A Lomita chef who confessed to killing his wife and boiling her body for four days to dispose of her remains announced Wednesday that he will not take the witness stand to testify at his murder trial.
Asked by Judge Rand Rubin if he did not plan to testify, David Viens, 49, spoke quietly with his attorney before announcing, “Yes, that’s correct.”
Viens, who operated the Thyme Contemporary Cafe on Narbonne Avenue, is charged with killing his 39-year-old wife, Dawn Viens, who was last seen Oct. 18, 2009.
In a startling recording played for the Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Tuesday, Viens confessed to covering his wife’s mouth with duct tape to keep her quiet, panicking when he found her dead four hours later, and then cooking her body in a 55-gallon drum in his restaurant kitchen and discarding her remains in his grease trap.
Some remains, he said, were placed in garbage bags and buried in debris in a trash bin behind the business.
Viens’ attorney, Fred McCurry, announced in his opening statement to jurors that he will present an expert witness who will discuss the side
effects of taking the sleeping medication Ambien. The witness will testify Thursday.
Viens told detectives he took Ambien to sleep on Oct. 18, 2009, the night he bound his wife with duct tape and went to bed.
According to the website WebMD.com, side effects of Ambien include memory loss and “mental/mood/behavior changes,” including depression abnormal and suicidal thought, hallucinations, confusion, agitation, aggressive behavior and anxiety.
“Rarely, after taking this drug, people have gotten out of bed and driven vehicles while not fully awake (`sleep driving’),” the website says.
Others on Ambien have prepared and eaten food, made phone calls or had sex while not fully awake, often not remembering such events, the website says.
Viens’ aunt, Barbara Dwyer, briefly took the witness stand outside the presence of the jury Wednesday and invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked if she gave Ambien to Viens that day. Providing a prescription drug to someone is a felony.
The jury will not hear her testimony.
In his opening statement, McCurry told jurors they should not expect any dramatic or theatrical revelations, and not expect him to present evidence that an intruder killed Dawn Viens.
“You should not expect some kind of bombshell,” he said.
McCurry did not specifically say how he will address the two recorded confessions played for jurors on Tuesday. In the first on March 1, 2011 – a week after Viens jumped from a Rancho Palos Verdes cliff in an attempt to kill himself – Viens said he bound his wife with duct tape, awakened to find her dead, put her body in a garbage bag and discarded her in a trash bin.
Viens summoned detectives to his hospital room two weeks later and confessed to cooking the body.
One witness, Charles Negrete, a chef who interviewed for a job with Viens on Oct. 18, 2009, testified Wednesday that he did not hear Viens state, “I’ll kill that bitch.”
A previous witness, Todd Stagnitto, testified for the prosecution that he was at the restaurant with Viens and Negrete that day and heard Viens make the threat.
Negrete said he and Viens went to T.G.I. Fridays and Texas Loosey’s that night to drink.
Holmes Beach commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth should be getting answers soon from city attorney Patricia Petruff on her questions about past building department practices.
Commission Chair David Zaccagnino directed Petruff to respond to Titsworth following a request to do so by Commissioner Jean Peelen at the Sept. 11 commission meeting.
Titsworth submitted her questions to city officials in a Sept. 4 email that criticized building department practices resulting in half completed duplexes, setback encroachments, site plans without stormwater retention and ground-level remodeling in violation of local and state building codes. “They were all good questions,” said Peelen. “They were solution kinds of questions, not objections, but how-can-we-fix-this kind of questions and legal questions.”
Peelen posed a question about construction that may have mistakenly been approved, asking, “Could anything be done to stop the house from being rented and making money on the house?”
Anticipating a new city policy where the first of two units on a duplex lot is built will no longer be allowed, Titsworth asked whether a second structure can be added and whether it would be required to be attached to the existing unit. She also asked whether half-duplexes should be reclassified as single-family homes.
Titsworth also sought answers about properties where homes were built without drainage plans to collect stormwater, but a new department policy will require drainage plans with erosion control permits before construction.
And she asked about a new affidavit policy in light of the city’s problems enforcing Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines, such as the 50-percent rule and V-zone breakaway walls and flow-through vent requirements. Commissioner Pat Morton joined Peelen and Zaccagnino, agreeing that Petruff should respond to Titsworth’s questions. Commissioner Sandy Haas-Marten was absent. Commissioner John Monetti said he had no comment.
