The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 13 No. 9 - December 12, 2012


Holiday of Treasures returns Friday night

ANNA MARIA – The snow will be glistening in the winter wonderland of the Island Sun Plaza while Santa hears the holiday wishes of children during Anna Maria’s annual Holiday of Treasures on Friday, Dec. 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Merchants along Gulf Drive and Pine Avenue will welcome visitors with special refreshments, sparkling holiday decorations, seasonal music and shopping bargains. The Roser Children’s Choir and Bell Ringers will delight strollers at the AMI Historical Museum at 6 p.m.

Pick up a bingo card at any participating business and have spaces marked in order to win a limited edition “Celebrate Anna Maria Style” T-shirt. On the back of the bingo card, you can vote for your favorite decorated business, which will win a free ad in The Sun.

The following businesses are participating in the event:

AIB Insurance, AMI Accommodations, AMI Outfitters, AMI Sun, Anna Maria Donut, Anna Maria General Store and Deli, AMI Historical Society, An Island Place, Anna Maria Realty, Ariel Screen Arts, Artspace, Beach Bums, Bella by the Sea, Body and Sol, Chapae, Coastal Cottages, Dips Ice Cream, Dogs for the Earth/Arts for the Earth, Duncan Real Estate, Egret's Nest and White Egret, Emerson Quillin Designs, Feeling Swell, Flip Flop Shop and Candy Stop, Fran Maxon Real Estate, Ginny and Jane E’s, Hometown Desserts, Island Cabana, Island Fresh, Island Real Estate, J&J Graphics, Lor Ell’s Front Porch Salon, Mr. Spiffy, Olive Oil Company, Pink and Navy, Relish Marketplace, Rudy’s Subs, Salon Salon on Pine Beauty Boutique and Spa, Sato Real Estate, Shiny Fish Emporium, Sign of the Mermaid, Silvia’s Flower Corner, Snips, The Loft 5, Tide and Moon Jewelry, The Studio at Gulf and Pine, Three Island Monkeys, TimelessTreasures and Vinny and Cheryl’s Italian Kitchen,

The AMI Sun newspaper and the AMI Historical Society are the event sponsors.

Chief Romine retires

HOLMES BEACH – “This is me. It’s my decision and no one else’s,” Police Chief Jay Romine said of his announcement that he would retire this month. “When it’s time, you know, and it’s time. I’ve had a good run, and I’ve been blessed.”

Romine gave his notice Friday to Mayor Carmel Monti and told his staff at their annual holiday party Friday evening because he wanted all of them to hear it from him at the same time.

“When Pat (Mayor Pat Geyer) appointed me to this position, I was the 33 and the youngest police chief in the state of Florida,” Romine recalled. “We had issues inside and outside the department, and she said simply, “Fix this.

“She wanted me to clean up the department, and she said simply, “Fix this.

“She wanted me to clean up the department, build bridges and rebuild relationships. I think I accomplished that, and I’ve been fortunate to have a group of long-term, dedicated employees who do a great job.”

Former Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, who, during his terms as mayor and commissioner, has worked closely with Romine, said: “Jay has been a wonderful chief. He is one of the best-trained, well-respected chiefs in the state. We have an excellent department, and we can thank Jay for that. He is also a good friend and I’ll miss him.”

Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, said, “It’s a huge loss to the profession and the law enforcement community. He has been a mainstay for years and is held up as an icon throughout the state.

“He’s one of those individuals who truly cares about bettering law enforcement for the state. I commend him so much for that.”

18th birthday

Romine recalled how, asa teen, he wanted to be in the highway patrol, and one had to be 18 years old in order to ride along with a trooper.

“At 4 p.m. on my 18th birthday, I was sitting in Mike Rushing’s highway patrol vehicle on a ride along,” he said. “We were running radar on State Road 70.”

He said Rushing stopped two speeders and gave them tickets, but when he stopped a third one, who was speeding faster than the first two, he gave him a warning.

When asked why, Rushing said, “There was a toddler in the back seat with a diaper, but no shirt and no shoes. I could have written him a $25 ticket, but the money would not have come out of his cigarette and beer money. It would have come out of the baby’s money. If I can do something that benefits somebody, and it’s the right thing to do, I’ll do it.”

“That has been the basis of my policing philosophy since then,” Romine said.

Rushing, now director of the Law Enforcement Academy at MTI, laughed when recalling the story of the young Romine riding along and said, “We go back a few years. He’s an honorable, ethical guy who has given a lot to public service and the people of the state.”

