Monthly Archives: December 2016

In her honor

Holmes Beach Commissioners John Monetti, left, and Sandy Haas-Martens, Pat Geyers’ daughters Polli Stroup and Peggi Davenport, Commissioner Pat Morton and Mayor Rich Bohenenberger stand outside the Holmes Beach Commission Chambers. On Oct. 5, the chambers was dedicated to Pat Geyer. Islander Photo: Nick Walter

Geyer honored with dedication

The Holmes Beach City Commission on Oct. 5 named and dedicated the city hall chambers in honor of Patricia A. Geyer.

There was a meet-and-greet followed by a dedication at 9 a.m. at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Geyer, who served 18 years on the city commission and was elected mayor from 1990-94, died May 1 at 80.

She also was the longtime owner and proprietress of Duffy’s Tavern, the Holmes Beach institution known for cold beers and hamburgers. Many Islanders knew and remember Geyer as “Ms. Duffy.”

In attendance were Geyer’s daughters Polli Stroup and Peggi Davenport.

In a speech, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a former Holmes Beach mayor and commissioner, told Geyer’s daughters, “I want to thank you for letting us share your mom with all of us.”

Said Marguerita Carrick of Holmes Beach, Ms. Duffy “was so dependable to do the right thing for Holmes Beach. You never had to worry about your vote.”

Stoltzfus seeks appeal court review

Former Anna Maria Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus replied to the 2nd District Court of Appeal with an Oct. 6 response with a number of legal reasons as to why his recall should not be dismissed as moot.

Stoltzfus attorney Richard Harrison said the fact that the recall election was held and the results certified “does not render moot the issues involving the legal sufficiency of the recall petition and the constitutionality of the recall statute.”

Stoltzfus was recalled 362-331 Sept. 7, and, on the same ballot, Gene Aubry was elected 363-333 to serve the remaining 14 months of Stoltzfus’ term. Aubry’s win was certified by the city’s canvassing board Sept. 20, and he was sworn in Sept. 22 as a commissioner.

Although the results were announced Sept. 10, certification was withheld due to a 12th Circuit Court Judicial order that stayed certification until Sept. 24.

But attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen of Citizens for Sunshine Inc. filed a brief with the DCA Sept. 14, noting that the Florida election statute required certification of the election before 5 p.m. by on 12th day after the election. Otherwise, the results would become moot, she pointed out to the court.

The court agreed and lifted its stay order Sept. 15. However, it gave Stoltzfus 20 days from Sept. 16 to file a response.

Harrison cited a number of cases to support his argument that Stoltzfus was denied due process. He also noted that the case is unique.

A public official facing a recall effort should be afforded “fair notice of the charges against him and a meaningful opportunity to respond on his own behalf,” Harrison wrote, citing a 2008 Florida case.

But the state’s recall statute only allows the public official a 200-word defense that accompanies the second recall petition. Harrison argued this also denied his client due process.

Further, wrote Harrison, “a public official is entitled to judicial relief.” The Florida recall statute does not provide any immediate judicial relief for the official being recalled, he said, yet local election laws often require immediate certification of those results.

Harrison said Stoltzfus sought quick judicial review by requesting an injunction against the recall from the circuit court on May 24, three days after the first recall petition was certified.

Stoltzfus also filed a motion for an accelerated hearing for an “immediate review of the legal sufficiency” of the recall petition, but the state recall statute gave him only five days to prepare his 200-word defense.

On Aug. 24, the trial court dismissed Stoltzfus’ claim that the recall was legally insufficient. Stoltzfus immediately appealed to the DCA, but the DCA returned the appeal, noting it was not a final order from the trial court.

The trial court’s Sept. 3 order provided that the recall election should proceed on Sept. 7 as ordered by the chief judge of the 12th Circuit Court, but the ballots would be sealed and certification stayed until Sept. 24.

The trial court said the harm done to Stoltzfus if he were “removed from office and replaced by a commissioner” and trial court’s Aug. 24 order is later reversed would be “irreparable.”

But Mogensen pointed out to the DCA that the city was required by its charter to certify the election immediately, and the state statute required election certification on or before the 12th day following the election. Otherwise, the election would become moot, according to state law, she told the DCA.

Harrison argued that allowing the results to be certified because of the city election ordinance resulted in Stoltzfus’ removal from office before the DCA could review the proceedings. That did not give his client due process.

