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Vol. 17 No. 36 - June 21, 2017

headlines

Big changes come to Center board

Carol Whitmore

KRISTIN SWAIN | SUN

The Center of Anna Maria Island has experienced a shakeup
on its board of directors, opening a rift among members
and prompting calls for a review of the nonprofit's finances.

ANNA MARIA — The Center of Anna Maria Island is weathering more than a little upheaval on its board of directors.

Board Chair Bill Shuman resigned as chair June 12, electing to remain on the board as a member. Center Executive Director Kristen Lessig said Shuman's reasons for resigning were primarily his health due to the stress of the position and scrutiny from the community.

"It weighs on him," she said.

The move placed Vice Chair Patty McBean as interim chair and caused a rift between board members, as she was usurped by newly minted board member David Zaccagnino in an emergency vote. Zaccagnino joined the Center board in April.

Events began unraveling when an emergency meeting was called June 12, attended by 12 board members with four attending via telephone. The meeting was not open to the public.

During that meeting, McBean made a number of suggestions as part of a plan to help the Center get a better hold on its finances. The plan was to allow the board to closely analyze finances to help the nonprofit more closely operate within its means and understand the Center's sources of revenue and expenditures.

As a part of the plan, McBean requested copies of all of the Center's credit accounts, employee expenses and bank statements for the board. She also suggested the Center's budget be cut by $20,000 per month and the board review all employee benefit packages.

The next day, according to McBean, she met with former board member Mike Coleman. During that meeting, "Coleman told me I need to step down as chair and let David Zaccagnino be the chair to instill confidence in the board."

She added that Coleman said that if she stepped down in a timely manner he would give $10,000 to the Center. Zaccagnino called this a "lobbying effort" but McBean, who refused to step down, said she felt threatened. Minutes from that meeting also show that Shuman confirmed his resignation as chair.

Lessig said she has released some requested information to board members, including account passwords, to allow for board review of finances.

Part of the discussions during the Jan. 12 meeting included how or if the Center should use its endowment fund to help the nonprofit work through its financial problems and assist in building reserves before adding funds back into the endowment.

While the Center considers whether or not to use endowment funds, McBean suggested putting the funds in an escrow account until a board committee can scrutinize the finances.

McBean also said she feels that using the endowment funds should be a "last resort." Instead, she hopes the board upholds its commitment to study the finances before accessing the funds.

Though she didn't seek to be board chair, McBean said she felt very strongly that the Center's finances need to be scrutinized and someone "needs to be held accountable for making sure that happens."

Lessig said there is a plan in place to provide the board with a forensic accounting of the Center's revenue and expenditures once the fiscal year ends June 30. The nonprofit has hired the Certified Public Accountant firm of Kerkering, Barberio and Company of Sarasota to do an in-depth analysis of the books in conjunction with the Center's accountant, Laura Chirichigno. The audit is expected to take several weeks to complete.

Use of the endowment funds is still a matter under consideration by the board with the leadership of its new chair, Zaccagnino.

Zaccagnino was elected in a 10 to 4 vote conducted via email after the June 12 meeting. In accordance with the Center's bylaws, the vote will be confirmed at the board's June 21 meeting.

While he didn't seek the position, Zaccagnino said he hopes to bring stability to the board and help mend rifts between board members.

"We all have the same goals, to see the Center succeed," he said. Additionally, Zaccagnino said he hopes to shift the board's focus from his hasty election to the budget process currently underway. Both Zaccagnino and Lessig said they're encouraged by the work being done to help cut expenses and identify revenue sources.

"Exciting things are coming in the next fiscal year," Lessig said.

Though the June 21 meeting is closed, an open meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 28, at the Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Lessig also addressed concerns that she is buying drinks for people at local watering holes and taking others out on party cruises and using Center money to pay for it all. She said such rumors are "totally false."

"We're operating very leanly right now," she said. "Right now it's important to get a handle on the budget."

Zaccagnino said he hopes that once the new budget is in place and the audit is complete, the Center will have a sustainable financial plan to show its "strength" to the Island community.

$11.6M tourism budget proposed

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) proposes spending $11,675,206 to market Manatee County to tourists during 2018/2019.

The county's Tourist Development Council unanimously recommended the budget to the Manatee County Commission on Monday.

Following a 61 percent increase in 2016/2017 from the previous two years, primarily to promote the 2017 World Rowing Championships, the proposed budget represents a 9 percent decrease from 2016/2017. The two-year budget breaks down to $5,876,473 for 2018 and $5,798,733 for 2019.

