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Date of Issue: October 21, 2009

Blog alleges city planner works for developer

An Internet Web blogger on OurAnnaMaria.blogspot has alleged that Anna Maria city planner Alan Garrett works for Pine Avenue Restoration LLC, then bills his time to the city for another payment.

The blogger “Dune Hugger” alleges, “It’s no secret that Garrett works for PAR, then bills his time through the city of Anna Maria.”

“Dune Hugger” wrote that Garrett “assists a group that wants to deprive us, under the guise of performing his function for the city.” Further, the blogger said Garrett has brought a number of ordinance change requests to the city commission and “keeps popping up with these ridiculous notices.”

Blogger “NHunt” then wrote that the public needs to know “who has requested the constant changes that he (Garrett) has proposed.”

On the same blog, “Sunshine” wrote that “Alan Garrett should only be working for one stakeholder in the city,” and alleged further that it’s a “conflict of interest” for Garrett to work for the “largest commercial interest in our city,” while also working as the city planner.

Former Commissioner Duke Miller, who founded the blog after he left city office, wrote that he had e-mailed Garrett and “asked who is specifically instituting these requests for changes to our ordinances to accommodate PAR and the wedding business.”

Miller wrote that if he did not get a response, he would make a public records request. He also alleged that “none of the issues before us today were issues until PAR brought outside investors to our city with a plan to change things.”

The blog site endorses candidates Harry Stoltzfus, Dale Woodland and John Quam for the three city commission seats up for election Nov. 3.

Woodland said he is not part of any coalition running together as a group for the city commission and did “not support at all” the allegations against Garrett.

Likewise, City Commissioner Quam said he was running an independent campaign, but said he could not comment on the allegations against Garrett because he has not read the blog — and he said he has no plans to read it.

Stoltzfus also said he is not running as part of any collective candidacy and he “could not endorse” the allegations against Garrett.

Stoltzfus did say that his “understanding” is that when Garrett meets with a builder or developer, he bills the city for his time and the city then charges the builder/developer/contractor for that service.

Blogger “RWall” entered the blog, saying that Garrett has introduced plans to modify the parking in the retail-office-residential district and the city’s planning and zoning board is discussing the issue.

Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said that in her more than 30 years of public service she has never been in a community where such anonymous charges were leveled.

“It’s absolutely not true and it’s regrettable for a high-class, excellent and professional staff to be treated this way. It’s inexcusable and vitriolic. I’m very disappointed about the blog,” she said.

“I have full confidence in Alan Garrett and everyone on the city staff. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t be here.”

Garrett said he understood that public employees occasionally become political targets. He’s been in government for more than 25 years.

There are “times when we are subject to this type of comment. The allegations are completely fabricated,” Garrett said.

 It’s possible the bloggers do not understand the system in place for the city planner in his duties of advising contractors, builders and applicants for a permit.

“Any time I spend with a contractor or someone who wants advice on plans, the city pays me, then bills the applicant. I work for the city and only the city,” he said. That applies to all applicants, not just PAR, Garrett emphasized.

However, Garrett said the Internet blog allows the accuser to remain anonymous, while he has to answer the allegations.

“I am a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and we have an ethics standard to uphold and I value that dearly,” he said.

Barford clarified the city’s procedure on payment to Garrett for consulting with developers, contractors and builders about projects and construction proposals.

Garrett bills the city for the amount of time he spends with a particular developer or builder. The city pays him at the rate agreed upon by the city commission, then bills the builder/contractor for that charge.

The rules for payment are part of the city’s site-plan review process that was adopted by the city commission several years ago.

Miller removes comments

Miller said opinions of blog subscribers such as “Dune Hugger” are their own opinions and he does not support them “any more than The Islander supports the statements of authors of its letters to the editor.

After reading the comments made about Garrett, however, Miller said he removed them from his blog.

“Frankly, I don’t dissect every comment posted. Upon close examination of the controversial comments, I removed them,” he said.

Miller confirmed that he supports Quam, Woodland and Stoltzfus for a seat on the city commission.

 The former commissioner said he started the blog to “give a voice and forum to those interested in maintaining the character of our city.”

Miller served three terms as a commissioner, from 2003 to 2008. He chose not to seek a fourth term and was replaced on the commission by Chuck Webb.