At 18, Romine was sponsored to the police academy by Holmes Beach Police Chief Tom Shanafelt and at 19 was an auxiliary office for the department. His first job as a patrol officer was with the city of Palmetto and then several months later, Shanafelt hired him. He moved up from patrol officer to sergeant, to detective sergeant to lieutenant to chief in 12 years.

“I remember the first person I ever arrested – a prostitute from Tampa,” Romine recalled. “There was a domestic disturbance when her husband found out what she was doing.

“I was a young rookie, a boy from the South raised with good manners. One lesson was you never put your hands on a female, but I learned quickly that wasn’t always the case when she slapped me upside the head.”

Stellar career

Through the years, Romine has served on numerous state and local law enforcement associations and boards such as the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the International Association of Police ChiefS, Tampa Bay Chiefs of Police Association and Manatee Technical Institute Criminal Justice Advisory Board and Board of Governors.

One that he is particularly proud of is the Manatee County Law Enforcement Council, which he founded in 1997 and has been the chair of since then.

“The idea was that we didn’t communicate enough, and I felt we needed to sit down and talk about common problems and share solutions,” he explained. “It’s a terrific group to work with, and people are fortunate to benefit from those relationships.”

In addition, in 2002, he was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to serve a four-year term as one of three police chiefs in the state on the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. He was reappointed in 2006 by Bush and appointed again by Governor Rick Scott in 2012 and has served as chair and vice chair of the board.

Among his awards are the Presidents’ Award by the Florida Police Chiefs Association in 2011, 2002 and 2000 and by the Tampa Bay Chiefs of Police Association in 2009, 2003 and 2002.

He also has been involved in the county’s Crime Stoppers, Gold Star Club and One Hundred Club He is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Bradenton.

Romine said his biggest disappointment is that the department never solved the Kingfish ramp slayings in 1980, when a doctor and his two sons were shot in their vehicle and a bystander was slain in the Island Foods (now Publix) parking lot.

Looking to the future

“Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good people – mayors who were confident enough to let me do my job and run the department,” he said. “I’ve had good relationships with all of them.

“I’m proud of my people and that they care about their jobs and the city. I’m proud that we did what Pat asked us to do. We are known all over the state for our professionalism, and I’m proud of the relationships we have with other law enforcement agencies.

“My hope is that the department continues to police like we do now – there’s nothing wrong with compassion in law enforcement. I always felt the badge carries a huge amount of responsibility and just because you have authority doesn’t mean you have to wield it all the time.”

He said leaving is bittersweet because “we are like family here in the department. I’m going to take some time to catch my breath. I feel I still have something to offer. A door will open. It might be a challenge to try something else.”


Moratorium looms in Holmes Beach

HOLMES BEACH – It could soon become impossible to tear down an existing home in the R-2 district in Holmes Beach and replace it with a new home – at least for the next six months

Commissioners instructed City Attorney Patricia Petruff to draft an ordinance imposing a moratorium for six months in the R-2 district on construction that exceeds more than 50 percent of the value of the house.

Chair Jean Peelen began the discussion that led to the decision by stating that a previous commission had rejected a moratorium and that she favored a three-month limit in R-2 on new construction.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said he wanted to hear from the mayor regarding how the building department is working.

The city’s previous building official retired under fire in November. Mayor Carmel Monti has contracted with architect Tom O’Brien for building department services. The previous administration contracted with former building official John Fernandez, who also is providing building department services.

“I feel comfortable with the building department,” Monti responded. “Tom O’Brien brings a tremendous amount of experience and expertise to the role of supervisor.

“We’ve had many conversations regarding interpretations of past building permits. He’s very much against the lackadaisical type of decisions that were made in previous administrations.”

“I don’t think we should tie how the building department is doing to whether we have a moratorium,” Peelen pointed out

Commissioner Pat Morton asked for an attorney opinion and said he would want a start and end date.

“The purpose of a moratorium is to stem a potential rush for permits when you are contemplating a change to your zoning code,” Petruff explained. “You would want it to be as narrow as appropriate to reach your public purpose goal.

“Case law upholds a moratorium as long as it is reasonable in duration and scope. We want it a short as possible, but I would recommend six months.”

She cautioned them not to use the word “new” because it would require a definition. She suggested a dollar threshold, a ban on demolitions or a ban on a specific type of construction as possibilities.

