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Vol. 14 No. 49 - October 1, 2014

headlines

Students celebrate peace
Carol Whitmore

TOM VAUGHT | SUN

Students at Anna Maria
Elementary School lead the parade to start AME’s 13th annual
Peace Day celebration.

HOLMES BEACH – After a weather delay a week earlier, the skies cleared as students at Anna Maria Elementary School celebrated its 13th Annual Peace Day. The event is affiliated with the International Children’s Day of Peace, and it is intended to teach students to find peaceful solutions to arguments, disagreements and other problems between people.

The celebration began with the raising of the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, but before that, AME Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison introduced new principal Jackie Featherston and gave her a replica of the Peace Pole that graces an area in front of the school and near the American flag.

Harrison then had two former AME students light the Peace Candle and ring the Peace Bell.

Rotary Club of Anna Maria Past Present Judy Rup read a note to the audience while holding her granddaughter, Riley. She spoke of the club’s desire to contribute to the educational experience at the school and how former president Jim Dunne found out about the Peace Pole.

Students sat on blankets on the ground in the front yard. Many of the younger ones wore peace symbol hats and some practiced the two-finger, V peace sign.

At one point, Harrison addressed the crowd. She was introduced to the Peace Day by the club and after the 9-11 hijacking attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, she found two students who had moved to AME from New York and their old school was close to the attacks. AME eventually bonded with that school and Harrison went to New York with Art teacher Gary Wooten to present that school with its own pole.

Harrison spoke about the phrase “May peace prevail on earth,” which is a theme of Peace Day.

“It was first introduced by a man in Japan named Goi Masahashi who saw what the atomic bombs we dropped to end World War II did to his country,” she said.

She then addressed the students.

“You’re the hope for adults like us,” she said. “Learn to talk things out and when you need to be a peacemaker.

“Over a billion people participated in this year’s Peace Day celebration worldwide,” she added. “That’s about one in 10 people on this plan.

Jillian Loudermilk and Elaina Bayard sang “Rainbow Connection,” a song from the Muppets program and then Zero showed up. Zero, in his red outfit, is a symbol for people working with others. The saying goes, a zero is worth nothing alone, but when you add it to some things, it’s valuable. It’s the difference between one and 10.

Zero played a happy song and the kids all got up and danced. Cole Pearson got wild and was break dancing and when somebody told him what he was doing, he said he didn’t know anything about break dancing.

Before they left to go back to their classrooms, the kids were asked to drop two stones into a wooden bowl, one to represent their wishes for peace in the world and the other to represent their best wishes for Gary Wooten, who is having an operation.

Moratorium reaffirmed

ANNA MARIA – After taking a second look at the moratorium passed on Monday, Sept 22, during an emergency meeting, the city commission reaffirmed its intention at a special early meeting on Thursday, Sept. 25.

The motion stated the circumstance that brought on the moratorium is because investors are building structures that would have as many as eight bedrooms. The city commission wants to see if a building like that could be treated as a motel and banned, since the only motels in the city are grandfathered in before the city banned them many years ago.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said he wants to make it illegal to rent a house to more than one family, and Commission Chair Chuck Webb agreed.

“In defining a sleeping area, the building official will have to determine usage,” said City Attorney Jim Dye.

Commissioner Doug Copeland asked if there is a limit to the moratorium and Dye said there could be a time limit.

“I am sensing a lot of disagreement on the commission and it takes time to iron it out,” Dye said. “You could always extend the moratorium. You could say the moratorium will be in effect until they find an answer.”

Most of the crowd of residents that spoke at city hall was in favor of the moratorium. Dave McCormick said get on with it; Jill Morris said she is very committed to what she was hearing.

Jason Sato, who is building a house for his family in Anna Maria, said it is frustrating for him when city can dictate what he can do.

Longtime resident Carol Anne Magill drew applause when she said, “I’m so proud of this city. People were frustrated and stopped coming meetings but things change.

"We opened up Pine Avenue to business and when we gave them what they wanted, they wanted more. I’ve been here since 1976 and everyone here does what is needed.

Builder Greg Ross was opposed to regulations on bedrooms.

“I haven’t built a three-bedroom house in years,” he said.

The commission agreed to continue the workshop to Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 6 p.m. to find solutions during the moratorium.

