Flashback 2013: The year in review

Compiled from The Islander archives

As 2013 draws to a close, The Islander looks back at a year of highs and lows, celebrations and tragedies, welcomes and farewells.

This week: January through June. Next week: July through December.



• HB mayor to look for permanent police chief: The new year began with Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti announcing a formal search for a permanent police chief after the departure of longtime Chief Jay Romine.

• Pam Leckie, Roser pantry honored with Islander of the Year: The Islander newspaper honored Holmes Beach resident Pam Leckie and the Roser Food Pantry with the Islander of the Year award for their devotion to helping island residents.

• BB mayor offers emotional new year’s wish: Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy, thinking about the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, opened the first city commission meeting of 2013 with a new year’s wish: “That we will all strive in the new year to bring an atmosphere of cooperation, positive thinking and friendliness to our paradise and leave the negativity back in 2012.”

• HB building official resigns: Holmes Beach building official John Fernandez severed contractual ties with the city, leaving no one at city hall to sign permits. In a letter to Mayor Carmel Monti, Fernandez said he’d fulfilled the intent of the short-term position for which he was contracted.

• BB Scenic Waves stalled: The Bradenton Beach Scenic Waves Partnership Committee was scheduled to hold its annual election of officers in March, but nominations at a Jan. 7 meeting at city hall stalled due to a lack of commitment to serve.

• HB enacts R-2 building moratorium: Holmes Beach city commissioners — who had debated, studied and set the foundation for a building moratorium in the Residential-2 district for much of 2012, some even before they took office — made it official Jan. 8. The moratorium was retroactive to Dec. 25, 2012.

• AM mayor calls times ‘critical’ for city: Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn urged people to attend a January meeting when commissioners were to discuss ordinances that would tie parking spaces at family residences with the number of bedrooms and also examine living-area limits for residences. “If we want to maintain our quality of life, we need to take control before we are flooded with multiple bedroom houses that can be rented to two or three families, or 10-20 people, at the same time,” the mayor warned.

• Mote reports slight red tide: Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota issued a red tide report Jan. 18 and said it found only “slight respiratory irritation” among beachgoers tested at Coquina Beach.

• Commission rejects earlier motion to halt vacation rentals: Anna Maria commissioners meeting in a special session Jan. 29 and voted 3-1 to rescind a motion the commission passed Jan. 24 that halted all vacation rentals of less than 30 days in the Residential-1 zone.

• AMITW releases 2 rehabbed sea turtles: Two sea turtles were returned to the water Jan. 23 with helping hands from Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox and volunteer Skip Coyne. “Marsha,” a juvenile female Kemp’s ridley turtle and a young adult loggerhead male named “Stu” were released into the Gulf of Mexico at Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.

• Free park enhancements offered to Anna Maria: Commissioner Gene Aubry was approached by a “constituent” who requested anonymity and wanted to look at one of several plans drawn by Aubry for a park on the city’s six lots on Pine Avenue. Aubry said the constituent then offered to pay for all plants, benches, sidewalks and lighting if the commission approved the plan.

• Girl Scouts to ask Holmes Beach to bring back outdoor concerts: Girl Scout Troop 316 engaged in the political process in Holmes Beach Jan. 22, sharing their concerns about the cancellation of Concerts in the Park. They gave the city petitions signed by more than 100 people seeking to bring back the outdoor festivals at the city field.

• Holmes Beach adopts LAR in duplex zone: With a sliding scale that will allow slightly more living space for future homes on small lots, a living-area-to-lot size ordinance limiting homes to .34 living area was passed into law for the Residential-2 zone in Holmes Beach.

• City hall overflows as AM commission reverses rental limits: Anna Maria commissioners were quick to put their gears in reverse Jan. 29, rescinding their Jan. 24 action to enforce 30-day minimum residential rentals. The 3-1 vote at the emergency meeting called by Commission Chair John Quam allows vacation rental homes to operate as before Jan. 24.