A new budget item will pay for a new employee salary, an arts and culture marketing coordinator, at $92,159 a year, with another $50,774 annually for advertising arts.

The coordinator will work for the CVB to market and promote arts, culture and heritage, educate small arts organizations and search for grants, CVB Director Elliott Falcione said. The position was created, Falcione added, when arts groups throughout the county declined to support a centralized not-for-profit arts organization, concerned that it would compromise their groups.

The largest single expenditures in the budget are $500,000 annually for an advertising agency and $400,000 annually for the city of Bradenton's LECOM Park and Pittsburgh Pirates training facility.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce will receive $60,950 each year, with another $45,000 each year for advertising.

Other funds are allocated for online advertising, the county film commission, county tourist information centers, trade shows, sports marketing and marketing in the United Kingdom and central Europe.

Marketing initiatives for the next two years include trade missions to the UK and Germany in alternate years, and increasing Facebook and Twitter advertising in Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Falcione said.

Priorities

In April, hotel, motel and condo occupancy in Manatee County increased 4.2 percent, while the average daily room rate rose 7.6 percent from April 2016, said Walter Klages, of Tampa-based Research Data Services, the county's tourism consultant.

"We're not the cause of all the visitation," Falcione said, crediting Visit Florida with attracting 112 million visitors to Florida last year. Local marketing efforts will get a boost from the state's marketing agency if Gov. Rick Scott signs a $72 million budget on July 1 for Visit Florida as expected, up from the $25 million the Legislature approved this spring, he said.

"The number one priority is to get the four cities on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in the room to talk about transportation," he said, especially paid parking lots and bridge replacement, mentioning a 2015 Urban Land Institute study that included transportation recommendations.

"If we market a character that's not the reality, we're out of business," he said.

The biggest priority is "to be able to keep the experience we have today," TDC Chair Carol Whitmore said. "I just want the experience of old Florida where I can go in shorts and flip flops to a five-star restaurant."

Rex Hagen remembered

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

File Photo | Sun

Rex and Helen Hagen gave generously to the Island they loved

ANNA MARIA – Rex Hagen passed away Saturday morning at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy of charitable efforts and good deeds.

Hagen was The Sun's person of the year for 2010. At that time, he and his late wife, Helen, who passed away in 2009, had donated more than $100,000 to the cities of Holmes Beach and Anna Maria and The Center through the Hagen Family Foundation he founded in 1986.

The Hagens first came to the Island in the 1950s, when Rex was stationed at MacDill Air Force base in Tampa. In 1957, Rex bought the Superior Sample Company in Ligonier, Ind., a family business that still manufactures fabric and apparel swatch cards.

During the 1960s, the Hagen family often vacationed at Resort 66 in Holmes Beach. Rex and Helen later bought a condominium in the Nautilus complex and in the 1970s began wintering on the Island. In the mid-1980s, they built a home in Holmes Beach; and in 2002 they moved to Anna Maria.

In Holmes Beach, they donated funds for boat ramp improvements, palm trees, shuffleboard equipment, ballpark and soccer field improvements, a lightning warning system, Christmas lights, fencing, signage, landscaping and more. They also paid for the tot lot, and the restrooms by the skate park. Their support of The Center in Anna Maria included donations to build and maintain the tennis courts and support for children's programs and services.

The Hagens also supported their hometown of Ligonier, making donations for a skate park, playground equipment, park beautification, a soccer field and a riverwalk project.

Lasting impressions

County Commissioner and former Holmes Beach mayor and commissioner Carol Whitmore met the Hagens in 1990 and she visited Rex the Sunday before he passed.

"I gave my friend a kiss goodbye," she said.

"He will be missed by our Island and by my family," Whitmore said.

Whitmore has been asked to speak at the celebration of life taking place Thursday, June 29.

"Rex did so much for the community. He worked with me as mayor on ideas for spending money on our kids and our cities. His name is still displayed at the baseball and soccer fields. For many years, he bought Holmes Beach's annual Christmas decorations. He loved the community center too." Whitmore said.

Now living in Inverness, former Holmes Beach mayor and commissioner Rich Bohnenberger also worked closely with Hagen.

"He played a big role in the youth projects on the Island. He funded the tot lot and the baseball field bleachers. Every year he sent a request to city asking if we wanted funding for youth projects. He and his wife were very generous and they supported many projects in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach. Without his help, we would not have had some of those projects done, or they would have taken a lot longer. Rex was a wonderful man, always willing to help with the community. You couldn't ask for a better person. The entire community has suffered a loss," Bohnenberger said.