Titsworth is a candidate for city commission in the Nov. 6 election and owns Shoreline Builders with her husband. Marvin Grossman also is a commission candidate, along with incumbent Commissioners Monetti and Haas-Martens.
How FEMA’s 50 percent rule works in Holmes Beach For coastal cities such as Holmes Beach, FEMA issues guidelines to ensure homes are built with safeguards against flooding.
“There are some who think that FEMA’s the law. FEMA is not law,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger. “The city adopted its guidelines to provide flood-insurance discounts for residents.”
According to building inspector Bob Shaffer, FEMA doesn’t mandate what the city regulates, but “does an end-around,” tying a city’s insurance rating to enforcement of FEMA guidelines.
The city of Holmes Beach adopted a new FEMA flood plain ordinance in 2007 after FEMA visited the city for an audit, according to public works superintendent Joe Duennes. The so-called 50 percent rule is based on FEMA guidelines in the ordinance — now part of the Holmes Beach land development code.
An exception to the rule allows replacement if a builder elevates the home above the base flood level.
In implementing the 50 percent rule, Holmes Beach permits remodel projects if the cost does not exceed 50 percent of the home’s appraised structure value based on market value. That value is determined either by an independent certified appraisal, actual cash value or adjusted tax-assessed values and the owner’s and contractor’s affidavits attesting to project costs.
City FEMA consultant John Fernandez said there’s probably no two cities that use the same procedures to implement the 50 percent rule.
Holmes Beach provides remodelers a packet with affidavit forms and instruction sheets, including:
• Federal Guidelines for FEMA Improvement/Repair Applications, specifying items to be included and excluded in calculations.
• FEMA Permit Application Cost Breakdown Example.
• FEMA Improvements/Repair Application and Instructions, specifying how to fill out required affidavits attesting to costs by property owners and licensed contractors.
Cost affidavits have been criticized as unreliable and unrealistic.
Over the past year, Bohnenberger has been telling commissioners the 50 percent rule procedures are not working, and that when he’s asked FEMA for assistance, he is told to “just enforce your ordinance.”
Bohnenberger sent two sets of renovation plans out for independent review in July. Based on the reviews, the building department recommended denials at 303 68th St. and 111 49th St. The construction projects, however, have since come into compliance and remodeling has been allowed to continue, according to Shaffer.
City attorney Patricia Petruff told the commission in June that building officials should deny permits if cost affidavits do not appear correct.
The issue of whether a building department can question a certified appraiser was the subject of recent litigation in Sarasota County.
Due to variable appraisals, Petruff and others have suggested Holmes Beach consider eliminating the private appraiser option and use the county appraiser’s value in the calculation with a modifier to adjust for market conditions. Petruff told commissioners in June, however, that such a move would be a major policy decision.
A Lomita chef accused of killing his wife whose body has never been found told detectives that he slowly cooked his her for four days in a 55-gallon drum, boiling her body in water and discarding her remains in his restaurant’s grease pit, according to a taped confession played in court.
David Viens, 49, said he hid his wife Dawn Viens’ skull and jawbone in his mother’s attic, but a detective said he could not find it.
Viens revealed the grisly details of how he disposed of his wife’s body when he summoned detectives to his hospital room at County-USC Medical Center on March 15, 2011, three weeks after he jumped from a Rancho Palos Verdes cliff in a suicide attempt as detectives closed in.
Jurors read a transcript as Viens’ recorded statement was played at his murder trial in Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles. Viens, sitting in his wheelchair, appeared to stare straight ahead.
“I manipulated her so the face was – the face is down, and I took some – some things – like weights that we use, and I put them on the top of her body, and I just slowly cooked it and I ended up cooking her for four days,” Viens said.
“You cooked Dawn’s body for four days?” sheriff’s homicide Sgt. Richard Garcia asked.
“I cooked her four days,” he said. “I let her cool. I strained it out as I – I was in there, OK.”
Viens is charged with killing his wife, who was last seen Oct. 18, 2009.
Viens’ confession revealed details about the final hours of Dawn Viens’ life.
Viens said he had just worked 100 hours in his first week at his new restaurant, the Thyme Contemporary Cafe
on Narbonne Avenue. He went to bed tired on Oct. 17, 2009.
His wife, he said, had been using cocaine and drinking and he did not want anything to do with it. He went to bed.
