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Date of Issue: October 12, 2006

Cortez to eye law problems Thursday

Delighted with drug arrests a week ago, Cortez will have a communitywide forum with law officials Thursday evening to see what both sides can do to ease enforcement problems.

Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells, State Attorney Earl Moreland, Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan and other Manatee County officials are to meet with Cortezians at 7 p.m. at the old schoolhouse at the east side of the historic fishing village.

They agreed to be there or have a top official from their offices meet with the historic fishing village at the behest of County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who lives in Cortez. She will be there, too.

The central topic will be the long-standing problem of drugs being trafficked and used, in "crack houses" and in wooded areas, and the difficulties of law enforcement officers tackling the "druggies."

"We have to have an actionable complaint signed by a Cortez resident," said a spokesman for Sheriff Wells. "We have to have a case we can take to court, or we'd just be wasting our time."

Cortezians have known the specifics of drug abuse and trafficking there for years, but are reluctant to expose themselves to retaliation by getting out front on the matter. They haven't had the evidence, either.

The arrests last week are most welcome, said von Hahmann. "But the problem doesn't end instantly.

"Deals go down in parking lots, where anyone can see them, including children. We see vehicles engaging in trade, on the street or parking lots, and it's obvious what they're doing but we haven't been able to prove it."

And not just the drug trade, she said. "There may be things we should all be talking about with officers, that some of us know about and others don't, including the officers. Maybe there are things we as villagers can do toward solutions. We can get it all out and look at it Thursday."

At the forum in addition to Wells, Moreland and Dunnigan will be Ann Marie Harper, specialist in repetitive crimes, and Joe Fenton, head of code enforcement.