The Bradenton Beach commission is now a full, five-member board, following a 3-1 vote to appoint Richard Gatehouse as the Ward 3 commissioner at the Jan. 19 city commission meeting.
Gatehouse’s nomination stalled at the Jan. 12 commission meeting when legal concerns arose over whether or not Gatehouse could be both a commissioner and the city’s contracted webmaster. The issue was raised during public comment by Jo Ann Meilner, who cited a state statute on conflict of interest.
However, city attorney Ricinda Perry said Jan. 19 she had reviewed the statutes, consulted similar Florida attorney general opinions and found precedence to determine that Gatehouse could be legally appointed as commissioner.
Perry said there were other cases where city employees were able to take office.
As long as Gatehouse recuses himself from any votes pertaining to the city’s website, Mayor John Shaughnessy said Gatehouse could perform commissioner duties.
John Tillison, a second applicant for the Ward 3 seat, appeared slighted at the Jan. 12 meeting when the Ward 3 seat was first scheduled to be filled. He received no acknowledgement from the commission.
Before the Jan. 19 meeting, Tillison supporters spoke up on his behalf.
“Last meeting, I spoke in support of Mr. Tillison and was disappointed with what happened here,” said Meilner. “I thought he was treated like he was invisible.”
Meilner submitted a petition of signatures that included the names of 129 Bradenton Beach residents and business owners, expressing support for Tillison’s nomination.
“I think what happened at the last meeting was a disgrace,” she said.
Michael Cunningham, a resident of Ward 3, also spoke in favor of Tillison.
“I came to show my support of Mr. Tillison,” he said. “What I don’t support is political cronyism.”
Shaughnessy thanked all the public speakers and said it would all be taken into consideration. In the interest of fairness, he said, both applicants were allowed to express their reasons for seeking the vacant Ward 3 seat.
“I also want to thank Jo Ann for bringing this issue forward, so we could address it and put it behind us,” said Shaughnessy. “It seems to be a sticky subject, so I’d like to clear some things up, as I am not an ogre, nor am I trying to railroad anyone, which is why the fair thing to do is to give each applicant time to speak.”
Tillison was the first to speak. He thanked the commissioners for considering him as an applicant.
“I have a lot of time on my hands, and I love this little island,” said Tillison. “I believe I can be of service and that’s all I really have to say. I have come to know (Gatehouse) and he’s a nice gentleman. I don’t have animosity toward anyone. I just wanted to volunteer my services. That’s all I’m trying to do, is be of the best help I can.”
Gatehouse cited his volunteer work on city advisory boards as giving him an existing understanding of the government process.
“I also have been retired from a job that has taken me out of town a lot and am here now on a permanent basis and would like to give back to my community,” he said. “I love this town, and I saw a need and decided to step up and volunteer my help.”
Commissioner Gay Breuler made a motion to nominate Gatehouse as the Ward 3 commissioner, which was seconded by Commissioner Ed Straight. Following a brief discussion, Straight was the only commissioner to vote no, but the motion passed 3-1 with Breuler, Shaughnessy and Commissioner Jan Vosburgh voting yes.
Gatehouse fills a seat that has been vacant since the November election when Commissioner Janie Robertson term-limited out of office and no one ran for the vacant seat.
With the Ward 3 appointment, Bradenton Beach established a quorum to deal with the border dispute with Holmes Beach. The commission has been unable to act on the dispute, due to both Shaughnessy and Breuler having to recuse themselves. Both are residents of Sandpiper Resort, which is key to the dispute.
Perry reported to the commission that no resolution or “substantive discussion on the fence issue,” arose at the Jan. 18 conflict resolution meeting between the two cities. Perry previously had said that much would depend on the lending agency’s willingness to allow the Sandpiper Resort to quitclaim part of the disputed property to move forward with a proposed settlement from Holmes Beach.
“That was the gist of last week’s solution proposal,” said Perry. “And (the lenders) are not willing to do it.”
The bank’s refusal to release the Sandpiper property could bring the matter back to square one for both Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.
Breuler said the dispute has already cost the city more than $3,000 in taxpayer money.
“I wanted to bring that up because I wanted people to know how bad this situation is getting,” she said.
Shaughnessy was more optimistic, since the commission would have a quorum to vote on any proposals to resolve the dispute.
“I thought this was going to be a tough meeting today and I didn’t sleep much over it,” said Shaughnessy. “I’d like to thank the commission for giving us a commissioner. It’s been a long time and it’s a lot more complicated than you think. Thank God we are on our way, and one of these problems has been solved.”
Vosburgh acknowledged that the commission did not handle the nomination process well at the Jan. 12 meeting.
“I do feel bad about (Tillison),” she said. “I thought we were rude to him and ignored him.”
Straight agreed, saying it was nothing personal.
“I didn’t know the applicants until their names were presented, and I don’t really know either gentleman well,” Straight said. “I’m glad (the mayor) gave each of them an opportunity to speak. That was the right thing to do.”