Anna Maria mayor takes on center complaint

A controversy over alleged bad behavior and illegal activities at an adult dodgeball tournament Nov. 26 at the Anna Maria Island Community Center resulted in Mayor Mike Selby conducting his own investigation into the conduct of players at the tournament.

The mayor said his investigation confirmed that alcohol consumption by some of the adult participants did occur at the event, and also revealed that the person in charge of the center that day was a young woman who was covering the front desk and answering phones.

“We can’t have this situation happen again. I’ve been told by members of the board that a senior supervisor would always be at the center when it’s open,” the mayor said.

The mayor said he plans to have serious talks with the board of directors about policies, procedures and staffing, and he’ll bring Commissioner Chuck Webb, the commission liaison to the center, into the discussions.

The problems at the tournament were first brought up by Hardin Avenue resident Hal Badger in a letter to The Islander that was published Dec. 14 on the opinion page.

Badger, whose back yard is on Palm Avenue adjacent to the athletic field, wrote that he saw drinking, loud music, intoxicated behavior and profanity on Palm Avenue by some tournament players the day of the tournament. Badger said he reported the incidents to the center and to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Anna Maria substation.

He said sheriff’s deputies appeared several times during the tournament and the behavior was halted. However, after the deputies left, the drinking and profanity resumed, Badger said. He also claimed senior center staff were not present for the tournament.

Badger’s letter prompted a response from center board chair Greg Ross in The Islander Dec. 28.

        Ross said Badger’s letter was a misrepresentation of what actually happened. The activities in question took place in the city-owned parking lot along Palm Avenue, he said, implying the center was not responsible.

Ross said another board member told him Badger’s complaints were “almost completely false.”

Ross said he got information on the tournament from another board member who was at the event.

Badger said he didn’t want a “he said, he said” discussion with Ross, but he believes his integrity and honesty are at stake.

He produced pictures of beer cans and bottles left behind that day, and said the mayor told him he conducted his own investigation that confirmed players were drinking beer at the tournament and no senior staff was present.

“I just want people to know that I did not make up the facts of what happened. What I wrote was not ‘almost 99 percent false,’” as Ross said in the Dec. 28 story. “What I wrote was 100 percent true,” Badger said.

He has pictures and Selby’s own investigation into the matter to clear his name, but perhaps the center’s board should do its own investigation, he suggested.

“I don’t want to get into an argument with Ross about what somebody may have told him. I just want people to know I didn’t make this up. I think the center’s board should do its own investigation and I thank Mayor Selby for looking into this issue.”

Badger said that as an 11-year resident of Hardin Avenue, the dodgeball tournament is not the first time drinking has occurred at center events.

Selby confirmed there was drinking at the tournament, but there was also an apparent misunderstanding when a deputy from Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Anna Maria substation arrived at the center.

Selby said he learned that the deputy believed the center and the parking spaces on Palm Avenue were private property and he had no jurisdiction. Although the deputy told the people parked along Palm to halt the drinking and profanity, no citations were issued.

Also during his investigation, Selby learned the center supervisor was a young woman at the front desk.

The mayor also observed there are no signs posted at the Palm Avenue parking spaces that state drinking, profanity and loud music are prohibited. It might be a good idea to post such signs around the entire property, he suggested.

“I plan to talk with Webb, then he and I will meet with the board of directors to get these things clear with everyone,” he said.

Selby also will meet with MCSO Sgt. Dave Turner, the officer in charge of the substation, to ensure all deputies know that the center and Palm Avenue parking spaces are city property.

“We can’t have adult activities at the center with drinking and swearing going on while kids are playing there and no senior supervisor present,” Selby said.

The next meeting of the center board will be at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 16. Likely agenda topics include the continuing discussion of a child protection policy, a cell tower on center property, and the campaign to burn the mortgage, among other 2011–12 financial matters.

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