BB commissioner fires back over cell tower accusations

Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse told his fellow commissioners Sept. 6 at the city meeting he plans to introduce a new cell tower ordinance to repeal the current ordinance and ask the city to sever ties with the co-author of the draft ordinance — Lawrence “Rusty” Monroe of Municipal Solutions Inc.

The ordinance was adopted May 5, 2011, during former Mayor Bob Bartelt’s administration.

When the city first discussed a new cellular communications tower earlier this year, commissioners were relieved an ordinance was already in place.

However, Gatehouse now says the ordinance is standing in the way of moving forward because it was designed to be “obstructionist.”

Gatehouse read a three-page letter admonishing Monroe’s involvement with the ordinance and those previously objecting to the cell tower.

He also addressed implications of possible payoffs levied by Scenic Waves chair Carl Parks, who addressed commissioners Aug. 16 about an email letter he sent to the city and others titled, “I smell a rat.”

In July, the city entered into a land-lease agreement with a cellular communications company, but not a development agreement, which would trigger some provisions for the cell tower in the current ordinance.

In August, Parks along with some other residents, objected to the agreement under the assumption the land-lease agreement was the contract, but such was not the case.

Parks implied city officials were being paid off, which launched a statement from Mayor John Shaughnessy, who said Parks had just insulted the city, commissioners and everyone who works for the city.

Gatehouse responded Sept. 6, countering many of Parks’ complaints against the city, saying Monroe helped draft an ordinance that is financially profitable to him. He said Monroe’s fee schedule is included in the ordinance he helped to create.

In the ordinance, Monroe is required to be consulted and paid on all cellular communications towers being considered by the city.

“To some, this smacks of a back-room deal and stinks to high heaven,” Gatehouse said. “Not only has Mr. Monroe attempted to force the city to name him the exclusive ‘expert’ consultant to all applicants at a minimum fee of $8,500 per applicant, it has come to my attention he further wishes to gouge a successful applicant for an additional substantial fee.”

Gatehouse called the ordinance obstructionist and written to profit Monroe.

He called for a repeal of the ordinance, but said he would make the motion to do so in the near future.

Gatehouse said the 30-page ordinance for a city the size of Bradenton Beach is unnecessary, and he included as an example draft copies of city ordinances from Boston and other areas.

Gatehouse also said Monroe’s ordinance has been challenged and defeated in courts in other states and is setting up Bradenton Beach for similar litigation by cellular communications companies, which are protected under federal communication laws.

Gatehouse said AMI Radio, which operates a business on Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach, hopes to put up a 9-foot antenna to allow it to broadcast beyond the current limited range, and the current ordinance has prohibited AMI Radio from doing so. He said that for a small business to meet the terms of the ordinance, it would cost in excess of $25,000.

“For a small project such as WAMI, this is extremely burdensome,” said Gatehouse. “And the fees required to satisfy Mr. Monroe would be crippling to a small business.”

Gatehouse said the city’s ordinance is a “poor piece of legislation” that complicates the process and possibly violates federal law.

“It is my opinion there is a clear conflict of interest here,” he said. “And some are saying this situation smacks of a back-room deal, blatant cronyism and does not best serve the people or business community of this city.”

Gatehouse called for a four-point solution.

Sever all ties with Monroe, issue a request for proposal for a professional engineer, repeal the current ordinance and “draft a new ordinance in keeping with the national standards modified for our specific needs,” he said.

Parks has accused the city of maneuvering outside of the Florida Sunshine Law, but Gatehouse said the previous process was the one that did not receive proper public scrutiny. His suggestions would be done in the open where it belongs, he said.

Gatehouse concluded by saying he would bring forth motions on his suggestions at a future meeting.

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