The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 49 - September 8, 2010


Recall ballots sealed - for now

Harry Stoltzfus
City commission candidate Gene Aubry and his sister,
Jill Morris, greet passersby near the polling place at
Roser Community Memorial Church in Anna Maria
Tuesday morning. Aubry hopes to be elected if
Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus is recalled.

ANNA MARIA — Appeals are being prepared this week challenging a ruling made by Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas sealing the ballots in the Sept. 7 recall election.

On Sept. 3, Judge Edward Nicholas ruled that the ballots in the election to recall City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus must be placed under lock and key at Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat’s office until at least 5:01 p.m. Sept. 24.

Nicholas said this ruling was not difficult. He said he agreed with Richard Harrison, Stoltzfus’ attorney, that if the ballots were counted and the results known, Stoltzfus could suffer irreparable harm.

Citizens for Sunshine, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of and compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine and Public Records Laws, filed a friend of the court brief during the hearing.

“This case involves issues under the Sunshine Law that are unique and which are of great public concern, including whether alleged violations of that law are sufficiently alleged as a basis for recalling an elected official,” argued Andrea Mogensen on behalf of the organization. “CFS is also concerned with the request by plaintiff Harry Stoltzfus to seal the ballots. Under Florida law, every citizen has a constitutional right to inspect ballots.”

Mogensen cites several cases reflecting that a voted ballot becomes a public record once it’s voted.

Jim Rahe of the First Amendment Foundation, another non-profit that works on issues of open government, confirmed that election ballots become public records once a government body such as the Supervisor of Elections receives them.

The recall committee and CFS are considering appealing the ruling sealing the ballots.

“We are looking into the First Amendment implications of sealed election executed ballots,” Carter said on behalf of his committee. “But that the recall election is going forward is a major victory for the committee of the people who are concerned with public trust in our elected officials.”

Judge Nicholas ruled on Aug. 24 that the recall petition was legally sufficient and that the recall election could go forward on the Sept. 7 date set by Chief Judge Lee Haworth.

At the emergency hearing, City Attorney Jim Dye noted that the city has taken no official position on the recall petition or the recall election, but the ruling sealing the ballots had an impact on the city.

“The city would be in a difficult position, your honor,” Dye said to Judge Nicholas. “In the case of a 3-2 vote by the commission, every vote by the commission would be subject to challenge. And most substantive votes on this commission are 3-2 votes.”

Dye pointed out that if Stoltzfus wins the recall and retains his seat, there would be no problem, but if he loses the recall and loses his seat, his votes would be invalid, and the city would be in a tough position.

Votes in, but not tallied

Harry Stoltzfus
Manatee County Election Commissioner Bob Sweat (second from left)
and members of the Anna Maria Canvassing Board (from left to right)
Cheri Oehler, Anna Maria Public Works Director George McKay and
Anna Maria City Clerk Alice Baird look over the absentee ballots before
Sweat put them away in a sealed container to be counted after judge
Edward Nicholas rules on an appeal to the recall election, tentatively
set for 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 24.

ANNA MARIA – After a contentious campaign, voters turned out in good numbers to decide whether to recall City Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus and if so, whether to replace him with Gene Aubrey.

The polling place, at Roser Memorial Community Church, closed a 7 p.m. and Manatee County Election Commissioner Bob Sweat came in and placed the 243 absentee ballots on the table for the canvassing board to inspect. The board threw out one absentee ballot that was not signed. Sweat said that they had mailed out 317 absentee ballots.

Sweat said that they counted 455 ballots at the machine at the church, but the vote was not tabulated because District Judge Edward Nicholas ordered them sealed until he could rule on a challenge to the recall by Stoltzfus. He tentatively set Sept. 24 at 5 p.m. as the date and time when the vote can be counted at Sweat’s office.

Sweat also said that the first ballot put into the machine did not go in right and it slowed the process for a while, until the machine could be cleared. He said that would not have any affect on the vote results.

The next step is for the two commission candidates and the city to wait until the count is made public.

AMI takes surf fest by storm

Giorgio Gomez catches a wave during the 25th Annual
National Kidney Foundation Pro-Am in Cocoa Beach over the weekend.

COCOA BEACH – Anna Maria Island musicians and surfers took Cocoa Beach by storm over Labor Day weekend during the 25th Annual National Kidney Foundation Pro-Am Surf Festival.

Three days of surf, sun and music followed close on the heels of Hurricane Earl, a Category 4 storm that left overhead waves in its wake, followed by a consistent smaller swell that gave competitors lots to work with.