"His passing is a true loss that will be felt by our community. Our prayers go out to the Hagen family," said Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer. 

"Rex was a well-respected and generous man. He was a friend to all and he will be missed," said former Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino.

"Rex was a very kind and generous man; a philanthropist in the truest sense of the word. A few examples of his generous nature were his annual donation of Christmas decorations to the city; providing city staff with gifts on holidays, along with giving to our community center. He will be missed by all," said Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy.

"Rex Hagen leaves a lasting legacy through his philanthropy and his love for the people of Anna Maria Island. May he rest in peace," said Anna Maria Commissioner Carol Carter.

Scott Dell, former chief operating officer for The Center said, "Rex's passion for youth and recreation will be sorely missed. Through his generosity, Rex has left a lasting impression on the Island for future generations."

Damages specified in federal lawsuit

ANNA MARIA – Developer Shawn Kaleta and his Beach to Bay Construction company are now claiming $12.3 million in economic loss and damages in a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Anna Maria in February 2016.

The loss estimate is contained in an expert report prepared on Kaleta's behalf by Matthew Clark and Lewis Olds. The report is dated May 19 and the attorneys representing the city are having a counter report prepared.

The lawsuit is headed for a jury trial in the United States District Court Middle District in Tampa if an out of court settlement can't be reached. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8, and the trial term is scheduled to begin Oct. 2.

"Plaintiffs (Kaleta and associates) allege they are the victim of a discriminatory and illegal campaign by the city to block them from building homes. Plaintiffs claim this campaign began in 2015 when the mayor of Anna Maria and various other city officials engaged in an active, deliberate and coordinated efforts to block plaintiff's business activities by: subjecting them to unjust delays and denials of legitimate permit applications; imposing unusual or even unprecedented costly and time-wasting permitting requirements not imposed on plaintiff's competitors; taking steps to interfere with the building process itself; and creating a hostile public perception about Kaleta and his company, with the effect of alienating future customers," the Clark/Olds report states.

Kaleta's attorneys believe the city's actions violated Kaleta's constitutional rights.

"The claims in this case specifically include that the mayor (Dan Murphy), the city commission and other city officials imposed unwarranted penalties and so-called health and safety requirements; filed a baseless complaint with Florida's regulators (the Department of Business and Professional Regulation); and made false and defamatory public statements about Kaleta. All this, when taken together, is alleged to have created a de facto embargo – a blackball – imposed upon Kaleta's efforts and his company's efforts to continue doing business in the city. Plaintiff's claim the city's blackball has opened the door to his competitors to step into the vacuum and reap a windfall created by his inability to do business as usual," the report states.

"Based on a total of 38 actual and forecast lost permits, we determine the economic damages will total $12,339,055 during the total blackball period," the report says, citing $4.9 million in actual lost profits and $7.4 million in forecasted lost profits.

According to the amended lawsuit complaint filed in July of 2016, Kaleta and his associates are also seeking a court order that the city cease "the unconstitutional and unlawful practices" directed at Kaleta's development endeavors and city officials cease from making "false and slanderous public statements." The plaintiffs are also seeking corrective measures that include a public apology.

City disputes allegations

The city's original motion to dismiss, filed by City Attorney Becky Vose in March 2016, states "case law is clear that Florida law does not allow tort claims for money damages based upon alleged violations of the Florida Constitution."

That document also asks that Kaleta be ordered to reimburse the city's legal costs, including attorney fees.

The city denies and disputes the offenses alleged in the lawsuit and is being represented by Orlando attorneys Bill Lawton and John Conners. An insurance policy the city holds with the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust though the Florida League of Cities is expected to cover the city's legal fees, but it will be up to the FLC-funded attorneys, and not the city, to determine any settlement terms. The insurance policy also provides the city with $1.5 million in claim insurance.

Construction moves forward at Margaritaville

Kristin Swain | Sun

President of Minto Communities, Michael Belmont, looks at a
model illustrating the construction progress made at the
Harbour Isles development on Perico Island.

BRADENTON — On a sunny Thursday morning, Minto Communities President Michael Belmont arrives at the Harbour Isles sales center to survey the work being done to bring one of the company's latest ventures, One Particular Harbour, to life.

"This is a very special place," he said during a June 15 discussion with The Sun.