He claimed the Florida recall statute does not provide “meaningful appellate review” and the situation will happen again to other elected officials facing a recall unless there is immediate “judicial intervention” in such recall cases.

“Commissioner Stoltzfus submits that the (court) should retain and exercise jurisdiction over this matter and decide important constitutional and other issues presented by this case,” Harrison wrote.

Pier boardwalk pushed back to May

Plans for construction of a 450-foot boardwalk and accompanying amenities at the Anna Maria City Pier to begin in November have been postponed. The project will not begin before the city’s May 2011 city pier centennial celebration.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, who chairs the transportation enhancement grant committee, told members at the Oct. 6 meeting that delays by the Florida Department of Transportation in getting the request for proposals and the permitting pushed the start date back from November, as originally planned.

Rather than interfere with the winter season or the centennial celebration, Mattick said the DOT, which is overseeing the federally funded project, agreed to wait to begin construction.

“We did not want to be half-way through a project by the time the celebration began,” she said.

Mattick said she was “disappointed” that those attending the celebration would not see the new boardwalk.

At the same time, however, this is an opportunity for the city to hold two celebrations, she said.

“We are having a centennial celebration, then three months later, another opportunity for a celebration when the boardwalk is completed,” Mattick said.

Matt Anderson of Woodruff and Sons Construction, the contractor selected by the DOT, told TEG members the project would take about three months to complete.

DOT representatives Manon Lavoie and Barry Williams also attended the meeting to update the committee on progress of the project.

Committee members had a number of questions about the aesthetics of the boardwalk.

Cindy Mansour questioned the design and location of the new city pier sign, while SueLynn said she was opposed to any landscaping along the shore line that would obscure the view of the water.

Some members were opposed to changing the sign, but eventually agreed to a suggestion by Anderson that his staff present three new sign concepts for discussion.

“We don’t want to change it much,” Mattick said. “But we do need a new sign.”

Betty Yanger agreed.

“Someone driving down Pine Avenue needs to know something has been done at the pier, but they don’t know what,” she said.

Mattick added that whatever is done should not have a “gingerbread” look.

Landscaping also was an issue.

Plans call for native landscaping and 100 palm trees along the boardwalk, but SueLynn objected.

She preferred an unobstructed view of the water all along the boardwalk.

Mike Miller, who is handling the landscaping portion of the project, said native vegetation and palm trees planted in a “non-geometric” pattern would enhance the ambiance of the boardwalk and pier.

After discussion on both sides of the issue, a compromise was reached.

Palm trees would be planted in clusters at each end of the boardwalk and around the Dumpster at the north end. Other palms would be planted by the two pavilions planned at the pier entrance. Those would provide shade to walkers, Miller noted.

Committee members also expressed concern about the type and location of the furniture on the boardwalk and the planned bollard lighting.

Anderson said that within 20 days of the contract signing, he would provide Mattick with concept drawings for the sign, a preliminary design of the compromise landscaping proposal and some options on furniture locations for the committee’s consideration.

Williams said that when the DOT has 90 percent of the plan finalized, he would make a presentation to commissioners and the public.

Mattick said she would schedule another TEG meeting after receiving more information from Anderson. She’ll invite commissioners to that meeting to get them familiar with the boardwalk plan.

BB revises settlement plan in land dispute

Bradenton Beach commissioners last week revised a move to resolve a longstanding legal dispute with Island Inc./Beach Development Inc., the owners of a half-acre of beachfront property that the city has deemed preservation.

The commission first rescinded an Aug. 31 decision authorizing special city attorney Greg Hootman to work out a settlement agreement with the developers that involved the city paying out $375,000 for the west side Gulf Drive property.

The commission then voted to authorize Hootman to work on a settlement agreement, which would require the approval of the commission, that didn’t cost the city more than $350,000.

The votes Oct. 7 followed a discussion about a scribner’s error presented at the August meeting that could have cost the city an extra $25,000 to settle the case.

The case dates back to the 1990s, when the developers acquired 2.6 acres of property, most on the bayside, some on the Gulfside, with Gulf Drive bisecting the land.

The developers knew when they purchased the property that a portion of it was identified for preservation in the city’s future land-use map and comprehensive plan.

However, Hootman has said, the developers also were aware when they purchased the land that the city had committed to allow for a higher density in the bayside project because it had deemed the Gulfside property undevelopable. The city, Hootman said, had made the concession because it did not want to “take” property.