Former Island resident Giorgio Gomez, grandson of Ronee and Jim Brady of the West Coast Surf Shop in Holmes Beach, carved Earl’s leftovers on Saturday, and his sister, Izzi Gomez, followed suit on Monday.

Another sibling pair and their bandmates – the Island Rockers – drew people onto the Cocoa Beach Pier on Saturday and Sunday with their Beatles covers and blues licks.

Lead singer Lexi Achor, 14, bass player Abbey Achor, 9, drummer and guitarist Ethan Bertrand, 9, and guitarist Brandon Mills, 10, elicited surprised looks from beachgoers who suddenly realized that most of the band is in elementary school - Anna Maria Elementary School.

A professional guitarist scheduled to play after the Rockers stood shaking his head in amazement as Brandon bent his strings on lead guitar, Lexi belted out “Sweet Home Chicago,” Abbey laid down the bass line in true Island fashion – barefoot – and Ethan drove the beat all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean.

Not surprisingly, the crowd’s favorite was the Rockers’ rendition of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.”

Led by Island music instructor Scott Achor, who wore a Rockers’ T-shirt stamped with “SECURITY” on the back, the band has performed at Anna Maria Bayfest and won first place in the 2009 Anna Maria Island Community Center talent show.

The audience stayed through the break to listen to the band, always a good sign, he said.

The Rockers also donated $305 to the National Kidney Foundation from the money they had leftover from their fundraising efforts to attend the event.

Brandon Mills has another connection to the surf fest as the nephew of its founders, Rich and Phil Salick.

Both are former Anna Maria Island surfers and East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame members who started the festival after Rich developed kidney disease and Phil donated one of his kidneys for a successful transplant. Two other brothers have since done the same for Rich, who is the first athlete ever to return to his sport at the professional level after a kidney transplant.

He got the go-ahead from one of his doctors, Dr. Robert Cade, the inventor of Gatorade, which was offered for free at the festival in exchange for taking a quiz on kidney disease to raise awareness about advances in research and treatment.

Over its lifetime, the surf festival has raised more than $4 million for the National Kidney Foundation, where Salick is director of Community Relations.

Other Island folks headed east for the festival to lend support to the cause and enjoy the surfing, including Salick family friends Paulette Webb, of Gaunt Inc. Law Book Publishers in Holmes Beach, and her brothers, Joe Webb and Ben Webb, his son, world-class wakeboarding champion J.D. Webb, and the Island Rockers “road crew,” their parents and friends. Stay tuned – the fan club is soon to follow.

City OKs land deal

BRADENTON BEACH – After declaring a half-acre of land on the beach unbuildable, the city commission approved paying $350,000 for it to avert future legal action from the developers who own it. The commission meeting was marked by concern over its legality, since there was no recording of the proceedings and nobody to take minutes. There appeared to be confusion whether it was a public hearing or a work session where no vote would have been taken to spend money by the city commission. However, a vote was taken, and the attorney for the city, Greg Hootman, turned in an abbreviated set of minutes.

The case goes back to 1998, when the developers of Bermuda Bay transferred the land to two development corporations – Island, Inc., and Beach Development, Inc. After that, the developers began planning to build duplexes on the beachfront land, which is zoned commercial but also designated as preservation with no development allowed by the city’s comprehensive plan.

When the developers of Bermuda Beach applied for permission to build, they found that up to 28 units were allowed there and 10 more available for beach development, but the land was never split properly. At their request, the city issued a letter of no objection and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued permits to build, but when the developers went to the city for permits, they were told no because of the land’s preservation designation.

Designation mistake

The property owners contended the preservation designation was a scrivener’s mistake, and they applied for a small-scale amendment, which the city turned down. They then submitted a large-scale amendment application. They also sued their attorneys for suggesting the small-scale amendment and won $1.9 million, of which approximately $900,000 went to legal fees, according to Hootman, who explained why he was recommending the city take the settlement offer from the developers.

The developers sued the city at one point, but the city prevailed over demands to issue permits by claiming the land was on a dune line and could not be developed. Since then, the city has been in negotiations with the developers, who claim that their right to realize the full potential of the land was taken by the city’s actions. At one point, they agreed to sell the land to the city for $2 million, if the city could get a state grant for $1.4 million and come up with the $600,000 difference. In addition to the land, the city would also get the rights to develop 10 units, which went with the land. Hootman said that the city could possibly use them to mediate future cases.

When the grant fell through, the two parties continued their negotiations and the developers offered to sell the land for $600,000, the same amount the city would have paid if the grant had come through. The city commission refused, saying they could not approve spending money for land that has no development value.

Hootman said the new offer is likely the result of subtracting the $1 million the developers got from their attorney in their lawsuit from the $1,350,000 they were expecting to gain from developing the land as they had planned.