• Center mortgage down, donations decline: Acting Anna Maria Island Community Center executive director Scott Dell told the board of directors that after 2012 revenues and expenses, the center’s $4.5 million mortgage was down to $1.5 million. On the negative side, Dell said donations and revenue fell by $53,000 in 2012.


Anna Maria Elementary School first-grader Juliet Greene finishes strong in the Dolphin Dash 1-mile walk/run. Two races on the streets of Holmes Beach started and finished Jan. 12 at Anna Maria Elementary School.


A male loggerhead sea turtle was cold-stunned in the Atlantic Ocean in New England waters and rehabbed at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring executive director Suzi Fox took “Stu” to Dunedin Jan. 23 to be released back into the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photo: Mark Young


• AM halts all building permits: At a Feb. 6 meeting, Anna Maria commissioners voted 3-2 to halt the issuance of all building permits until a moratorium ordinance was enacted.

• BB hangs up on cell tower planner: The strained relationship between Bradenton Beach and the Center for Municipal Solutions came to an end Feb. 8 with notification the city will repeal its cellular communications tower ordinance.

• Shore resignation accepted: In one of the quickest actions of the Feb. 3 Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage meeting in Cortez, the resignation of Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court R.B. “Chips” Shore from the FISH board of directors was unanimously approved.

• County officials aim to relieve tourism stress: Manatee County tourism officials said they were looking to attract more visitors to the county’s east side to ease the strain of tourism on Anna Maria Island, particularly during the winter-spring tourist season.

• Holmes Beach continues private appraisals for remodels: Hoping to encourage one-story home remodels, Holmes Beach commissioners turned away from using values from the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office and instead let stand the more flexible “market value” definition that includes private appraisals.

• Galvano considers rental statute: Concerns about House Bill 883 — a state law widely criticized for usurping home rule authority with respect to rentals — dominated a Feb. 28 town hall meeting in Holmes Beach featuring state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. “I’ve come to the conclusion that the status quo is not working,” Galvano said.



Chris LeGore of Holmes Beach has his kayak and gear ready to go as he and other members of Heroes on the Water planned for a February outing with wounded veterans. They planned to tour inshore waters and nature preserves. LeGore is assistant coordinator of the Bradenton/Sarasota chapter of Heroes on the Water. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin



Carol Cary of Anna Maria watches AME second-grader Evan Christenson read to her poodle, Lucy, in the school’s media center during a reading session in February. The school partners with Therapy Dogs Inc., to help children read with ease.



Amanda Varner, 24, of Sanford, N.C., was charged in February with multiple felonies after a chase ended in Holmes Beach with Varner crashing into the Bradenton Beach police cruiser driven by Officer Eric Hill. Islander Photo: Courtesy Joan McArthur



• Neighbor urges Tidemark site plan revocation: Going into the March continued hearing on the site plan for Tidemark Lodge — now Mainsail AMI LLLP — neighbor Lance Spotts, who has opposed the project since 2001, was pulling a punch. On behalf of Spotts, attorney Stephen W. Thompson wrote to the city, demanding the abandoned project be revoked and the property owner immediately brought into compliance with code requirements.

• Officer injured in vehicle crash: A Bradenton Beach police officer was in fair condition March 4 after a head-on vehicle collision March 2 with a fleeing suspect from North Carolina. Amanda L. Varner, 24, of Sanford, N.C., was charged with multiple felonies.

• Lack of support kills BB gateway project: Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler expressed disappointment after a March 7 capital improvement projects meeting that effectively killed her effort to beautify the city’s gateway at Cortez Road and Gulf Drive. Breuler was authorized via consensus to pursue the landscaping project in September 2012.

• New city position created, appointed by Holmes Beach mayor: Holmes Beach volunteer Mary Buonagura was hired by Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti to a newly created city position as a human resource specialist.

• BB to submit five BP funding projects: No one was sure how much money would be awarded in the 2010 BP Deep Horizon oil spill litigation, but municipalities were lining up last spring to spend it. Bradenton Beach announced plans to submit at least five projects.

