Monthly Archives: November 2016

Island traffic meets spring break, road work, tall boats

With traffic already heavy on Anna Maria Island for tourist season, spring break the week of March 10-16 brought more vehicles to the island, especially with fairly decent weather, said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale.

Additionally, Manatee County is creating a nature preserve along Manatee Avenue near Perico Bay. Trucks are being loaded with fill from the project and a flagging operation is in place to halt traffic in both directions while the trucks exit the project, he noted.

A Bradenton police cruiser with lights flashing sits on the south side of Manatee Avenue at the project entrance and motorists always slow when they see a police cruiser flashing its lights.

“They don’t want people speeding through this area, so when drivers see a police car flashing, they slow down and ‘rubber neck’ to see what’s up. What’s up is nothing but a police cruiser with flashing lights,” Speciale said. “But it works.”

It just makes getting on and off Anna Maria Island via Manatee Avenue that much slower during spring break, the chief said.

A traffic problem in Bradenton Beach is launched each time the Cortez drawbridge goes up to allow boat traffic to pass.

“With the spring break crowd, people coming from Longboat Key and motorists going south to Cortez Road, raising the Cortez draw create incredible traffic backups. Remember, the only way off Longboat Key is by bridge, either going north or south. I’ve said it before, but everyone driving on the island needs to remain calm and we’ll get through this fine,” Speciale said.

Spring break for area public schools ended March 15 and most Florida public universities had spring break the same week.

With Easter on March 31 this year, Speciale said he expected some people would return north after that holiday.

“After the Easter holiday is traditionally a time when some people start heading back north. If Easter were in late April, many would stay through the month before leaving. With Easter coming early, I think traffic on the island will start to clear out this year after March,” the chief said.

Spring break by the day on Anna Maria Island

Spring has sprung on Anna Maria Island as evidenced by the crowds gathering on the beach to enjoy the best the island has to offer of sun and sea.

Manatee County public schools and many Florida universities were on spring break March 11-15.

A look at Anna Maria Island spring break, day by day, March 11-15.

 

Monday, March 11

A sunny day with the temperature topping 72-plus degrees brought droves of beachgoers to the Manatee Public Beach and the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Many of the young people on the beach said they lived in either Manatee or Hillsborough counties.

 

Tuesday, March 12

Mother Nature didn’t cooperate for spring breakers or island businesses. A high of 59 and a cold wind from the north kept away all but the hardiest of beachgoers. Some headed to the Anna Maria City Pier Restaurant, while the Manatee Public Beach was nearly deserted.

 

Wednesday, March 13

Temperatures on Anna Maria Island were in the high 60s to low 70s — warm enough to bring spring breakers and visitors to the Manatee Public Beach. A cold wind from the northeast kept many people off the bay beaches in Anna Maria, while the Gulf of Mexico shoreline was better protected from the chilly breeze. On days like this, beachgoers hug the sea oats to stay out of the wind.

 

Thursday, March 14

Despite temperatures in the mid-to-upper 60s and a northeast wind that brought the wind chill temp to the mid-50s, beachgoers still headed to Manatee Public Beach and the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe. The cold wind hit harder on the north end of the island.

The Sandbar Restaurant, 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria, saw outdoor dining diminish, although some customers braved the chilly winds. Some hardy folks took advantage of the sunny skies to lounge nearby the restaurant or take in the sun at the outdoor bar.

Even with the wind, quite a few visitors took the walk to the end of the Anna Maria City Pier Restaurant, 100 Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, although the beaches on both sides of the pier were vacant.

 

Friday, March 15

An east wind kept the wind-chill factor on the Tampa Bay side of the island in the mid-50s, but at Manatee Public Beach and the AMI Beach Cafe, people found pleasant conditions and temps in the mid-60s. There was plenty of volleyball played on the beach on the final weekday of spring break. Many beachgoers said they were from Tampa.

 

Weekend, March 16-17

The weather cooperated on the weekend and the beaches were filled to capacity as far as one could see. Warm sun, almost no breeze, and temps in the high 70s showed off Anna Maria Island in all its sun-loving glory.