One Particular Harbour, a marina slated to have two restaurants along with retail space overlooking Anna Maria Sound on the northwestern tip of Perico Island is only a portion of the planned development. In conjunction with Margaritaville Holdings, Minto is bringing a bit of island escapism to the area with the planned commercial space and island-themed residences in the Marina Walk neighborhood of Harbour Isles.

Construction on the residences and marina is occurring simultaneously with some residences already available for move-in. Recently completed is the Marina Walk clubhouse with a lounge area, pool, grill area and playground. The two- and three-bedroom condominiums have either community or waterfront views. They also have one perk owners can't get anywhere else in the Harbour Isle community – they can be rented weekly. Belmont said the short-term rental option was designed to help defray the cost of unit ownership, allowing more people to be able to buy their own slice of paradise.

Construction on additional residences in the Margaritaville-themed neighborhood is expected to continue through the end of the year.

Belmont said the marina construction also is expected to continue through the end of 2017 with an opening tentatively scheduled for spring 2018.

Marina construction is the company's first priority, he said, followed by the restaurant and retail space. While no commercial tenants have been confirmed, Belmont said Minto is in discussions with several possible candidates, including the addition of a Margaritaville restaurant.

"We're very proud of the community and happy to be doing this with Margaritaville," he said, adding that the Jimmy Buffet-inspired company is a "well-established brand with a very loyal following."

Belmont said there is a lot of synergy between the two companies, and he's hopeful the partnership will continue beyond the three projects already in the works.

In addition to One Particular Harbour and Marina Walk, Minto and Margaritaville also are partnering on two other projects, Latitude Daytona Beach, an age-restricted community, and Latitude Hilton Head. Both communities are currently under construction.

For the Perico Island version of Margaritaville, Belmont said he had a vision of creating a community with a tropical island feel that would attract both locals and property investors looking for a bit of an island escape.

"It's a perfect location," he said.

County hosts charter work session

joe hendricks | SUN

Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor John Chappie, guest speaker
Virginia Delegal and County Attorney Mickey Palmer listen
to questions posed by county commissioner and citizens.

PALMETTO – Virginia Delegal spent more than two hours last week educating city and county officials and citizens about charter county governments.

Delegal, the executive director of the Florida Association of Counties, traveled from Tallahassee to participate in the Manatee County Commission work session on Wednesday, June 14, at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon, Vice Mayor John Chappie and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen were among the elected officials and county staffers seated at the large, U-shaped conference table.

Bradenton Beach City Attorney Ricinda Perry also attended, and she sat among the 40 or so citizens that included members of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County (LWV) – the group leading the efforts to switch from a non-charter to a charter county.

Like the city charters that determine how the three Island cities are governed, a county charter would determine how the county is governed.

Many of Florida's 20 charter counties are large, densely populated counties like Miami-Dade, Orange, Seminole, Hillsborough and Duval counties. Sarasota and Charlotte counties are also charter counties.

Without expressing a preference, Delgado said charter governments allow for increased citizen involvement. The process begins by drafting a proposed charter that could be something simple or more complex as to how it it addresses matters like the makeup of the County Commission, possible term limits and whether an appointed administrator or an elected official heads county operations.

A charter would provide the County Commission the power to alter the functions and supervisory structure of county officers like the tax collector, property appraiser and sheriff; and it could allow citizens to cap the salaries of county officers and commissioners.

Depending on how the charter is written, county ordinances could prevail over all, some or none of the individual cities' existing ordinances and land use regulations.

Citizens empowerment

Drafting a charter requires a charter committee formed either by order of the County Commission or petition initiative. The LWV petition drive needs signatures from 15 percent of the county's registered voters (approximately 35,000 signatures) to force the creation of a charter committee. During the work session, none of the county commissioners expressed a desire to initiate the process themselves.

If pursued, citizens appointed to the charter commission would help draft a charter document to present to county voters to accept or reject by simple majority margin. If adopted, additional charter amendments could be placed on future ballots by the County Commission or by petition initiatives.

Delegal cautioned that charter governments do not allow development orders, zoning requests, density increases and other land use decisions to be made by voter referendum. Those decisions would still be governed by the comp plan and land development code. Nor would a charter government protect the county and its cities from state legislation pertaining to vacation rentals or height restrictions.

During public input, LWV President Rosalie Shaffer said the league has been advocating for a county charter since 1985, and the current efforts are not driven by land-use concerns. She suggested the County Commission appoint a charter commission to draft a starter charter that includes language that states city ordinances would prevail over county ordinances unless the city prefers the county ordinance.

Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Katie Pierola also expressed support for a charter county.