• HB man sentenced to 8 years on porn charges: Former Holmes Beach resident Ronald Littlehale pleaded no contest and was 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.

• Holmes Beach OKs hens: Commissioners approved March 12 the final reading of the amendment to the city’s ordinance that prohibits farm animals in residential zones. The change allows up to four chickens per household.

• Lakewood Ranch resort tax collections rival AMI’s: Just four months into the fiscal year, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau saw a 13.1 percent rise in resort tax collections for 2012-13 from unincorporated Manatee County, primarily the Lakewood Ranch area.

• Holmes Beach to review use of city field: Holmes Beach commissioners at their March 21 work session agreed with a suggestion by Mayor Carmel Monti to take a look at how city property is rented. He said he thought the city field might be “overused” by nonprofit organizations.

• Ex-islander sentenced to 15 to life: A Lomita, Calif., chef who killed his wife and boiled her body in his restaurant’s kitchen was sentenced March 22 to spend 15 years to life in prison. David Viens, 49, was convicted of second-degree murder for killing his 39-year-old wife, Dawn. They both had lived on the island and operated a restaurant in Bradenton Beach.

• HB chief locked out: Over the Easter holiday, while Holmes Beach city offices were closed, Mayor Carmel Monti ordered the lock changed on the police chief’s office, essentially barring interim Police Chief Dale Stephenson, a 26-year veteran of the force, from his office. Soon after, the mayor named the new chief — Longboat Key Police Lt. Bill Tokajer.


At the Anna Maria City Pier, spring break doesn’t necessarily signal hoards of college kids, but fishers and diners multiply in numbers and the boards get plenty of use, even on a cold March 12. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin



• TripAdvisor names AMI 4th best domestic island: Anna Maria Island was the No. 4 island vacation destination in the United States on TripAdvisor.com’s annual Traveler’s Choice Awards.

• BB pier restaurant behind on lease payments: City officials revealed at a commission meeting that Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant on the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier was about $50,000 behind in rental payments to the city.

• ‘Busiest ever’ tourist season winds down: The first quarter of 2013 was the busiest tourist season islanders had ever seen. The numbers of visitors and accommodation occupancy figures seemed likely to set records.

• Public comment sought for AM park proposal: Anna Maria commissioners asked for more public input on a proposed park, consisting of live oak trees, a grass lawn, 15 parking spaces and restrooms at the corner of Pine Avenue and Bay Boulevard North.

• Holmes Beach commissioners square off over chief: What was supposed to be an informal celebratory swearing in ceremony for new Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer turned hostile at a commission meeting. Commissioners had voted 4-1 to accept the mayor’s recommendation and hire him over HBPD veteran Dale Stephenson. The dissenter was Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who presented past disciplinary issues in Tokajer’s personnel file that included covering for an officer who pointed a gun at his wife’s head, numerous at-fault traffic accidents and hindering a police brutality investigation.

• 5-year-old boy found dead: A weekend search for a boy who went missing April 20 after wandering away from a family gathering and taking a jump into the waters of Longboat Pass at Coquina Beach ended April 22. Lomontea Taylor, 5, was found dead in an apparent drowning.

• Center behind in funding: The Anna Maria Island Community Center board of directors got some bad news at their April 19 meeting about the upcoming May 18 black-tie gala. The center’s biggest fundraiser, less than four weeks away, was behind at least $42,000 in ticket sales.

• Mainsail attorney files petition for relief: Attorney Robert Lincoln, representing the Mainsail Lodge development group, filed a petition of relief with the city of Holmes Beach. The petition recalled prior resolutions and ordinances passed to accommodate the development plan before Mainsail’s purchase of the property. The original development, Tidemark Lodge, went into bankruptcy.

• Parking ‘yes,’ restrooms ‘no’ for Anna Maria park: By a 3-2 vote, Anna Maria commissioners approved a park and parking plan for the vacant land owned by the city at the east end of Pine Avenue, but they rejected providing public restrooms at the park.