Commissioners’ comments

Commissioner Marvin Grossman said he believes it is a good idea but he does not want to eliminate remodels and added, “The purpose of it is to stop what’s happening and give us a chance to get going and be reasonable and do the best job.”

“It ‘s not just for new construction; it’s not just for FEMA,” Commissioner Judy Titsworth said. “I’m looking at the whole R-2 because there are so many issues we have to deal with.”

Zaccagnino said the cases he has read about regarding a moratorium are not “feel good issues or because you don’t like the look of a building or because there’s parking problems,” but are for safety or infrastructure issues.

“That’s not what I’m hearing here,” he continued. “I agree, there are a lot of things that need to be fixed, but my duty sitting up here is very serious. The first thing is safety and well being of citizens and the second is fiscal responsibility.”

However, Grossman objected to Zaccagnino’s characterization of “feel good” issues and said they are serious issues and “any reasonable person who has a concern for our city would think about those things.”

Morton agreed that there are safety issues, but said they include having too many people in a rental and too many vehicles blocking the streets.

Monti said he had a conversation with building department personnel and said, “The new condos and buildings are a much greater liability because they aren’t built to code. They ‘ve been passed through with very lax oversight.”

He said building permits are being denied because the new personnel are interpreting the code differently.

Peelen said she didn’t want to stop rehabilitations of ground-level homes and suggested the 50 percent rule (an owner can improve a structure up to 50 percent of its value) as the cutoff for the moratorium.

“We don’t want to be overbroad and penalize people in the construction field and all the fields that go with it unnecessarily,” Peelen said.

Grossman asked if it would affect construction that is in progress, and Peelen said no.

Public comment

Resident Terry Parker suggested the length of the moratorium be a minimum of six months and a maximum of 12 months and that it include all residential properties.

“The discussions I had with a couple of the commissioners and the mayor is that they would not support a moratorium if we brought Mr. O’Brien into the building department as the interim building official,” resident and contractor Greg Ross pointed out.

He also said the new duplexes that are separated by several feet meet the fire code and are safer than having a party wall.

“It’s easy for everyone sitting up here to support something that doesn’t affect your livelihood,” Ross continued. “It affects all the people who work for us. It will have a huge effect.

“All this started with the big homes and the rental problems and now it’s more safety. Look at the problem and attack that problem. The new homes being built are much safer that the existing homes.”

Realtor Don Schroder agreed and added, “There are thousands of people whose livelihood you’re affecting. Let the new building department do its work before you take action.”

New arrest in falsified documents case

A woman was arrested on Tuesday, Dec. 4, at her home in Palmetto and charged with using false documents to gain employment at Beach to Bay Construction, 5702 Marina Drive in Holmes Beach.

Alejandra Burgos-Mondoza, 31, was arrested by agents with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.

Burgos-Mendoza allegedly obtained a false alien resident card and another person’s Social Security number to get a job with the homebuilder, according to a report. She was released from Manatee County jail Tuesday afternoon on $1,500 bond.

A number of workers for Beach to Bay have been arrested on falsified ID charges following one worker’s attempt to gain workers compensation coverage using a false Social Security number.

On Oct. 16, Gabriel Chavez-Gonzalez, Frank Enriguez-Lechuga and Arturo Andablo-Tovar were arrested by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations. An immigration judge granted Chavez-Gonzalez voluntary departure Oct. 25. He left the United States Oct. 30.

ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations placed a detainer on Ricardo Cruz-Ceron at Manatee County jail after he was arrested on state charges for worker’s compensation fraud.

Jaime Basilio-Chavez is currently pending state charges for workers compensation fraud. ICE officers reviewed his case and determined that he did not meet the agency’s priorities. Accordingly, ICE cancelled the detainer initially lodged against him and will readdress the case if Basilio-Chavez is found guilty on state charges.

ICE considers a number of factors when the agency chooses to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including criminal history, family status and length of presence in the United States, according to ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell.

Emanuel Centeno-Hernandez is currently pending state charges for workers compensation fraud. ICE lodged an immigration detainer on him due to the fact that he was illegally present in the United States and had two previous misdemeanor convictions. Due to his previous criminal history, ICE considers Centeno-Hernandez a priority for immigration enforcement.

Mayor chastises commissioner

HOLMES BEACH – After Mayor Carmel Monti reported on the building official issue at last week’s work session, he reprimanded Commissioner David Zaccagnino for interfering with his responsibility as CEO.