When he awakened Oct. 18, 2009, he found her watching football, eating pizza and drinking beer.
Viens said he checked the restaurant’s cash receipts and found “a lot of money” was missing. He double-checked his math at his mother’s house and returned home. That night, he and Dawn ate at California Pizza Kitchen, and he went out drinking with a friend. Dawn called him, upset.
When he got home, he took an Ambien and moved a bureau in front of a door so his wife could not enter the room. But she was able to get in anyway, and raised hell with him, he said.
“So, I’m laying there and the next thing I know, she’s all over me and she’s got the light in my face, calling me all kinds of mean names and stuff,” he said. “And I keep telling her the same thing, `Just leave me alone. I just need to sleep.
I just need to sleep. Just let me sleep.”‘
Viens told detectives he got up, grabbed his wife by both hands and forced her onto the living room floor.
“I wrap her hands up real quick,” Viens said. “I wrap her feet up real quick, and I take a piece of clear duct tape – wrapping tape – and I put that over her mouth. And that was it. I said, `Good night.”‘
Viens said he awakened four hours later. Dawn was dead.
“I’m like `Dawn,”‘
Viens said. “I just freaked. I go, `Oh my God. And I go rushing out there and she’s gone.”
Viens said he asked himself how this could have happened.
“I obviously can’t bring her back to life,” Viens told detectives. “And – but what can I do? What can I do? What can I do? And that’s when I came up with the idea of cleaning the grease traps and commingling in the excess protein in those units. If you ever really looked at that, you would see where we mix up real good.”
Viens was not asked where the boiling took place, but it was implied it was at the restaurant where the grease pit was located. Restaurants use the equipment to collect used cooking grease and oil, which is later sucked away by a disposal company.
Viens said he poured seven or eight pounds of grease from the drum into his grease trap using a trash bag.
Viens told detectives he took his wife’s skull and jaw in one piece and hid it in the attic of his mother’s Torrance home.
“The whole skull and jaw came out in perfectly one piece,” he said. “That’s the only thing I didn’t want to get rid of in case I wanted to leave it somewhere.”
The rest of the remains were placed in trash bags and buried in debris in the trash bin behind his restaurant, Viens said.
“That’s the God’s honest truth,” he said.
In the earlier confession played for jurors, a seriously injured Viens told detectives on March 1, 2011, that he killed his wife by duct taping her mouth, hands and feet, and awakened to find her dead. In that statement, he said he put her body in a trash bag and threw her in a trash container behind his restaurant.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard Garcia interviewed Viens while coroner’s officials and detectives were digging his Narbonne Avenue restaurant.
In that confession, Viens said Dawn Viens wanted cocaine that day, and the experience of “doing coke together” wasn’t enjoyable.
“For some reason I just got violent,” Viens said. “Seemed like it had to deal with her stealing money.”
Garcia told Viens that investigators suspected Dawn Viens was buried in the recently renovated restaurant, but Viens told him that wasn’t true.
During cross-examination Viens’ attorney, Fred McCurry, Garcia admitted that without the confessions, investigators had recovered no evidence to find Dawn Viens or actually know how she died.
“Outside of Mr. Viens statements, you have no idea how Mrs. Viens died?” McCurry asked.
“He was the only one there,” Garcia responded.
Said Garcia: “David Viens disposed of the remains in such a way that we can’t recover anything.”
The defense is expected to begin its case on Wednesday. It’s unclear if David Viens will testify.
Murder defendant David Viens wheels himself into court for the first day of his jury trial in Los Angeles Sept. 12 on charges of killing his wife, Dawn Viens. Defense attorney Fred McCurry is at left. Photo Courtesy Sean Hiller/Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif.
The murder trial began Sept. 12 for former Holmes Beach resident David Viens, 48, in Los Angeles.
Viens is facing second degree murder after testimony in a preliminary hearing in April in which several witnesses said Viens admitted to them he killed his wife, Dawn Viens.
He attended the trial in a wheelchair.
Viens, a former Holmes Beach resident who along with wife Dawn owned Beach City Market on Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach, allegedly killed his wife in October 2009 by taping her mouth shut, according to his daughter.
Viens’ daughter from a previous marriage, Jacqueline Viens, testified Sept. 14 that after both had been drinking vodka, her father broke down and told her he had taped Dawn’s mouth shut and tied her up, and when he woke up, Dawn was dead.
Jacqueline Viens also testified her father once told her how to get rid of a body — cook it.