The commissioners expressed doubt about the value of the rights to develop 10 units and whether they could be sold. Some wondered about the city being liable in the future for legal action from two prospective condo buyers who had put money down on the project that will now not be built. There was also talk of offering less than the $350,000 Hootman recommended, but he implored them to stick with that figure saying it was the best way to make sure this case is settled. When the commissioners settled on the $350,000 figure, Bartelt gaveled the end of the meeting, but Hootman argued they needed to vote to settle the case. Bartelt argued that the meeting was not advertised as a public meeting to consider a formal response to the developers’ offer. In an ad in The Sun Aug. 25, it was advertised as that.

Under Hootman’s urging, the mayor re-convened and they took a formal vote. Hootman offered to write minutes on a short form.

AMICCO sets season’s concerts

HOLMES BEACH – From Broadway to opera, with some hearts and Christmas carols thrown in, the 2010-11 Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra (AMICCO) season has it all.

Its first concert, on Sunday, Nov. 14, features selections from Broadway show tunes by Rogers and Hammerstein and Irving Berlin. It will be held as part of the artsHOP weekend, sponsored by Cultural Connections of Anna Maria Island, of which AMICCO is a charter member. The Rizzo sisters, Trina and Holly, who both graduated from Anna Maria Elementary School and were 2010 finalists in the AMICCO Young Artists Solo Competition, will perform Irving Berlin’s “Sisters,” written for the movie “White Christmas.” Soloists Douglas Renfroe and Robert Lischetti will return to perform show tunes as well as Jeanne Larranaga, Joy Leitner and Chalyce Sullivan. Violinist Daniel Andai, who has studied with maestro Alfred Gershfeld, will perform Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto.” Anna Maria Elementary School’s fifth grade class will be invited to attend the dress rehearsal on Nov. 13.

The annual holiday program on Dec. 19, is entitled “Festival of Holiday Music.” It features Mozart’s “Symphony 29 in A Major Finale" and his “Concerto in G Major for Flute and Orchestra, First Movement.” Braula Gil, finalist in the 2010 Young Artist Competition, will be a soloist.

Also scheduled is Mozart’s “Competition for Saxophone and Orchestra,” featuring Nicholas L’Hereux, winner of the 2010 Young Artist Solo Competition. AMICCO also will perform Rutter’s “Brother Heinrich’s Christmas.”

“An Island Valentine” on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011, features the orchestra and the chorus a cappella plus soloists with music from Vivaldi, Mozart, Weber, Panchielli, Bize and Khachaturian.

The orchestra and chorus will perform Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus Operetta” on Sunday, March 20.

All concerts begin at 2 p.m. and are held at CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Tickets are $20 per person. You can order tickets by logging onto

Anna Maria deputy honored
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Deputy Brian Cherry helped save two of four swimmers
caught in rip currents in the Gulf near the Sandbar
restaurant. The other two died.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has award Deputy Brian Cherry, who works out of the Anna Maria substation, its Deputy of the Month award for his actions that resulted in the rescue of two swimmers on Sunday, Aug. 12.

According to a Sheriff’s Office press release, Cherry answered a call regarding four swimmers in distress due to rip tides off the north end of Anna Maria Island. Cherry assisted others trying to pull the four out of the water. He started CPR rescue efforts and continued to work on the victims for approximately an hour after paramedics arrived. All four of the swimmers were taken to the hospital and two of them survived.

According to a press release, “Deputy Cherry’s prompt response and quick reactions saved the lives of two people, for which he is awarded Deputy of the Month for August 2010.”

It’s almost time for stone crabs
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Above, crabber John Labash paints a line of buoys that will
mark some of the roughly 550 stone crab traps he'll put out this year.

ANNA MARIA – Working under a blue tarp and several large pines for shade, John Labash staples symmetrical strips of wood to a frame, leaving two strips farther apart than the others.

Baby stone crabs can escape through the gap, keeping them alive for another harvest, said the commercial stone crabber, who has been working in area waters for several years.

Stone crab season begins when the traps are placed in the water on Oct. 5. Beginning on Oct. 15, the crabs can be harvested, and the colorful buoys marking the traps will speckle the water until the season ends on May 14.

Buoys and traps are assembled by hand, with Styrofoam buoys taking the place of glass buoys used in the early days of fishing, he said. It takes about 20 minutes to build a trap, then concrete has to be poured in to weigh it down, and the lid and buoys have to be attached.

Wooden traps are more cost effective than plastic ones if a storm hits and takes the traps to places unknown, Labash said - a wood trap costs about $8.50 while a plastic one costs about $15.

