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Date of Issue: May 05, 2010

Cafe on the Beach Petition signatures soar

A barrage of support to keep Cafe on the Beach on Manatee Public Beach has led to more than 1,000 online and hand-written petition signatures.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Dee Schaefer, owner of The Beach Shop at the Holmes Beach facility. “I’ve never seen such support in my life, and it just touched me to the bottom of my heart.”

A recommendations committee appointed by Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker reviewed four companies’ proposals and has recommended the county negotiate with United Parks Service of St. Petersburg for operations at Coquina and Manatee beaches. If the county approves the recommendation, UPS would take over operations July 21.

 Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said the board of county commissioners will address the issue at its May 11 meeting at the Manatee County Administration Center in downtown Bradenton. The time will be 10:30 a.m.

There is a petition at The Islander with more than 100 signatures. Another at the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce contains 63 signatures. But on www.PetitionOnline.com, under the petition “Save Cafe on the Beach and The Gift Shop,” there were 1,245 signatures as of April 29.

There also is a Facebook page, “Save Cafe on the Beach and The Gift Shop.” As of April 29, 1,637 people indicated they “like” the page.

Still, the county purchasing division of the financial management department on April 21 issued Dee Schaefer a warning, saying P.S. Beach Associates has violated the county’s anti-lobbying code.

The letter by Rob Cuthbert states, “It has come to my attention that you or your firm’s agents have been asking individuals, including customers and other persons in the community, to contact county employees and officials including county commissioners to advocate against the current negotiations and/or advocate for your firm’s proposals, which was not the proposal selected for negotiations under the county’s RFP review process. These efforts have been ongoing, and continued at least through a phone call from you personally to a staff member today.”

Regarding the notice, Schaefer said, “I’ve put that behind us and we’re moving on.”

But McClash doesn’t think Schaefer violated the code. “I think Dee has a right to let people know if in a few months she might not be there,” he said.

He also said the reprimand could infringe upon Schaefer’s constitutional right to free speech.

“Sometimes the government feels like it can negate freedom of speech actions and they perceive they’re more powerful than the constitution,” McClash said.

The code that Schaefer allegedly violated was meant to prevent private, closed-door lobbying, McClash said.

In addition, he said he doesn’t think a recommendations committee should have been selected to choose with whom the county should negotiate. Rather, the board of county commissioners should have interviewed the companies.

“I don’t remember giving (Hunzeker) the authority to pick the committee,” McClash said. “In all my years, part of the process as county commissioners related to request for proposals, we always have had the companies present their proposal directly to the board of county commissioners. We interviewed them.”

Hunzeker did not return phone calls to The Islander as of press time.