southeast,” said Frank Leggio, listed with the state Division of Corporations as an officer of North Carolina-based Coastal Villas Association with Kaleta. “If this is a crisis, I want to be part of it because it’s a great thing.”

The problems residents complain of have less to do with the builder than with the operators of the rental houses, said Don Purvis, of Holmes Beach, adding that he has rented three vacation rentals on the Island through rental agents and was never told about noise ordinances. He suggested that agents should not leave keys in drop boxes and should require vacationers to sign off on local rules when they pick up keys.

Varner, of Anna Maria Vacations, addressed commissioners with a letter he received from a tourist who may not return to the Island because police came to her rental house and reprimanded her family for making noise in the pool at 10 p.m.

“It’s becoming a regular thing to have to apologize to guests,” he said.

Officials weigh in

Commissioner John Monetti took exception to comments in Peelen’s report referencing “some commissioners not noticing or caring” about the problems, pointing out that each commissioner headed a committee to study the problems and make recommendations and that some votes have been unanimous.

Don Schroeder, a realtor and the chair of the city’s code enforcement board, said that personal attacks and political discussions are inappropriate at a commission meeting.

“I’m embarrassed about what’s happened to our commission,” he said, suggesting that everyone cool down.

In response to a complaint that the commission is not acting quickly enough, Commission Chair and Vice Mayor David Zaccagnino said that it takes time to consider whether new regulations would be fair to everyone and whether they would infringe on private property rights.

The commission has struggled with drafting regulations since a state law was passed last year prohibiting new municipal rental regulations.

Zaccagnino wrote to Kaleta and Varner on Aug. 16, distancing the city from Peelen’s report.

“Her document was not discussed, agreed upon or voted upon by the Holmes Beach City Commission. The document was not drafted at the direction of the City Commission or the city of Holmes Beach and I was unaware of its contents until Ms. Peelen read it into the record,” he wrote.

“As you are aware, our city is changing and growing. Some say things look better than ever, and some say leave it alone. Not everyone is going to agree on the direction that the Commission will take, but I will try with the best of my ability to have the most civil and transparent process so everyone can be heard… I believe the commission is committed to listening to all points of view before it makes a decision. By doing so, I know that we will be able to come to a wise decision. I appreciate your patience while the Commission finds its footing to create this balance.”

Read the full report, “The Crisis in Holmes Beach,” at

Code enforcement an issue with MSO

ANNA MARIA – At last week’s budget meeting, commissioners were surprised by a memo from Sgt. Dave Turner of the Sheriff’s Office stating that his deputies would not enforce the city’s codes, and they said it could affect the budget.

“Once again, I am referring you for the fifth time to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office legal division regarding deputies going outside the normal parameters of their required duties under the MCSO contract and the agencies and general orders,” Turner wrote.

“I am also referring you to my direct supervisors. We are not code enforcement officers. Any more enforcement like writing $100 magistrate summons on noise tickets, calling property managers while en route or making arrests outside violations of the law would need to be approved by legal and by my supervisors.”

“The contract says they will enforce the “city codes,” Chair Chuck Webb pointed out. “I don’t know where this is coming from. They don’t want to to do it because that’s not their vision of law enforcement.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I don’t know what’s going on. It this the policy of the Sheriff’s Office or something else?”

Part of the contract

Commissioner SueLynn, who brought up the issue, said the city’s codes are its laws, and the city is paying the Sheriff’s Office $600,000 to enforce the codes.

“We need a meeting with Sgt. Turner,” Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said.

Webb also noted that there “seems to be some confusion about the chain of command. They don’t feel like we’re the boss.”

He said they might need to amend the contract if the scope of services changes.

Mayor Mike Selby said City Attorney Jim Dye interprets the contract the same way commissioners do – that the Sheriff’s Office is supposed to enforce the city’s codes.

According to the contract, “The sheriff will provide seven full time certified law enforcement deputies who shall work no less that 86 hours every two weeks. Those law enforcement officers shall be willing and able to enforce the code of the city of Anna Maria and all county and state ordinances and statutes as appropriate.”

