Community center offers accountability, some records

A model of the city pier design by Schimberg Group depicts the proposed addition of extended roofing and a trellis facing Tampa Bay at the T-end of the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Graphic: Courtesy Schimberg Group

The Center of Anna Maria Island is still saying it isn’t subject to Florida’s public records laws.

However, in a March 5 letter to the city of Anna Maria, center lawyer Scott Rudacille said the center recognizes the “unique relationship” between the city and the center. He said the center will commit to transparency and provide financial and operating records.

In August 2017, Rudacille wrote a letter to Rachel Fugate, a lawyer representing The Islander newspaper, claiming the center is exempt from Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws.

In that letter, Rudacille claimed the city of Holmes Beach and Manatee County both made more substantial annual donations than the city of Anna Maria.

Rudacille said then that the center “does not represent the privatization of an essential government service nor does it serve as an alter ego for the city. … Under these facts, we do not believe a court would deem the center to be an agent of any local government, including the city.”

Mayor Dan Murphy said March 8 that after he received the first letter, he found it “difficult to … recommend any funding for the community center.”

The delivery of the second letter addressed his concerns by committing to transparency and acknowledging the center’s “unique” relationship with the city, he said.

Murphy said the letter convinced him the city could resume a financial relationship with the center.

“From my perspective, this covers this issue,” he said.

Murphy said the center, which helps meet the recreational needs for the city’s comprehensive plan and sits on a large piece of city property with a $1 annual lease, is dependent on the city. Rudacille’s letter acknowledges that dependence, he said.

However, the mayor asked if the letter alone would hold up in court.

City attorney Becky Vose said a resolution passed by the center board would be her recommended solution.

Commission Chair Doug Copeland said he didn’t have “the confidence” Murphy had after reading the letter, and a resolution would make him feel “much more comfortable.”

David Zaccagnino, chair of the center board, addressed the commission and said he would be comfortable with bringing a resolution to the board.

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