Monti said he conferred with each commissioner before hiring architect Tom O’Brien on a contract basis and expects them to confirm him as interim building official on Dec. 11.

City Attorney Patricia Petruff said O’Brien had been asked to get a letter of interpretation from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation regarding Chapter 468 of the Florida Statutes.

“Chapter 468 makes a distinction between a building official and building inspector and plans reviewer,” Petruff explained. “He can provide building inspection and plans review services, and we have another person who can sign permits.”

Commissioner David Zaccagnino said he had an issue with O’Brien because Commissioner Judy Titsworth paid O’Brien to testify before the commission during the election, making him a lobbyist, and that O’Brien has been a business partner of Titsworth’s husband.

“It’s a grey area and I want the attorney’s opinion,” he said.

“He’s never been a business partner,” Titsworth stressed. “And when he testified before the commission, the position (of building official) wasn’t available.”

Not a conflict

“I don’t see it in terms of whatever happened in anybody’s campaign,” Petruff responded. “That’s guided by a separate set of ethical requirements by the superintendent of elections and has nothing to do with the city of Holmes Beach.

“An elected official is required to cast a vote unless that person has a conflict of interest. That determination is very, very clear – if you or anybody related to you by blood or marriage has a financial benefit. I don’t see any conflict of interest.”

Monti expressed his disappointment with Zaccagnino and said, “You are treading on my responsibility as mayor to make these decisions. As a commissioner, you don’t want to micro manage. You are using this as a forum to express your personal opinion.

“Either you are going to be a team player or you’re not. We’re a team. I take umbrage to the fact that you brought this to a public forum without discussing it first with me privately, which you should have done.”

Zaccagnino said the only time he can speak to all the commissioners is at a public meeting.

Resident Greg Ross defended Zaccagnino and said, “Mr. Zaccagnino got seared up here. To come together as a team, you need to respect each individual’s comments and thoughts. I felt his questions were legitimate.”

Mainsail project questioned again

HOLMES BEACH – City Attorney Patricia Petruff said she did not recommend revoking the site plan of the Mainsail Development, after Commissioner Judy Titsworth brought up issues regarding changes in character and intensity on the site.

The commission has discussed the development several times since previous Mayor Rich Bohnenberger sought to revoke the site plan for its project at the corner of Marina and Gulf drives. Mainsail President Joe Collier said the company was moving ahead on the project and recently provided a project schedule.

“There is concern from some residents regarding the change of character and intensity that this project will bring to the community,” Titsworth said.

“There was a site plan that by all intents and purposes should have expired per our LDC (land development code) and special exceptions that should have done the same due to the lack of the project moving forward.”

She said the special exceptions include 75 boat slips, a 120-seat restaurant and meeting room and 40 lodging units and said the site plan should be revoked. She also cited an e-mail from neighbor Lance Spotts.

“When I saw The Sun photos of Mainsail’s own model, I had to speak,” Spotts said. “The block rectangles I saw built out to the edge of the water (How did they get away with that?), it looked like a public housing project in some ghetto.”

Attorney responds

“I looked at the provisions in the LDC, and it currently says you are required to obtain a building permit 90 days after approval of the site plan,” City Attorney Patricia Petruff explained. “The trail of building permits don’t support that that happened the way it should have.

“However, the city did indeed issue building permits for different aspects of that project, and arguably, when a building permit was issued it perhaps vested the site plan. I think it would be a very difficult thing to revoke that site plan.”

She said Collier should come to a work session and give an update on the project.

“I agree with Mrs. Titsworth that the site plan had certain architectural design features and that was an important aspect of the project,” she continued. “So I think it is appropriate for him to come in and tell us his intensions and show us the site plan.

“If the site plan deviates greatly from the approved architectural design features, I think we do need to have some candid discussions with him with respect to that particular issue because it was very important at the time.”

She said Mainsail has been operating the boat docks and paying its lease fees and keeping its insurance current.

“Prior to the election, I recommended that we advertise for a public hearing, provide appropriate due process and do a city-initiated, amended special exception approval and resolution of site plan approval to set deadlines,” Petruff told the board.

“If you try to reduce his entitlements, it would be a battle and it’s not a battle I would recommend to you. It’s better to work it out and get the project moving.”

Chair Jean Peelen suggested that Collier meet with the mayor and building department and then make a report to the commission.

Tourism up for fiscal year

BRADENTON BEACH – Nearly 10 percent more people visited Manatee County in fiscal year 2011-12 than in the previous year, with an economic impact nearly 13 percent higher, totaling $565 million, the Manatee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) learned on Monday.