Mayor’s fate topic of special meeting

BRADENTON BEACH – The Monday Oct. 6, special commission meeting will determine whether the majority of the city commission intends to move forward with efforts to remove Mayor Bill Shearon from office.

Taking place at city hall, Monday’s meeting will start at 11 a.m. and begin with public comment. The meeting agenda then provides an opportunity for the commission to discuss potential disciplinary alternatives or solutions that fall short of attempting to strip Shearon of his mayoral duties.

Vice Mayor Jack Clarke and Commissioners Janie Robertson, Ed Straight and Jan Vosburgh will be asked to choose between this option, or moving forward with establishing formal procedures and guidelines that will dictate how future forfeiture of office hearings take place.

A third option, not listed on the agenda, would be the decision to do nothing at all, and allow the matter of Shearon’s leadership abilities to be dropped without further resolution.

Last week, Clarke and Vosburgh expressed a desire to move forward with the forfeiture efforts. Robertson voted against the effort, and Straight suggested consideration of a solution that does not call for Shearon to be removed from office.

If Monday’s vote produces a 2-2 stalemate, the forfeiture of office efforts will not proceed, according to City Attorney Ricinda Perry.

Perry said Shearon will not chair Monday’s meeting or any future meetings pertaining to this matter, nor will he be allowed to join the four commissioners on the dais or cast a vote in the decision making process pertaining to his future as mayor.

Regardless of what happens Monday, Shearon will continue to chair regular city commission meetings and work sessions for as long as he remains in office.

If the commission decides to move forward with the forfeiture efforts, procedural decisions must soon be made, including the declaration of specific non-criminal charges to be levied against the mayor.

The role of the city attorney also must be determined. According to one commissioner, it is likely that Perry would be asked to gather evidence and submit evidentiary findings without providing the commission with a legal conclusion.

If the forfeiture process continues beyond Monday, Shearon will be given the opportunity to defend himself against any charges made, and he will have the right to hire an attorney at his own expense.

The hearing process would also allow for additional public input moving forward.

Board OKs use of beach concession funds

BRADENTON – Manatee County commissioners last week approved a resolution establishing guidelines for using the surplus beach concession revenues.

“It sets forth a process by which those revenues can be used for projects benefitting the Island,” County Attorney Bill Clague explained.

He said guidelines include a joint letter from the three Island mayors with a description of the project and an interlocal agreement between the county and cities. The project must be a one-time project that benefits the Island, all three cities must agree on it and they must apply to the county for project approval.

No matching funds

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said the city is in agreement with the changes, but takes issue with the requirement for the cities to provide matching funds.

“We feel like there are millions of dollars that the county receives through a variety of ways, including the tourist development tax, that it feels like we’re having to double back and use that money we have already given,” she explained.

“We would like to see the match removed, or if you want to keep the language, qualify how much is required.”

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon agreed, and Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti was unable to attend the meeting.

County Commissioner Mike Gallen asked if it is more advisable not to have a strict definition of the amount because the cities “may handcuff themselves.”

“It’s an issue of fiscal policy,” Clague replied. “The idea is they would provide a percent of the cost. That creates a greater incentive for both parties to keep costs down.”

The board agreed not to add specific language regarding the amount of the match.

ULI study

SueLynn also asked that the county fund the entire Urban Land Institute study for the three Island cities. The county had agreed to fund $125,000 if the cities would fund the remaining $5,000.

County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said “everybody needs to have a little skin in the game” and “$5,000 is not that outlandish,” while Commissioners Carol Whitmore said she has no problem with $130,000 ‘as long as it doesn’t cost the county anything.”

Shearon pointed out, “The study requires gathering a lot of information and data. We don’t have big staffs. That will be quite a bit of skin in the game.”

Commissioner John Chappie agreed with Shearon, and the board voted to fund the entire amount.

Slow Septembers may be things of the past

New tourism marketing campaigns may make slow Septembers a thing of the past.

In hot September, the slowest month of the year on Anna Maria Island, tourism lags so much that some businesses close their doors for vacations or renovations, beachgoers have large stretches of beach to themselves and open parking spaces are the new normal.

The rest of the year, congestion has become so challenging on the Island that a congestion committee was formed in Holmes Beach to examine solutions.

At the height of the tourist season, in March, 62,600 visitors to Manatee County produced an occupancy rate of 90.4 percent in 2013, according to Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau statistics.