BB to submit five BP funding projects

No one is sure how much money be awarded in the 2010 BP Deep Horizon oil spill litigation, but municipalities are already lining up to spend it.

It’s been estimated that Manatee County’s share of a yet-to-be-determined settlement could be $4 million-$19 million. States have a choice in how to disperse the money, and Florida has chosen to disburse the funds directly to the Gulf Coast counties impacted by the disaster.

Louisiana, meanwhile, opted to absorb its share of the BP settlement directly into state coffers.

Manatee County Natural Resources Department director Charlie Hunsicker has asked local municipalities to submit a list of projects that meet the criteria of how the spill impacted communities.

Hunsicker wants project proposals in place to be graded on the criteria and will create a priority list in which to disburse funds once they are received.

Bradenton Beach will submit at least five projects, according to building official Steve Gilbert, who updated commissioners at their March 7 capital improvement projects meeting.

“Congress has already appropriated monies from the RESTORE Act, but there is no money there until the lawsuit is settled,” said Gilbert. “In the meantime, Charlie wants to know about our proposed projects.”

Criteria to be eligible for RESTORE Act funding include dune restoration, environmental protection projects and beach nourishment.

Gilbert said the city’s best chance for funding is with the John Chappie Park, 1400 Gulf Drive N. He estimates an $80,000 cost to create a dune, walkover, and a boardwalk with kiosks along the path to educate visitors about sea turtles and other wildlife.

“John Chappie Park is probably our most ambitious project, and our most valuable,” he said. “We figured this is a good time as any to see if we can get it on the priority list. It’s perfect for an environmental display project.”

Katie Pierola Park, 2206 Gulf Drive N., also is a proposed project.

Gilbert said additional beach renourishment and the establishment of dunes and a chickee hut is part of the proposal, “but that’s not set in stone. It’s just an idea of something we want to do there.”

The estimated cost is $85,000.

Thirdly, Gilbert said the beach access at 11th Street North needs clarification. He said a 1993 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map shows it as an access, “but it kind of meanders into private property.”

For $50,000 of RESTORE Act funding, Gilbert said signage, landscaping and a clear defining of the beach access would help keep people from straying on private property.

“That access isn’t even identified right now,” he said. “It’s a nice place to put in a grade level entrance and a dune walkover onto the beach.”

Gilbert said his fourth proposal is an overall restoration and enhancement of city beach accesses. He estimates the cost at $160,000.

“It would be to restore public beach access as far as identifying those accesses and maybe adding dune walkovers, as well as identifying parking spaces that might be available,” he said.

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse has previously suggested the city look seriously at the Cortez Beach parking situation. Gatehouse has proposed diagonal parking that would force traffic one way back onto Gulf Drive.

Gatehouse said he would like that project to be among the RESTORE Act proposals.

“My experience in life is when you don’t ask the questions, the answer is always no,” he said. “I’d hate to be here a year from now and ask why we didn’t ask for it when we had the chance.”

Gilbert was given a consensus to proceed with submitting five projects to Manatee County.

Holmes Beach man sentenced to 8 years on porn charges

Former Holmes Beach resident Ronald Littlehale pleaded no contest and has been sentenced to eight years in the Florida Department of Corrections.

Littlehale was charged with numerous counts of unlawful solicitation of minors and transmission of pornography after his November 2011 arrest at his Holmes Beach residence.

Littlehale, 64, resided on the 7600 block Gulf Drive at the time of his arrest.

With his public defender at the jail, Littlehale waived his rights to stand trial.

After his plea, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge James S. Parker found Littlehale guilty on 13 counts of pornography-related charges, according to 12th circuit assistant state attorney Rebeccah Bragg.

The sentence will be credited for 329 days of jail time served, she said.

The Dec. 18, 2018, release date also will be adjusted by “gain time,” a tool used to encourage satisfactory inmate behavior and motivate work and DOC program participation, according to the department’s website.

He also must register as a sex offender upon his release from prison and pay $950 in court costs, according to Bragg, who attended the court proceedings earlier this month in the judge’s chambers.

Littlehale elected to attend court by video from the DeSoto County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest.

Littlehale is being held in the DOC Central Florida Reception Center in Orange County.