The largest increase was from the European market, where 23 percent more visitors chose the county as a vacation destination than last year, according to a report by Research Data Services (RDS), the county’s tourism consultant.

Visitors from elsewhere in Florida rose by 8 percent.

The county’s numbers mirror statewide figures; Florida hosted 3.5 percent more visitors in the third quarter of 2012 than the same period in 2011, according to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism agency. Statewide, the average daily room rate rose 3.3 percent and the occupancy rate increased 1.7 percentage points in the third quarter of 2012.

Locally, the average daily room rate rose 3.6 percent in FY 2011-12, while the occupancy rate rose 8 percent, said Walter Klages, of RDS.

The numbers are especially significant during a slow economic recovery, he said.

“The economy is at best slogging through very rough waters,” Klages said, adding that with unstable economic conditions worldwide, the forecast for this fiscal year is unclear.

“There’s no way of predicting anything anymore,” he said.

However, the increased focus on sports marketing in the county will draw visitors, he said, predicting that the economic impact to the county could reach $1 billion with big sports events.

Sports tourism

The county needs more hotel rooms and better public transportation to draw large sporting events, Joe Pickett of the Bradenton Area Sports Commission told the TDC.

Manatee County has 6,200 hotel rooms while Sarasota County has 14,000, according to tourism officials.

The county is vying for the World Rowing Championships in 2017 at Benderson Park near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Manatee County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Elliott Falcione told the TDC. The eight-day event would require 2,000 hotel rooms, he estimated.

So far, 84 sports events are scheduled for 2013 with 63 events in 2014, Pickett said, adding that funds from the TDC are needed by the sports commission to draw more events.

In other business, the TDC:

• Learned that Florida Trend has published a 17-page spread featuring Manatee and Sarasota County, focusing on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria, the lsland beaches, the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the Powel Crosley Estate and Benderson Park, among other venues.

• Jim Hassett, a Bradenton Beach resident, reported that the new open air market at Coquina Beach blocks the beach bike path; TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said the county will solve the problem.

• Whitmore reported that a few Palmetto residents expressed concern that the city’s name was removed from the county’s tourism logo, which is “Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key.” She read a letter from Falcione explaining that consultants had recommended the cities that were used based on name recognition.

Former board member seeks help

BRADENON BEACH – A former member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) is concerned about possible litigation from somebody after he was given a public records request from a local attorney.

Rick Bisio asked the City Commission last Thursday if the city would stand behind him if the request by attorney Michael Barfield turns into legal action.

Bisio said he had read the request and doesn’t understand it. He said he asked the mayor for legal representation and was refused.

“There is nothing in this that I’m worried about, but I don’t know what he wants, and I’m afraid I won’t produce everything and I will look bad,” Bisio said. “I ask that you reconsider your position that you won’t provide representation.

“This request is dated the 26th and there is a 30-day period,” he added. “If I don’t get an answer I will provide my own and bill the city.”

Mayor John Shaughnessy suggested Bisio call Barfield, and he said he did.

“He told me it was none of my business,” he said.

City Attorney Ricinda Perry said Barfield specializes in public records cases and was involved in the case against Harry Stoltzfus, an Anna Maria city commissioner who was removed from office, and was able to find files that were thought to be erased in computers.

“He is very aggressive and very well known for getting public records,” Perry said. “It’s good for the city to provide legal representation, but there’s nothing on the city’s books about it.”

Barfield sent requests to other members of the P&Z who resigned earlier this year, expressing frustration that the City Commission was not following their recommendations. They voted not to recommend a project on the beach south of the BeachHouse restaurant that would include sand dunes and a parking lot. The project is on BeachHouse property and city property and the BeachHouse would pay for the permits and some other expenses.

Commissioner Gay Breuler asked if the city has a choice, and Perry said yes.

“You have to consider, though, that if the city pays for Rick Bisio, it would have to provide it for others,” Perry said. She said she talked with Anna Maria City Attorney Jim Dye, and he said the city paid for Stoltzfus’ representation until it became known that he was not producing all the public records and then it quit.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh expressed fear that if the city does not stand up for its volunteer board members, nobody would want to serve.

Perry said elected officials and board members should use only city e-mail accounts for city business.

“If you use your own accounts, then you bear the burden of producing the records,” she said,

Shaughnessy said he would try to contact Barfield to see what he wants and then the city could make a decision.

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