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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Resident claims Holmes Beach decorations 'too Christian'

Holmes Beach resident Albert Ames has nothing against the city's holiday decorations put up during the Christmas season, it's just that in his opinion, they're too Christian.

"These decorations need to reflect the diversity of the community," Ames told the city commission Sept. 28. He'd like the decorations to be more politically correct and recognize the holidays that Jews, blacks, Hispanics and others celebrate during the same season as Christmas.

Wait a minute, said Commission Chairperson Sandy Haas-Martens, the city's holiday decorations are already generic in nature and not reflective of any religion.

"We specifically picked generic decorations," she replied. The city only displays snowflakes, candles, wreaths and some reindeer for the holidays.

Sorry, responded Ames. In his opinion, wreathes and candles are Christian symbols. "We are talking about Christmas decorations which [represent] a Christian holiday," he said.

Ames said the city should have decorations for Hanukkah and Kwanza, but when pressed by Commissioner Don Maloney, was unable to come up with another holiday that Hispanics celebrate at the same time as Christmas.

Funny, quipped Maloney. "The Hispanics I know celebrate Christmas."

And if the city is going to start putting up decorations for every holiday for every group, he wants decorations on St. Patrick's Day. What about the Jehovah's Witnesses, added Commissioner Pat Morton. They celebrate Christmas in July.

Doesn't matter, said Ames. "You are in violation of the Constitution."

Mayor Carol Whitmore pointed out that the first set of holiday decorations the city ever had were paid for by a private donor. "And in eight years we've had decorations, you are the only person to complain."

She suggested that Ames bring any suggestions for additional decorations to her and she'll discuss the issue, but at this point, she has no intention of changing the "generic" decorations without commission direction.

The commission agreed the current decorations are generic enough for the community.

In other, more serious, commission business, commissioners approved a change order of $23,700 for seawall repair on the east side of Marina Drive along the city boat basin near the Wachovia Bank. The wall was already under repair when recent heavy rains caused it to collapse.

Commissioners also learned from City Attorney Patricia Petruff that after much searching, an attorney had been found with expertise in pension plans to review the proposed increase in funding to the Holmes Beach Police Department pension plan. The attorney wants either $350 an hour or a flat rate, and commissioners asked Petruff to get a fixed price for the review.

The commission also agreed to prepare an ordinance that would review the board of adjustment to require that a quorum consist of four members, and variance approval of at least three votes.

Commissioners also learned that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is studying the possibility of relocating the gas tanks at the Holmes Beach Pure Gas and Service Station because of some prior leakage.

The tanks aren't leaking now, said Whitmore, but the city might have a liability issue if a leak should occur. She said she would have more to report at the October worksession.

Commission Don Maloney reported some good news. According to a survey supplied by Manatee County Area Transit officials, use of the Island trolley by Island residents and visitors keeps an average of 680 vehicles per day off Island streets.