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Date of Issue: October 05, 2006

Cortez meeting set with law enforcers

Cortez residents, long disturbed at drug activity in their historic village, will get their hearing Oct. 12 at a community forum arranged by County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann.

Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells and State Attorney Earl Moreland have advised her they will be there or have top staffers represent them, von Hahmann said. Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan, who lives on Anna Maria Island, has said she will participate, and Joe Fenton of county code enforcement will attend.

The forum will be at 7 p.m. at the 1912-built schoolhouse, now being transformed into a community center and museum.

It will be more of a question-and-answer type gathering than presentations, von Hahmann said, and villagers are expected to have plenty of questions. They have been plagued by repeated waves of drug users over the years - people who use abandoned buildings and brushy areas for taking and selling drugs, or even in a few cases houses.

Villagers have complained and the sheriff's office has sent deputies to check the problem, but there have been no actionable signed complaints and no specific evidence of lawbreaking.

"We can't act until we have a case we can take to court," said sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow.

Cortezians are reluctant to come into the open and fight the problem, fearing reprisals against their families and homes.