• Island retail sales soar during ‘greatest ever’ season: A record number of visitors to Anna Maria Island during the February-April period helped retail sales follow their accommodation cousins to seasonal success. Direct spending by visitors to the island during the period totaled just under $300,000.

• Cortez Bridge hearing draws opinions: “We came here to get opinions, not give them,” said Brian Williams of the Florida Department of Transportation, opening a DOT meeting on the future of the bridge. The DOT took comments and suggestions on what to do with the aging Cortez Bridge from the estimated 200 people who came and went during the three-hour meeting.



Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale talks to lifeguards April 22 while awaiting the arrival of the medical examiner. A 5-year-old boy drowned April 20 after swimming in the waters of Longboat Pass. Islander Reporter: Mark Young


• Carleton case turned over to feds: The HBPD announced that Michael Carleton, formerly of Coast Line Realtors, was under investigation by the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Department of Justice. Carleton lost his real estate license in March following a three-count complaint related to a $10,000 escrow deposit paid to Carleton in 2012 for a property in Holmes Beach.

• Wedding festival spending grows: They came from as far as Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Canada. And many more future brides and grooms came from Tampa and Orlando for the sixth annual Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Wedding Festival held May 5.

• HB mayor reports weapon stolen: An HBPD report said Mayor Carmel Monti was the victim of a vehicle burglary that resulted in the theft of a .38 caliber handgun from his 2001 Toyota SUV. Monti told police the $700 revolver was between his car seats and covered with a cloth.

• Island official seeks greater share of resort taxes: Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn told county officials she’d like to see more resort tax revenues returned to island cities to help with infrastructure needs to accommodate visitors.

• BB terminates Rotten Ralph’s pier lease: In a May 17 special meeting, Bradenton Beach commissioners unanimously voted to terminate the lease of Historic Bridge Street Pier concessionaire Dave Russell, operator of Rotten Ralph’s Restaurant on the pier for the past five years.

• Swift action promised against HB short-term rentals: Holmes Beach Commission Chair Jean Peelen promised swift action would be taken against Anna Maria Vacations, a company using annamaria.com to advertise rental units for less than seven days in the R-2 and R-1 districts.

• Commissioners agree to revise Anna Maria liquor ordinance: Anna Maria commissioners agreed May 23 to change the city liquor ordinance prohibiting restaurants that opened after 1987 from selling mixed drinks and alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine. Waterfront Restaurant owner Jason Suzor proposed the change.

• AM commission chair resigns: Anna Maria Commission Chair John Quam dealt a shock to fellow commissioners and the large gallery of concerned citizens attending the May 23 city meeting at city hall. Quam resigned, announcing that he was moving from the city.

• AME parents protest budget cuts: Local parent Karen Riley-Love started an online petition and a Facebook page titled Manatee County Schools: Teacher Eliminations Are Not An Option to protest budget cuts in Manatee County schools.

• Active 2013 hurricane season predicted: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an active season, reporting a 70-percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms.

• Holmes Beach unplugs outdoor music: Following a consensus by commissioners, musicians playing outdoors were required to unplug in compliance with a city ordinance, and HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer was directed to enforce the law.



U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, left, listens to Ed Natkie, right, of the Mount Vernon community near Cortez and others following a town hall meeting May 11 at Holmes Beach City Hall. Janet and Bill Mixon, center, of Anna Maria wait to greet the congressman. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy



Some Anna Maria Elementary students and their parents and family members gather to protest the Manatee County School District’s teacher cuts in May. Islander Photo: Courtesy Karen Riley-Love


• HBPD to crack down on illegal street parking: After a hectic Memorial Day weekend, HBPD Chief Bill Tokajer said enforcing illegal parking was going to be taken seriously as a safety issue. “This weekend was very bad,” the chief said. “We’ve put up ‘no parking’ signs on the north side of Manatee (Avenue), but people were not just parking on the right of way, they were parking on the sidewalks and in the bike lanes.”