Her testimony set off wire stories from LA to New York City.
David and Dawn had operated the Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita, Calif., at the time of her disappearance.
But Viens has not yet revealed what he did with the body.
The couple owned a home in Holmes Beach and operated the Beach City Market in Bradenton Beach from 2002-2005.
In January 2005, police raided the Viens home and arrested David Viens on suspicion of possession of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school — Anna Maria Elementary School — possession of opium, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm.
His wife was not charged in that case, saying at the time her husband was just the “middle man” in a nationwide drug smuggling operation.
In April 2005, the Florida state’s attorney dropped all charges against Viens in exchange for evidence against others involved in the smuggling and sales operation.
The trial continues this week.
For reporter Larry Altman’s comprehensive coverage of the trial and David and Dawn Viens in the Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif., go to: www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_21536910/testimony-lomita-chef-viens-described-his-wife-mean.
Altman includes a timeline of events for the case and related photos and stories, including David Viens suicide attempt, a 100-foot cliff jump that followed a high-speed chase by law enforcement prior to his arrest on the charge of murder.
Anna Maria city commissioners agreed at their Sept. 11 budget hearing to a 2.05 ad valorem millage rate for the 2012-13 fiscal year budget, an increase of 1.41 percent from the rollback rate of 2.0214 mills.
The rollback rate is the millage rate needed to produce the same amount of income to the city as the current year’s budget.
The 2.05 millage rate amounts to a budget increase, although it is the same rate as in the 2011-12 budget. If approved, the 2012-13 budget would be $2.3 million.
City treasurer Diane Percycoe said good news came from the city’s auditors, who said that the city’s reserve account climbed from less than 30 percent of operating expenses in the 2011-12 budget to 35.9 percent in the proposed budget.
“That made me very happy because last year it was below 30 percent for the first time I can remember,” Percycoe said.
The 2012-13 budget accounts for $98,000 in payments on the city property at the end of Pine Avenue. Private funding is expected to make up the majority, if not all, of the payments, Percycoe said.
Commission Chair Chuck Webb said he didn’t want to rely totally on private donations and said the city should put some funding in the 2013-14 budget. By next year’s budget cycle, the commission should have approved a usage for the vacant land and determined if any revenue could be derived from its use.
“We’ll at least have a backup plan,” Webb said.
Private donors already have pledged $100,000 in 2012-13 toward the mortgage on the land.
In other budget business, public works superintendent George McKay is proposing the city purchase a used electric truck for $4,610. McKay bought the truck for that price after finding it for sale and realizing someone would grab the bargain before the city could take action.
The truck is a 2005 model with 7,000 miles. Similar trucks were priced in the book of used car values at $8,000, McKay said.
The funds would come from the 2011-12 budget, which has $3,000 budgeted for such purposes, leaving $1,610 to come from the 2012-13 budget.
McKay estimated that without the need for gasoline, it will take the city two years to recover the cost of the vehicle.
City attorney Jim Dye said he didn’t think anything was improper about the purchase, but would check to ensure McKay is within the bounds of proper staff action.
Percycoe also added that the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria substation has asked the city to purchase a $1,600 laser gun to track speeders. The current gun needs repairs, according to Sgt. Dave Turner.
Webb asked Percycoe to have Turner bring backup information to justify the request to the final budget hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
A plan to limit entry to the Anna Maria City Pier parking lots with a gate could eliminate the trolley stop there. Pier leaseholder Mario Schoenfelder claims in a letter to Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby that as the tenant, he has authority to fence the pier parking lots. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
The city of Anna Maria appears headed into a disagreement with its city pier tenant Mario Schoenfelder over parking at the pier — and a proposed parking lot fence.
In a Sept. 5 letter to Mayor Mike Selby, Schoenfelder claims that after reading the minutes of the Aug. 15 commission meeting, he feels he must exercise control of the parking at the pier.
Further, Schoenfelder wrote in his review of the meeting, he understands Commission Chair Chuck Webb to say, “therefore (the tenant) should do whatever is needed to ensure their use for their customers.”
Schoenfelder claims the lease gives him the authority to do that, adding, “Webb says he sees the gate request as a tenant issue.”
In another letter to Selby in early August, Schoenfelder said he would put up a gate at the city pier parking lot to ensure he had the required number of parking spaces allowed by the lease. He said there are too many times the lot is full and his customers can’t find a parking place.
