BRADENTON BEACH – 2017 produced changes inside and outside city hall.
Future city commissioners will be elected differently, a politically engaged citizens’ group came and went, the city is involved in three new lawsuits, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) was extended and the public day dock was removed.
In November, Mayor Bill Shearon lost his re-election bid to former Mayor John Chappie. This ended a decade of public service that also included stints as a City Commissioner and a Planning and Zoning Board member. In 2015, Shearon pulled the infamous ace of clubs that settled the tied mayor’s race and earned him an appearance on Chelsea Handler’s TV show.
Chappie’s victory returned him to the mayor’s seat he occupied before serving eight years as a County Commissioner.
City voters preferred first-time candidate Randy White over incumbent Ward 3 Commissioner Ralph Cole, but Cole was later appointed to fill the commissioner’s seat vacated by Chappie.
Cole’s appointment was made possible by a voter-supported charter amendment that eliminated commission wards after being placed on the ballot by the Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB).
A second charter amendment reduced commission candidates’ residency requirements and eliminated the requirement that candidates be registered city voters; a third limited the commission’s ability to interpret the city charter.
Former commission candidate Bill Vincent spearheaded CNOBB’s formation in July. He envisioned an education and advocacy group but it morphed into a political action committee (PAC) that later encountered compliance issues.
CNOBB’s charter amendments passed by significant margins, but engaging in ballot initiatives required registration as a PAC and the filing of financial reports. The failure to do so in a timely manner resulted in former mayor Jack Clarke filing Florida Elections Commission complaints in October.
A CNOBB discussion in July about a never-pursued prohibition on parking garages raised concerns about Sunshine Law compliance for four CNOBB members who served on the planning board and two who served on the Scenic WAVES Committee.
In August, those concerns led the commission and Clarke to jointly initiate a lawsuit that named the six advisory board members as defendants. All six resigned, but the lawsuit still seeks a judge’s ruling on whether Sunshine violations occurred. By year’s end, the city’s legal fees reached $42,000 and it remains to be seen if a judge will order the defendants to reimburse or partially reimburse the city for its legal costs.
CNOBB was dissolved in late November.
In addition to being a defendant in the Sunshine lawsuit, John Metz is the plaintiff in a legal action he initiated against the city in July as a follow-up to legal action he initiated in 2016 challenging a permitting decision made by Building Official Steve Gilbert.
Citing city code that applies to Gulf Drive South, Metz believes a neighboring property owned by Wendy and George Kokolis lost its historic rights for use as a vacation rental because the structure was unoccupied for more than 18 months before and during the permitted renovations.
In June, special master Liza Gonzalez Moore ruled in favor of the city and the property owners. The writ of certiorari that Metz’s attorney filed in July seeks a court review of Moore’s ruling. According to City Attorney Ricinda Perry, Metz’s actions have cost the city $26,000.
In August, the city and developer Shawn Kaleta were named as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by Manatee County regarding an unresolved pool permitting dispute involving county sewer lines.
Updated CRA plan
In June, the expiring Community Redevelopment Area plan was updated and extended for 30 years. CRA funds paid for additional policing on Bridge Street and in the nearby anchorage, made the down payment on a new day dock and paid for air conditioning and roof repairs to the city-owned restaurant space leased to the Anna Maria Oyster Bar.
The day dock was removed in August due to damage sustained in July during Tropical Storm Emily. A new dock is scheduled to arrive in late January.
In September, Hurricane Irma tore the roof off at least one trailer in the Pines Trailer Park, did exterior damage to city hall and left some residents and businesses without power longer than others, but overall the city fared well.