Takeaways

During last week's Bradenton Beach Commission meeting, Perry said the work session left her with the impression that a charter county would not produce significant change, and therefore she questioned the need. Chappie said he still opposed a county charter, and Shearon agreed.

Via e-mail, Peelen said she thought a charter county was a good option for giving residents more power, as long as city ordinances prevailed.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the pursuit of a county charter should be determined by the citizens rather than the County Commission.

Holmes Beach commissioners talk formula business ban

HOLMES BEACH — Commissioners may have to give up the dream of being able to ban new formula businesses from coming to Holmes Beach.

During the June 15 work session, City Planner Bill Brisson addressed commissioners' concerns about formula businesses and gave them some unwelcome news — it may not be legally feasible to ban new formula businesses city-wide.

Brisson said while an argument can be made to ban the businesses from the city's downtown core area and on the east side of East Bay Drive, it may not be possible to stop them from moving in on the west side of East Bay Drive. The problem with instituting a permanent city-wide ban on the chain businesses is that not all areas of the city have a unique character to protect. For instance, Brisson said the western stretch of East Bay Drive from Manatee Avenue to Gulf Drive is primarily a modern shopping district which lends itself to inclusion of formula businesses.

Other areas of the city, including the downtown segment near the intersections of Gulf and Marina drives and the east side of East Bay Drive, have a "quirky" "mom and pop feel," according to Brisson.

Commissioners were disappointed with the recommendation, but remained hopeful a solution could be found that would be acceptable by local business and property owners.

"We have to protect what we can," Commissioner Carol Soustek said.

Brisson said, if commissioners were to enact an ordnance with a city-wide ban on new formula businesses it could open the city up to litigation. Instead of a ban, he suggested allowing the businesses to open shop in the shopping centers on East Bay Drive and allow them in other areas of the city by special exception only. If the commission were to pass a city-wide ban and it was challenged, Brisson said it could remove protection from other areas, such as downtown, which are more easily defendable in court.

Both Brisson and City Attorney Patricia Petruff cautioned commissioners that the decision would have to be about what works within the character of the city, not protecting a local business from possible national chain competition.

"The city's not in the business of protecting the economic interests of one business," Petruff said.

"We're talking about the good of the community, not protecting an individual business," Brisson said. "The decision has to be based on the character of entire districts."

Commissioner Pat Morton said he was discouraged by the news and felt the need to try to protect both the character and mom and pop shop feel of the city.

Commissioner Carol Soustek said if the commission were to allow new formula or chain businesses to open in the city, she would like to enact restrictions that force businesses to come before the commission individually for approval.

Commissioners agreed to move forward with discussions to try and get legislation enacted before the formula business moratorium in place to block new chain businesses from opening in the city expires in October. They did ask Brisson and Petruff to see if there's a solution to be found that would hold up in court and allow the city to regulate new formula businesses on the western side of East Bay Drive. The discussion will continue at a future work session.

Canine influenza alert issued

At least 21 cases of canine influenza originating at dog shows in DeLand, Fla. and Perry, Ga. have been confirmed at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

Because canine influenza is not among the reportable diseases under state law, more may exist.

According to the college, the flu can cause a respiratory infection with symptoms including sneezing, nasal discharge and frequent coughs, which can travel more than 20 feet. Many dogs have a fever, decreased appetite and lethargy during the first few days of illness. Some dogs develop pneumonia.

The virus is spread by direct contact with a sick dog or by contact with contaminated people, kennel surfaces, bowls, collars, leashes, toys and beds for 12 to 24 hours before it dies. It is easily killed by handwashing, laundering of clothing and bedding and washing bowls and toys with soap and water.

Dogs at most risk for exposure are those with a social lifestyle that participate in group events or are housed in communal facilities such as boarding kennels, day care centers, shelters, dog shows, veterinary clinics, pet stores and grooming parlors. Dogs that mostly stay at home and walk around the neighborhood are at low risk.

Most dogs do not have immunity to the flu, but can be vaccinated.

If you suspect your dog has the flu, call your veterinarian before going to the clinic and relate symptoms and when they started, whether your dog has been to a dog show, boarding facility, dog day care center, dog park, grooming parlor, or another event with other dogs within the past week, and if your dog was around coughing dogs in the past week.

Most dogs recover at home in about two weeks without any complications. The most important aspect of home care is to keep your dog isolated from all other dogs for four weeks. If you have other dogs or cats in the house, then all of them must be isolated in the home for four weeks.

For more information, visit http://hospitals.vetmed.ufl.edu/canine-influenza.


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