In comparison, in September 2013, (2014 statistics are not yet available), 31,900 visitors produced an occupancy rate of 53.9 percent.

Septembers already are getting busier – five years earlier, in September 2008, the occupancy rate was only 32.8 percent.

And new marketing campaigns aimed at Brazilian shoppers and National Geographic fans may reinvigorate tourism in September and the rest of the year.

Shop Florida

In 2015, state tourism marketers plan to launch Shop Florida in Brazil, capitalizing on the fact that Florida is Brazil’s number one overseas destination, according to Visit Florida.

Most U.S. merchandise is more affordable than in Brazil, according to Visit Florida, which is partnering with Brand USA, created in 2010 to encourage travelers from all over the world to visit the U.S.

Some strategies include marketing the state at Fashion Week Sao Paulo and in Sao Paulo’s upscale neighborhoods and shopping centers and giving Brazilian visitors to Florida an international smartphone service that will feature retailer partners in Florida.

National Geographic

Visit Florida also is working with the National Geographic Society to tell the world about Florida’s wild environment .

This month, a team of National Geographic journalists will begin reporting from Florida, and National Geographic readers will be invited to submit their favorite Florida wild and natural experiences.

In December, National Geographic photographers will begin posting an "On Assignment in Florida" blog, and a booklet detailing Florida’s outdoor adventures will appear in the December/January issue of National Geographic Traveler.

Florida will be featured on www.NationalGeographic.com beginning in January with an interactive map showing reporters’ and readers’ recommendations and photo galleries.

Reservations

The marketing efforts may add to the problems faced by the Holmes Beach Congestion Committee, chairwoman Carol Soustek said.

“You don’t have to advertise anymore. Word of mouth is carrying this thing,” she said. “We don’t have a problem with people coming, but you cannot push the residents out. This is about the only time of the year that the Island has a little peace and quiet.”

Mayor responds to removal efforts ...

BRADENTON BEACH – Last week, Mayor Bill Shearon shared his thoughts on the commission’s recent decision to move forward with forfeiture of office proceedings against him.

Although he does not believe he should be removed from office, Shearon did support moving forward with the process in order to formally address complaints about his performance.

“What I asked for at the last meeting, and what I’ve repeatedly asked for, is that this has to be narrowed down. Tell me what you don’t like and what you’d like me to do. Most importantly, if you’re going to complain, you should also have a solution,” Shearon said.

“Give me an opportunity to get it corrected, and if you still don’t like what I’m doing, then we’ll evaluate it again. If I don’t follow up, I deserve to be chewed on, but we need to work together instead of having hidden agendas and fighting our own battles,” he declared.

One of the most common complaints mentioned in recent meetings is the alleged low morale of city employees.

“From my perspective, it’s in one department,” Shearon said, in reference to hostile workplace complaints filed by Public Works Director Tom Woodard and others.

“That’s why I’ve asked our labor attorney (Matthew Westerman) for his report. When that comes out, it will be shared with the commission. I couldn’t do anything until I had a formal complaint, and when I did, I hired an outside expert,” Shearon explained.

The report he referred to is expected to be released this week.

He said in this instance, he was not willing to rely solely on the opinion of City Attorney Ricinda Perry.

“Let’s base things on fact. Those findings will give us a pretty good indication as to what the issues are. Once I get that report, I can handle things appropriately. If I’m wrong, I’m not afraid to say I’m wrong and I will make corrections to right any wrong I did, and I expect the same from the other side,” Shearon said.

“Not only that, and this is where I have a real problem with Tom’s other employees filing complaints…As mayor, I am only the supervisor of the department head. I can’t even give other employees direction, and all I can do with department heads is recommend and suggest. That was brought up early in my term, when I thought I had the authority to direct department heads. When it was indicated to me that I was doing it wrong, I changed.”

Shearon said he now asks for permission from the city clerk and city treasurer before making requests of their deputy clerks.

When asked if he is willing to delegate some of his responsibilities to other commissioners in order to lighten his workload, Shearon said, “That’s what I did when I asked the commission to serve as the budget committee. I delegated and stayed out of it so I could focus on other things.”

As for those who want him removed from office, Shearon said, “Just bringing it up, that’s devastating. This is the worst action you can take against the mayor.”

He then mentioned the need for the commission to pull together.

“We have to. It can’t go on this way. It’s not only not good for the city, but it will be our demise because we can’t function under these conditions.”