His arrest stemmed from a sting operation by the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office and a central Florida task force on Internet-related crimes. Authorities followed a tip that Littlehale “wanted to talk to young girls” in DeSoto County on the web, according to Bragg.

Littlehale spent nearly a year at the jail from the time of his arrest to his October sentencing.

“It really was the complexity of the case,” she said about the length of time it took to reach trial.

“We filed our discovery, and turned over hundreds of conversations and reports, and it took time” for Littlehale’s public defender, “to go over them with him to make sure he understood the charges against him,” she said.

Thirteen counts relating to unlawful solicitation of minors and transmission of pornography were filed by the state attorney at the 12th Circuit Desoto office after his Nov. 9 arrest in Holmes Beach.

At a Jan. 10 arraignment, Littlehale pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of transmission of harmful material to minors by an electronic device, two counts of obscene communication/soliciting a child for any unlawful sexual conduct by computer and one count of electronic transmission of pornography.

Nineteen additional counts of possession of child pornography were recommended by the Holmes Beach Police Department in January following a search of Littlehale’s home, according to HBPD Detective Sgt. Brian Hall.

Bragg said those charges would have to be addressed in Manatee County.

The recommended charges were sent by the HBPD to the 12th Circuit Manatee state attorney office after a crime lab in Tampa examined Littlehale’s computer and cell phone, according to Hall.

Assistant state attorney Pamela Buha said she was not aware of the HBPD’s recommended charges.

According to a Jan. 26 report, the HBPD alleges unlawful possession with the intent to promote 16 still images and three video images of child pornography.

Holmes Beach clucks it up, hens OK’d

Got chickens?

If not, Holmes Beach residents can have them now.

Commissioners approved March 12 the final reading amending the city’s ordinance that prohibits farm animals in residential zones. The change allows up to four chickens per household.

Commission Chair Jean Peelen opened the floor to public comment, but there no objections to the amendment were heard.

There was, however, one objection from the dais. Commissioner David Zaccagnino moved to approve the second reading with Commissioner Marvin Grossman seconding the motion. Peelen and Commissioner Judy Titsworth voted for the amendment, while Commissioner Pat Morton had doubts and showed them by making a protest demonstration.

Morton pulled out a stuffed rooster from under his seat, complete with a crowing soundtrack. The unusual protest drew plenty of laughs, but didn’t convince his fellow commissioners to change their minds or their vote.

Morton voted against the amendment, saying, “I think we are opening up a can of worms here.”

The motion passed by a 4-1 vote, but there are some restrictions to raising chickens in Holmes Beach. Although Morton displayed a stuffed rooster at the dais, roosters are not allowed.

The ordinance prohibits the slaughtering of chickens and selling chicken products, including eggs. Chickens may not be kept within 10 feet of an adjacent property line and must be at least 25 feet away from a neighboring home.

Homeowners wishing to raise chickens are responsible for odors and must ensure the animals are well cared for and both the animal and its feed are free of pests.

In other matters, commissioners unanimously approved the reappointment of Dan Hardy and Sean Murphy to the police pension board.

Acting Holmes Beach Police Chief Dale Stephenson has served on the board for 25 years, but is stepping down in April. Stephenson said he commends those who sought to be appointed to the board, but said the pension process is complicated and now was not the time to lose the experience Hardy and Murphy provide.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino, commission liaison to the pension board, praised the board’s work and the pension plan.

“Our police pension comes out smelling like a rose despite the worst recession since the Great Depression,” he said. “Other cities have had to go into savings and put millions into pensions because those pension boards have not done a good job.

“Our pension program is 100 percent funded and it will remain that way with those two remaining on the board and David remaining as liaison,” said Stephenson. “It’s very important to keep that plan solvent and moving forward.”

Peelen said Holmes Beach is rich in qualified volunteers, praising current board members and others seeking to serve the city. Zaccagnino moved to reappoint Murphy and Hardy to the pension board, which was seconded by Morton. The motion passed 5-0.

HB mayor ‘hires’ outside contractor, fires one staff member

Some members of the public whispered that the city of Holmes Beach violated its city charter by hiring a city manager, which is contradictory to the charter mandate.