Selby said Dye plans to meet with Sheriff’s Office attorney Michelle Hall to discuss the issue.

Cell phone request

In addition, Selby said Turner asked for the city to provide two cell phones for deputies to use in calling property managers regarding problems with rentals due to issues such as:

• The deputy must wait for the property manager to respond.
• The deputy must use his own cell phone and that number is shared with other residents, who call that number instead of 911.
• It is unsafe because the deputy could be called away, leaving the property manager alone.
• It was never done before by any other sergeant.
• It is a different way of handling noise complaints than deputies are legally authorized do.
• Deputies are not tasked to enforce violations of Florida Statute 509 (regarding public lodging establishments) and will not go outside of their normal duties to enforce it.

O'Connor Bowling Challenge Saturday

When this many residents leave the Island at one time, it must be for a good cause or a lot of fun.

In this case, it's both. The 22nd Annual O'Connor Bowling Challenge is this Saturday, Aug. 25, at the AMF Bowling Lanes, 4208 Cortez Road W. The yearly tourney, which raises money for the Community Center, is always a great party as would-be Don Webers (who?) try their luck on the lanes and with raffle tickets for some serious prizes. Check-in is at 5 p.m. and bowling starts at 6 p.m. The cost is $25 per bowler, and that includes shoe rental, if needed. You also need to pre-register at Duffy’s Tavern to get a lane guarantee.

If you’re good, you might win the high game or high series trophy. If you’re not too good, you might win low game trophy. Purchase your raffle tickets while you bowl and enjoy some liquid refreshment or snacks.

After bowling, the real party gets going at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, 6696 Cortez Road W., with the trophy ceremony and raffle drawing. Order from a special menu for an after-bowling snack.

Once again, The Anna Maria Island Sun will provide the grand prize, a big screen, high-definition television set.

Proceeds go to the Community Center’s children’s programs, where no child is turned away from programs for lack of money. For more information, call Sandee at 778-1908, ext.9200 or e-mail sandee@myamicc.

Island teen arrested on Facebook threat charge

Holmes Beach police on Aug. 16 arrested a 15-year-old Manatee High School student who authorities say threatened on his Facebook page to detonate an explosive device at his school.

According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, the Holmes Beach teenager was taken into custody and charged with threatening to use a destructive device. The Sun is not naming the teen because he is being charged as a juvenile.

The investigation began July 29 when police learned that the teen had placed threats against his school on his Facebook page. In their investigation, detectives did not find any evidence to substantiate that the threats would or could be carried out, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dave Bristow. The Bradenton Police Department also participated in the investigation.

The student has been removed from Manatee High School, and his future in the Manatee County school system will be determined based on the findings of joint investigations by law enforcement and the school district, according to school district spokesperson Margi Nanney.

Even though an arrest has been made, the district is enacting precautionary safety measures for Manatee High School. Manatee High Principal Don Sauer, other school administrators and staff have been informed of the threat, the resulting arrest and the extra safety measures put in place by the district and local law enforcement.

“We appreciate the cooperation of local law enforcement in dealing with this matter,” said Manatee School Superintendent Dr. Tim McGonegal. “As always, our number one priority is the safety of our students and staff. We are confident we have taken the right steps to make Manatee High safe.”

Your PTO wants you this Friday

The Anna Maria Elementary School PTO is hosting a volunteer reception at the Studio on Pine Ave. at Gulf Drive and Pine Avenue in Anna Maria on Friday, Aug. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m.

PTO members will outline the various programs and fund-raisers they hold during the school year, and volunteers are needed to keep the momentum going. Child care will be provided by the School for Constructive Play. Parents are urged to call 778-2210 for child care information.

Commissioners assess election

The Island’s two county commissioners say businesses can expect better relations with the commission following the election last week. Both commissioners are former mayors on the Island and they spoke at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce board meeting last Wednesday.

“Joe McClash lost his re-election bid and (the winner) Betsy Benac seems like she is more business friendly,” said Commissioner Carol Whitmore. “If the commission is more business friendly, that’s bound to be good for businesses out here.”