But as the project moved forward, developers encountered a hitch. Other city regulations, specifically height restrictions, got in the way of a denser development by the bay.

An effort to build a smaller project on the Gulfside also hit a roadblock.

A legal battle escalated, with the parties focused on a half-acre of preservation land on the Gulfside and what should or could happen with 10 unbuilt units provided for in city planning documents.

The dispute has involved the developers, the city, state agencies, a number of attorneys and a judge who nudged the parties into mediation and encouraged a settlement.

In the last couple of years, several settlement offers have been considered. In August, Hootman told commissioners that Island Inc./Beach Development wanted to reach a settlement — the city buy the land for $375,000 and close the case.

But city officials later learned that Hootman carried forward a scribner’s error — the settlement offer was for $350,000.

So last week, the commission rescinded its prior motion and adopted a new motion, indicating its good-faith interest in settling for $350,000.

Commissioners and the mayor also said they wanted Hootman to negotiate a 20-year financing agreement with the developers that includes a low interest rate — less than 6 percent.

That option was favored over using city reserves.

“I’m going to be very very reluctant to allow us to go into our reserves,” Bartelt said, adding that the economic outlook for the next couple of fiscal years is not favorable.

County refunds trolley ad dollars

Manatee County is refunding to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce the advertising money the chamber raised to keep the Island trolleys operating fare-free.

The county board of commissioners Oct. 7 voted 5-1 to reimburse the chamber $40,200 for the ads on the trolleys, which, according to county administrator Ed Hunzeker, have not had the greatest visibility due to mechanical problems with the vehicles.

The county was relying on annual advertising income from the chamber to help fund the fare-free trolley service, but Hunzeker recommended reallocating $60,000 from the county beach concession to help pay for the trolleys in 2010-11.

The ad campaign could be revived when new vehicles arrive next fall, Hunzeker said.

The total refund to the chamber — which amounts to two payments toward its $60,000 a year commitment to the county — will be returned to the businesses that purchased ads.

Late last month, county commissioners authorized the purchase of five new vehicles for the trolley route — they will be buses styled as trolleys rather than the vehicles now on the road.

The trolley program debuted in 2002, when the county put five custom “trolleys” on the road that featured the open-back design.

In 2006, four more custom vehicles were purchased and then three of the oldest trolleys were transferred to Sarasota County for use on Longboat Key.

“They’ve been saying for a while that this second batch that they bought were junk,” Bob Herrington of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization recently told a citizens group meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall.

For the Oct. 7 county commission meeting, county staff prepared a report that noted the popularity of the Island service, but emphasized that “since the beginning of the program, vehicle reliability has been very poor due to the fact that the vehicles are custom made to provide for the open-back style and create high maintenance costs and down time.”

The trolley service requires three vehicles on the road 365 days a year, generally from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., with each trolley traveling 292 miles per day. About 36,162 passengers ride the trolley each month, and each trolley goes about 8,700 miles a month or 105,000 miles a year, 37 percent more miles than the average MCAT bus.

“The story here is they are laboring very hard in some very cruel environs,” MCAT manager Ralf Heseler said of the trolleys and Island conditions — salt air, sand, water and dust.

An MCAT report estimated that the repair and maintenance cost for a county bus is about 41.5 cents compared to 68.9 cents for a trolley.

Details of mechanical failures on just one trolley this past year include 75 repair jobs, including 15 repairs for problems with the door and 17 repairs to electrical wiring.

“We’ve got a pickup out there doing the job of a dump truck,” said MCAT fleet manager Mike Brennan.

County officials said the new vehicles due to arrive next August will be reliable and built for the “heavy duty” work required on the Island. Instead of using a motor-home chassis, which is what’s on the current trolleys, the replacement vehicles will be buses.

The new vehicles, being purchased under a federal grant for $2.3 million, will feature a “trolley style,” including wooden benches, but not an open back.

“It’s a beautiful vehicle,” Heseler said.

He added, “We can get any color schemes and patterns that we like,” including the two-tone sea green on the current vehicles.

Manatee County Commission Chair Donna Hayes said she supported refunding the advertising money to the chamber, but because she opposes a fare-free service on the Island she voted against the motion.

Gullett mullet tourney on the plate

When Ben Gullett died in 2008, his son Ricky Gullett thought long and hard about a way to honor his father. The elder Gullett had been a loved and respected fisherman and was one of the area’s best at throwing handmade cast nets over schools of mullet. Many church and civic groups counted on Ben Gullett to supply their fish for get-togethers however large or small.