Island papers reported Mary Buonagura — previously a volunteer, said to be assessing employees and writing job descriptions for workers at city hall — was hired to fill a newly created city position as a human resource specialist.

Holmes Beach Commission Chairperson Jean Peelen said the assessment was somewhat erroneous at the city’s March 12 meeting.

“What we have done is contract with someone from the outside for certain services,” said Peelen. “She is not a city employee and will not receive city benefits.”

Mayor Carmel Monti hired Buonagura in early March and sought the commission’s blessing March 7. He presented her contract to the commission March 12.

“We didn’t have a contract when we discussed this before,” he said. “Now we have one and I’m looking for the commission to sign off on this, so we can put her in place.”

Commissioner Judy Titsworth moved to execute the contract. Commissioner Marvin Grossman seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.

The contract refers to Buonagura as a “contractor” with duties, effective immediately, to review and update city employee job descriptions; update policy and procedure manuals; conduct work-flow studies; create tools to enhance communication between employees; and develop professional ethical standards.

Other duties include the development of organizational charts, establish a grievance procedure for city employees and “perform all other duties as assigned by the mayor,” according to the contract.

Buonagura reports directly to the mayor and has an office at city hall. Her six-month contract will expire Aug. 31, with the city reserving the right to terminate with cause. Her salary is $2,500 a month but she will not receive city benefits.

Monti praised Buonagura’s volunteer work for the city over the past few months, assisting him by interviewing city staff to improve efficiency.

After the meeting, Monti acknowledged the position was not in the city’s 2012-13 budget. But, he said his departments across the board are under budget, and since Buonagura will be assisting all departments, “her salary will be paid for with funds from every department.”

Monti said he reserves the right to create a position such as this one without having to undergo the typical process that calls for a request for proposal, and to undergo a bid process for the job.

“She’s not a department head,” he said. “If this was a department head position then we would have to go through that process, but I’m authorized to make this decision on my own.”

Monti said he sought and received the commission’s blessing, and got approval of Buonagura’s contract.

The contract for services comes amid some criticism of Monti, including a lack of response to inquiries.

The Islander also learned from an anonymous source that code enforcement clerk Jan Gorman, a longtime employee, offered the mayor her resignation March 15 with a termination date in May, but was allegedly told to collect her personal items and immediately leave city hall with a police escort.

The Islander also learned from its anonymous source the mayor may have imposed a gag order on employees. Monti did not return a phone inquiry at press time about Gorman or the alleged prohibition on speaking to the press.

Bradenton man arrested on felony drug charges

A 19-year-old Bradenton man was arrested March 11 on felony drug charges after allegedly admitting he was on his way to sell a friend cocaine and marijuana.

According to the probable cause affidavit, a Holmes Beach police officer initiated a traffic stop at 4600 Gulf Drive. As the officer approached the vehicle, he observed Matthew Cammilleri in the passenger seat attempting to conceal a large Crown Royal bag.

The officer observed a large amount of marijuana sticking out of the Crown Royal bag.

According to the report, police recovered 42.3 grams of marijuana, .3 grams of cocaine, a digital scale and a marijuana grinder.

Cammilleri allegedly admitted that the drugs and paraphernalia were his, and that he was en route to a friend’s house to sell him the cocaine.

According to the report, Cammilleri said he is unemployed and sells the marijuana to make a living and was going to attempt to sell the drugs to his friend, so he could pay his rent.

Cammilleri was arrested for felony possession of cocaine with intent to sell, felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

He was booked into the Manatee County jail and held on $9,500 bond. According to jail records, he posted bond March 12 and was released.

He was scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Friday, April 5, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Sandcastle comes crumbling down

A small group of curiosity seekers, including young kids more interested in the police and a tractor on the beach, watch as a sandcastle is toppled and the beachfront returned to its natural, sandy slope. Lacking anyone to take responsibility, HBPD called out a city worker to rectify what can be a dangerous situation for late-night beach strollers and joggers. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy

Holmes Beach Police Officer Chip Frappier walks up the beach from the sandcastle to await public works employee Dave Benton on a front-end loader. Frappier said the beach attraction — which he learned had been present for two days — amounts to “dangerous excavation,” adding, “that’s against the law.”