Commissioner John Chappie pointed out that Commissioner Larry Bustle, a former Palmetto mayor, won his re-election bid.

“I think that’s a clear indication that voters are concerned with the quality of life in the county and part of that is being business friendly,” Chappie said. “We can remove some of the roadblocks that were placed by unfriendly votes in the past.”

Each city had a commissioner at the meeting and they talked about issues facing their cities.

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler talked about Kelly Osborn, the mother of Sheena Morris who died in a resort room in the city. Osborn maintains that her daughter was murdered, not a suicide victim, as indicated by the police investigation.

“The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is looking at the case and should be done next month,” Breuler said. “Hopefully, they’ll put this to rest.”

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelan talked about the proliferation of multi-bedroom houses for rent and the ensuing lack of parking space, noise complaints and bad feelings.

“It is endangering our quality of life,” she said.

Our problems are all in the paper, Anna Maria’s SueLynn said. “Our cell tower ordinance got passed, although there won’t be a tower at the Community Center.

“We’re also looking at large houses and trying to address it with floor area ratios,” she said. “Right now it’s seven and I’m hoping it comes down to five or six.”

Whitmore said it appears the cities are having a problem with one builder who has constructed several large homes that appear to be intended for rental only.

“There’s a new level of wealth out there,” said SueLynn. “House renters complained to me about a leaf blower. They paid big money to stay there and they want their peace and quiet.”

Teitelbaum complimented Peelan on leading the fight against the builders who sell rental homes.

“She’s fighting on all fronts,” he said.

SueLynn said a state law passed last year restricts how cities can handle rental properties and she feels it needs to be eliminated.

“We need to put together a unified front to fight that,” Chamber President Karen LaPensee said.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker had some good news for the beaches.

“Our new franchisee at the beach café is doing well, and money from concessions is more now than it was,” he said. “That extra money is being put into a fund for the beach. What was earned at the beach stays on the beach.”

The city commissioners thanked Hunzeker for the extra cleanup the county has been doing at the beaches due to a large amount of algae and sea grasses has been washing up since Tropical Storm Debby passed by in the Gulf in June.

Mom marches in Bradenton Beach

tom vaught | sun
Kelley Osborn talks to the Bradenton
Beach City Commission. Earlier, she and
private investigator Joe Warner, of Sarasota,
marched in front of city hall.


BRADENTON BEACH – Kelley Osborn was back in town last Thursday to urge the city to find the truth about the death of her daughter, Sheena Morris, on New Year’s Day, 2009.

Morris was found hanging from a showerhead and Bradenton Beach police ruled it a suicide. But for the past three years, Osborn has been trying to get law enforcement to reopen the case, saying she believes her daughter was murdered.

Last Thursday, Osborn, a private investigator and two other supporters marched in front of city hall, eliciting an occasional horn honk from motorists.

The protest broke up in time for Osborn and several others to take seats inside for the commission meeting. Osborn spoke during the public comments portion, after Mayor John Shaughnessy warned commissioners not to talk about the case since the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agreed last week to look into it. Osborn touched upon that development as she spoke.

“No one contacted me,” she said about the FBI’s refusal to investigate. “I had to hear it from a reporter.”

Police Chief Sam Speciale has said he stands behind the investigation conducted by Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz. He said that if Osborn has additional evidence, as she claims. that she should bring it to him and he would reopen the case. But according to Speciale, she never has.

“Whose job is it to bring forth evidence in this?” she asked. She then referred to fingernail clippings from Morris’s body that she says are locked in an evidence locker at the police station. “There is evidence in the police department in a non-climate controlled climate.”

“Mr. mayor, when are you going to start showing some leadership?” she asked. Shaughnessy said he would not respond because the case is under investigation by the FDLE.

That prompted another speaker to say she heard the FDLE would be reviewing the case, not investigating it. The FDLE has agreed to review the police department’s investigation of the case.

Speciale was not present at the meeting to avoid a possible confrontation, he said later.

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