After tossing it around, Ricky Gullett decided there was no better way to keep his father’s name alive than by putting together a mullet tournament.

On Oct. 15, numerous two-person teams will gather for a captain’s meeting at the Anna Maria Island Power Squadron, 1200 71st St. N.W., Bradenton, to start a 24-hour hunt in hopes of winning the third annual Ben Gullett Mullet Invitational.

“I knew whatever we did it had to be on the water, and with my dad being involved so heavily in the mullet business and all the friends that also mullet fished, it seemed like a good idea,’’ Ricky Gullett said.

“While most folks are familiar with fishing hook-and-line and hook-and-release tournaments, the mullet contest is a whole different concept.

“We’ve had a lot fun running it the last two years and have gotten good feedback,’’ Gullett said. “The idea of making it a mullet tournament and being only able to use cast nets makes it pretty unique. The tournament waters are from Tampa to Venice and we take only the six biggest fish. That’s pretty much it.

“Of course, unlike other fishing tournaments, we clean and cook the catch brought in. We don’t want to waste anything.’’

The tournament has two divisions: an adult group and youth division. Entry fee for an adult team is $150, while the youth teams compete for $75. The entry fee includes a captain’s bucket with two T-shirts and two dinner tickets.

The two-person teams will net and bring their six largest mullet — iced down and ready to clean — to the dock to be weighed. The mandatory captain’s meeting is from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15. The weigh-in takes place from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, and it’s followed by a mullet banquet. And the Gulletts do the cooking.

Last year’s and the 2008 winners were Dwight Andress and Rod Griffin, and in the youth division last year, Joey Gullett and Dillon Hartman.

The first two tournaments were held at Star Fish Co. in Cortez, but due to scheduling conflicts the location was moved to the AMI Power Squadron this year. Gullett isn’t sure where next year’s location will be, but said Karen Bell, owner of Star Fish Co., expressed a desire to have the tournament return to Cortez in 2011.

All the entry fee money is paid out in prizes and money earned from the sale of dinner tickets to folks who don’t fish, but come to take part in the end-of-tournament feast is given to the charities. One of this year’s recipients is the Jerry Hill Memorial Kids Tournament.

“It’s important to give back to the young people in the community and Jerry’s tournament is well run and respected,’’ Gullett said. “A lot of kids over the years have been introduced to fishing by the tournament and my dad would be proud that in some way his name has helped that a little bit.’’

“Hopefully we will have a big turnout and even if you or someone you know isn’t fishing, come purchase dinner and help us raise money to give to the area youth programs.’’

To sign up or get more information call Chick Parker at 941-792-8314, or Ricky Gullett at 941-462-5567.

Mark J. Cook is an outdoor writer for the Tampa Tribune and columnist for In the Field magazine. He writes about local events, people and places.

Casting for mullet

What: Third annual Ben Gullet Mullet Invitational to benefit youth outdoor activities.

When: Oct. 15-16.

Mandatory captain’s meeting 6:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 15.

Weigh-in 4-5 p.m., Saturday Oct. 16.

Mullet dinner 4-7 p.m. $10 (for those who did not enter the tournament) includes choice of smoked or fried mullet, grits, slaw, dessert and tea.

Where: Anna Maria Power Squadron on Old Palma Sola Bay, 1200 71st St. N.W., Bradenton

HBPD releases images of burglary suspects

The Holmes Beach Police Department continues to investigate a Sept. 12 burglary at Sand-n-Sudz Laundry on Holmes Boulevard.

Last week, the HBPD released two images from video surveliance of the laundry and asked for the public’s help in identifying the men in the photographs.

Police reported that about $360 was stolen, along with a set of keys. Additionally, the office door was broken, sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight Sept. 12.

Attorneys urge Islanders to seek BP bucks

High-powered attorneys last week encouraged Island business owners to seek damages for injuries caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill.

Just how severe the injuries might be and the compensation Islanders might be owed is an unknown, said Robert J. Gordon of Weitz and Luxenberg in New York City.

The Deepwater disaster can be likened to an auto accident happening in slow motion, Gordon said.

“You’re still … in the middle of the injury,” he told about 30 local business owners and government officials gathered Oct. 5 at Holmes Beach City Hall to discuss compensation from BP.