... while vice mayor explains move

BRADENTON BEACH – In the wake of two recent meetings pertaining to Vice Mayor Jack Clarke initiating preliminary forfeiture of office proceedings against Mayor Bill Shearon, Clarke’s critics have suggested that his efforts are driven by his desire to be mayor.

Last week, Clarke discussed the reasons he took actions that could potentially result in Shearon being removed from office.

“It’s not a political aspiration, it’s done out of a desire to pull the city out of its nose dive. I believe, under the applicable provisions of the city charter, the mayor should step down and forfeit his position for the benefit of the city as a whole,” Clarke said.

Shearon has repeatedly stated that he needs commissioners to specify what it is he has done wrong and what solutions they propose as corrective measures.

“Due to the mayor’s interpretation of Sunshine Laws, we are not allowed to address him directly with these concerns; and based on past experience, I don’t think he would be receptive to discussing these concerns in an open forum,” Clark said.

“Earlier this year, many legislative initiatives took place to reaffirm the authority of the commission. For about 90 days, those clarifications were applied and there was a freer exchange of ideas, but gradually most of the gains associated with authority, discretion, accountability and the sharing of information went by the wayside,” he added.

Clarke provided specific examples in support of his belief that forfeiture proceedings are warranted.

“Most important to me is the employee relations and how the mayor is perceived in treating staff members and elected officials,” he said.

A labor attorney’s report regarding three workplace claims filed against Shearon was expected Monday. The severity of those findings, or lack thereof, could determine whether Shearon remains in office.

Clark is also concerned about the mayor’s authority to spend up to $2,000 in discretionary funds on any expenditure he feels necessary.

“He can spend the money, but he’s got to tell us what he’s done with it.

There is no accountability, and the commission needs to know,” Clarke said.

“I also believe the mayor has exceeded the authority granted him by our city charter on many occasions.”

He cited Shearon’s previous appointment of Janie Robertson as vice mayor as one example, and Shearon’s assumption that he gets to the chair the Community Redevelopment Agency without being appointed by the commission.

The charter also states that the mayor is not to issue direct orders to department heads.

Clarke agrees with public sentiment regarding the serious nature of a commission attempting to remove an elected official from office.

“It’s of terrific significance, and we did not undertake this lightly, but since it is included in our charter, it’s not an unforeseen circumstance,” he said.

In regard to Shearon being elected, while he ran unopposed, Clarke said, “If no one else ran, the citizens must have felt I offered the best possible representation.”

As for Shearon’s election serving as a mandate from residents, Clarke said, “The mayor defeated incumbent Mayor John Shaughnessy by 17 votes. That means nine votes made the difference. In my opinion, that is not a clear-cut endorsement of the mayor’s policies.”

In conclusion, Clarke said, “I want the citizen’s to know that time is of the essence. Prolonging this action will further demoralize the city, its employees and the city’s interaction with other agencies. In addition, it is unfair to the mayor to have this action hanging over his head for an extended period of time.”

Tree house case in wait-and-see mode

Pat copeland | sun

The city has spent $30,832 on attorneys on the tree house issues.

HOLMES BEACH – City Attorney Patricia Petruff reported to city commissioners last week that they need to wait and see what tree house owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen plan to do regarding the recent order from Judge Janette Dunnigan.

On Sept. 16, the judge upheld the code enforcement board’s July 2013 ruling that the tree house was constructed without a permit and encroached into the erosion control line and ordered the couple to remove the violations or demolish the structure.

Petruff said tree house attorney David Levin) can file a motion for rehearing or appeal the ruling at the District Court of Appeal (DCA).

“We need to wait awhile,” she advised.

However, she said the issue regarding an initiative petition to put an ordinance on the ballot for voters to decide if the tree house is legal could be helped by the ruling in a case on the east coat that supports the city’s interpretation.

Petruff has maintained that a 2013 amendment of Florida statute prohibits the use of the initiative process with regard to any development order and applies to any initiative process that began after June 1, 2011.

Petruff has said the proposed ordinance appears to constitute a development permit as it is defined in Florida statutes and adoption of an ordinance would result in the granting of a development order for the property.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked how much the city has spent so far on attorneys on the case, and Petruff said she did not know. However, the next day, City Treasurer Lori Hill said it is $30,831.


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