“If I lose them, it’s less of a loss,” he said. “For every 400 traps you put out, you lose about 50 a year.”

Last year’s unusual storms cost him about 200 traps. He’s also using wooden traps because they may attract crabs better than plastic, possibly due to the wood preservative, he said.

This year, he’ll load up about 550 traps at the boat dock behind Rotten Ralph’s or trailer them to a boat ramp, then drop them in the water at Bean Point and down Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. He’ll go out up to three times a week, checking about 150 of them at a time for crabs, snapping off claws and tossing the crabs back to regrow more claws, then head to Moore’s restaurant on Longboat Key to sell his catch.

It’s a tricky business because you never know how much you’re going to get paid until after you bring the catch into the dock, he said.

“You gotta be nuts to fish for a living,” he said. “And you gotta be nuts not to fish for a living.”

Spanish heritage celebrated at Community Center
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Jessica Perez-Maqueda wearing
a Traje de flamenca, traditional
dress from southern Spain,
will teach Sevillanas.

ANNA MARIA – In honor of Spanish Heritage Month, the Island Community Center is offering a variety of events and classes kicking off with a Spanish Fiesta on Sept. 18 in combination with Soccer Spirit Day.

At noon inside the Center, Fatima Soriano, of Tapas and Fun, will serve up her delicious paella made from a family recipe. Servings will be available for $5 each.

“You can put whatever you want in paella,” Soriano pointed out. “This will be the most popular one called Mixta. It has pork, chicken, shrimp, mussels, clams, vegetables, shellfish stock, rice and saffron.”

While you are dining in style, Jessica Perez-Maqueda, director of The Spanish Academy of Bradenton, will teach you how to perform Sevillanas.

“In Spain if you go to a fair or a bar or a party, people dance the Sevillanas,” Perez-Maqueda explained. “It is the traditional dance of southern Spain.

“I will show people a few steps, and I want them to join in and have fun. I also will be glad to do a demonstration.”

If you like what you taste and see, you can take Spanish cooking or dance lessons or learn to speak Spanish at the Center. Spanish language workshops and dance sessions begin Monday. Sept. 13.

The first workshop, from Sept. 13 to Oct. 4, focuses on “Greetings and Presentations,” the second workshop, from Oct. 11 to Nov. 1, will cover “Describe Yourself” and the third workshop will discuss “My Hobbies.”

Class is held on Mondays from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. The fee per workshop is $45 for members and $60 for non-members. Five students are needed to hold the class.

The eight-week Spanish dance sessions also begin on Sept. 13 and take place from 4 to 5 p.m. The fee is $10 per class or $70 for eight weeks for members and $12 per class or $85 for eight weeks for non-members. There must be a minimum of five students.

Soriano’s cooking class will begin in November. You will learn to prepare tasty tapas and other traditional Spanish dishes while Soriano shares with you the music and culture of Spain. To learn more about these dishes, go to

To learn more about cooking class dates and times or to register for any of the classes, call the Center at 778-1908 or stop by at 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.

Anna Maria tables parking talks – for now

ANNA MARIA – City commissioners have put discussions on the parking issue in the residential/office/retail district off to the side for now.

That includes discussions or actions on the controversial Pine Avenue corridor plan.

Commission Chair John Quam hinted that the city is going to postpone any important discussions or votes for a time.

This move came shortly after the commission and the city attorney met in a shade meeting on the potential recall of Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus. City Attorney Jim Dye called the closed meeting an executive session.

Dye said in open court last week that the city faces a huge problem with a commissioner under threat of removal from office by a recall election.

Judge Edward Nicholas has ordered the ballots in that Sept. 7 recall sealed pending a hearing on his ruling that the recall petition is valid.

“Any 3-2 vote on the commission, and many of them are, would be automatically subject to challenge,” Dye said. “If Commissioner Stoltzfus is, in fact, recalled, his vote on every issue could be called into question. If he’s not recalled, there’s no problem.”

The exact nature of the discussion in the shade meeting is not known, but immediately after Quam suggested postponing important decisions, such as parking.

Nicholas ruled on Sept. 3 that the recall would go forward but that the Supervisor of Elections would seal the ballots until Sept. 24, which gives Stoltzfus time to appeal the lower court’s ruling.

There are questions as to whether Nicholas has the authority to seal the ballots. Once the ballots are delivered to the supervisor's office, they become public records, subject to the Sunshine Laws.

A judge does not have the authority under Florida law to seal a public record, though he would have the authority to stay the certification of the vote.

Both the recall committee and the Citizens for Sunshine are preparing emergency appeals to the ruling sealing the ballots.

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