Holmes Beach Commissioner and Columbia Restaurant manager John Monetti was instrumental in making the meeting happen. Monetti is a board member of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which has hired three firms to help its members and other business owners in the state secure compensation from BP.

In addition to the Holmes Beach forum, the attorneys met with business owners in more than a dozen other locations last week.

Teams of lawyers have been traveling the Gulf of Mexico coast since late April seeking clients damaged by the Deepwater spill that began with the sinking of a deepwater well off the coast of Louisiana April 20. In late May, attorneys met in Cortez with fishers and others who work in the seafood industry to talk about representing them in the claims process.

The lawyers at the city hall forum focused on compensation for both current and future damages caused by the spill — an estimated 400 million gallons of oil spewed from the well before the leak was contained in mid-July.

Their conversation with business owners was timed well. The day before, BP claims czar Kenneth Feinberg issued a statement clarifying that compensation may be available from the BP fund in areas not polluted by Deepwater oil.

Feinberg, appointed by the president to administer the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, is overseeing payments from a $20 billion fund that BP pledged for restoration and compensation.

After hearing from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and other elected officials, the administrator agreed that “there has been economic impact beyond the areas closest to the spill.”

Further, Feinberg said, “after listening to these concerns, I have concluded that a geographic test to determine eligibility regarding economic harm due to the oil spill is unwarranted.”
In the past two months, about $1 billion in claims have been paid to about 50,000 people and businesses, according to the GCCF.

Feinberg said claims are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and that claimants must prove damages resulting from the spill itself and not other causes, such as the ailing economy or the severe cold snap earlier in the year.

The GCCF is currently reviewing emergency claims.

“An emergency claim is really for if you’ve got one foot in bankruptcy court and the other is on a banana peel,” said Gordon, the Weitz and Luxenberg attorney.

Individuals can file emergency claims on their own, said Brian H. Barr of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor of Pensacola, which bills itself as the “fourth winningest law firm in the United States.”

The emergency claims are “done on the Web and it’s a fairly simple process,” he said.

However, Barr urged people to consider hiring an attorney for future claims against BP, which he described as a “corporate criminal” that will try to avoid as many payouts as possible.

Additionally, Barr said, it makes sense to work with his firm or Weitz or Cooney and Conway of Chicago because together they are amassing clients to share resources and minimize costs for future claims or, later, litigation under the U.S. Oil Pollution Act and Florida common law.

“There is power in numbers,” Gordon said, though he emphasized the firms are not working on a class-action case.

The attorneys, already representing more than 1,000 clients on BP claims, are working on contingency — they said they don’t require any upfront costs but will earn 15 percent of an emergency claim, 20 percent of a negotiated claim and 25 percent of a court settlement.

Assisting the attorneys are Mark A. Bonn, Julie Harrington and Adam Sacks, who were hired to prepare models that can be used to calculate current and future damages from the spill.
“People have a different perspective of coming to Florida than they did prior to April 20,” Barr said. “Fear, that’s what we’re dealing with.”

The modeling will take into account weather statistics, economic data and tourism trends; examine how other businesses were impacted by other disasters; and apply other factors difficult to quantify, such as how fear about polluted beaches might impact future travel to the Gulf Coast.

“This will give forensic accountants assumptions they can use,” Barr said. “It’s really a neat kind of thing. It’s very expensive to do, but I’ve been very impressed with it.”

Most of the forum attendees represented local restaurants or accommodations businesses, but the audience also included several retailers, Jet-Ski renters, a newspaper owner and a homeowner.

A half dozen of the attendees had already filed claims for BP compensation, but had been waiting weeks or months for a review.

Monetti thanked both the attorneys and the audience for attending the forum.

He said if Island business owners do nothing to seek compensation they’ll get “nothing.”

Preparing to file

For information about filing a direct claim for compensation from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, go to www.gulfcoastclaimsfacility.com.

A checklist from the law firm Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty and Proctor of Pensacola provides a guide to collecting information needed to complete a claim for fund money or to prepare for future litigation.

The checklist includes: identification details such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers; a business plan or business forecast; management planning documents; a personnel list; business licenses; federal income tax returns from 2007, 2008 and 2009; monthly sales tax returns for the past three years; monthly financial statements for the past three years; yearly profit and loss statements for the past three years; any claim for damages to an insurance company; documents related to loss revenue due to the spill, including cancellation logs, returned deposit receipts and e-mails from customers.