• TS Andrea wipes out sea turtle, shorebird nests: Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring confirmed 50 sea turtle nests as of June 7, but lost 15 nests to the storm surge created by Tropical Storm Andrea. The storm also washed out shorebird nests on the island.

• Affaire revenue fails expectation: The Anna Maria Island Community Center’s May 18 gala, An Island Affaire, raised about $160,000, amounting to a $40,000 shortfall from what assistant executive director Scott Dell projected in March to the board.

• AM commission welcomes former P&Z chair to dais: Anna Maria has a new city commissioner. With the withdrawal of Carol Carter’s application for the Anna Maria City Commission to complete the remaining five months of John Quam’s term, only one applicant remained — Doug Copeland.

• HB petition to allow tree house gains momentum: Holmes Beach City Hall, Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, owners of the now viral tree house at 103 29th St. N., decided that rather than fight city hall, they would legislate to keep the structure. They began circulating a petition among registered voters calling for a vote on a special ordinance to allow them to keep their tree house.

• Mainsail-HB mediation brings progress: Progress appeared to be made in the June 21 mediation efforts between the city of Holmes Beach and the Mainsail Lodging and Development team at CrossPointe Fellowship, 8605 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. The two sides met as part of an initial mediation process following a 3-2 vote in March to revoke the Mainsail site plan.

• Hunt for pier restaurateur, lengthy process: Bradenton Beach Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said the request for proposal process to have a new tenant in place at the Historic Bridge Street Pier will be a lengthy one. Commissioners and four potential tenants met at the site of the former Rotten Ralph’s June 20 to conduct a walk-through of the restaurant.

• Island officials call for input on traffic: Nothing was off the table at a June 19 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting when the topic came to relieving traffic congestion on the island. From tollbooths to the creation of party buses, many ideas were discussed, but elected officials from Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key said they want more ideas from the public.

• Half-cent sales tax fails at the polls: The proposed half-cent sales tax that would have helped pay for indigent health care while possibly relieving property owners’ burden with an estimated 26 percent property tax decrease died in a June 18 referendum.

• State rep says HB 883 won’t be repealed: State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said June 27 at an Anna Maria city meeting that he wasn’t holding out hope that HB 883, restricting some rights by local government to regulate rental units, would be repealed.

• Anna Maria moves forward with park plan: Frustration turned to celebration for some at a June 27 city meeting when commissioners voted to accept a park design for the six vacant lots on Pine Avenue at Bay Boulevard after months of stalled discussion.

• CrossPointe hopes to bring community to unity: The pastor of CrossPointe Fellowship reached out beyond a church committee to community organizations and leaders in search of ideas to bring islanders together for an event to inspire unity in 2013.


Holmes Beach Police Officer Joshua Fleischer stands ready for duty and because of his service, a life was saved in November. For his actions, Fleischer will receive the Congressional Law Enforcement Life Preserver Award. Islander Photo: Mark Young


Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler and her husband Billy Crider couldn’t celebrated at their June 16 wedding near Palma Sola Bay. The couple were married during a small ceremony with family and friends in attendance. Islander Photo: Mark Young


At Holmes Beach Scentral Park dog park, a section was fenced off for small dogs in late spring. Islander Photo: Mark Young


Bradenton Beach public works employees secure a boat that broke anchor and crashed into the Historic Bridge Street Pier June 6 during the brush by Tropical Storm Andrea in the Gulf of Mexico. No one was aboard the vessel. Islander Photo: Mark Young


Esther Williams, the swimming champion and star of Technicolor musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, died June 6 at the age of 91. Williams starred in a number of films that featured her aquatic skills, including “On an Island with You,” which was filmed in part on Anna Maria Island. The 1948 movie co-starred Ricardo Montalban, as well as Peter Lawford, Cyd Charisse and Jimmy Durante. The film, set in the South Pacific, is about a movie star pursued by a handsome Naval officer.

Next issue: July through December, the year in review.

Also next week, The Islander names the Islander of the Year. Stay tuned.

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