The situation worsened, Schoenfelder wrote in August, after the city closed the Pine Avenue-Bay Boulevard lots across from the pier to parking.
In Schoenfelder’s Sept. 5 letter, he said that since he saw no further reference in the minutes to city pier parking, “I understand Commissioner Webb’s statement as the city’s official position.”
He wrote his understanding of the city’s position is that it’s the tenant’s business and it is the tenant’s discretion to install or not install a gated parking system.
“The tenant has the right to do whatever is needed to ensure parking for city pier visitors, including, for example, the installation of a gated parking system,” wrote Schoenfelder.
Further, he wrote, it is his understanding that the city has no objection if and when his corporation, TCPR Inc., installs such a system and the city “will not prohibit the installation of such a system.”
Schoenfelder requested a letter of no objection from the city before starting the parking lot project.
One new problem for Schoenfelder, however, is the island trolley, which did not exist when the lease was signed in 2000.
“Since this service started ‘our’ parking lot has been used as a bus stop, although there is no such regulation in the lease,” wrote Schoenfelder.
He said the current situation with the trolley stopping at the pier entrance is “unacceptable” and called for a new solution.
Webb said he read Schoenfelder’s letter and will respond.
The day dock next to the Bradenton Beach Historic Bridge Street Pier has been closed for months due to wave damage. Commissioners now have approved a plan for repairs to be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Bradenton Beach commissioners approved a final plan Sept. 12 to go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs to the day dock next to the Historic Bridge Street Pier.
The dock has remained closed for months due to maintenance issues caused by wave action and blamed on a manufacturer’s design flaw in the hinges that hold the dock sections together.
In June, Tropical Storm Debby ensured the dock’s closure as rough Sarasota Bay waters made temporary “Band-Aid” repairs impossible, according to public works director Tom Woodard.
Commissioners learned Aug. 24 that FEMA would likely fund 75 percent of the cost to repair the dock. Details on how to approach those repairs were ongoing, as commissioners and city staff discussed the dock’s future.
FEMA will typically only fund a project to restore a structure to its original design, but because FEMA engineers have acknowledged the dock’s design flaw, they approved moving forward with an alternate plan.
The cost to repair the dock is about $120,000 with an additional $41,000 to fix the design flaw. FEMA has approved 75 percent of the $120,000, with the city picking up the remaining cost.
Commissioners had eyed the possibility of reducing the dock’s size from nine sections to four or five because the remaining sections were thought to be beyond repair.
In August, Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby said if the city still wanted to reduce the dock size, the FEMA reimbursement would pay for the repairs and fix the design flaw without cost to the city.
Cosby said Sept. 12, at a one-agenda item commission meeting at city hall to address the day dock, the city had to approve the mitigated repair plan with an understanding that it was likely a permanent solution.
“You already voted that you want to reduce the dock, but FEMA has thrown in a monkey wrench,” said Cosby. “Once we remove the three sections, they can’t be put back in for five years unless the reason is an act of Mother Nature.”
Cosby said he didn’t believe replacing the removed sections was part of the city’s plan, but FEMA wanted city commissioners to take action by stating they understood the requirements.
“Anything we receive from FEMA is considered a grant, and a grant is good for five years,” said Cosby. “Another catch is that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is not going to give us another permit for those removed sections.”
Cosby said once they are gone as part of the city’s plan, they cannot be replaced as part of a new plan, where replacement sections will block the sun from hitting the bottom of the bay, inhibiting seagrass growth.
Cosby said commissioners need to know that if the plan is to remove those sections to reduce the dock size, “they are gone for good.”
The fact that FEMA was even considering reimbursing the city for repairs to the day dock, as well as the dingy dock near the BridgeTender Restaurant, came as a surprise to city staff after TS Debby.
Cosby said the city has always been told a structure over water would not be considered by FEMA.
“But the reason why FEMA is covering this is because we have never had a claim before, so it’s not being looked at as a repetitive action,” he said.
Cosby said he needed another motion from the commissioners to move forward with the plan to reduce the dock’s size with an understanding that the dock cannot be changed for five years from FEMA’s perspective, and that it is likely permanent from DEP’s perspective.
Mayor John Shaughnessy wanted to know if the costs approved by FEMA covered the removal of the four or five sections of dock.
Cosby said no, but he expects the city’s public works department to find a way to include those costs into its operating budget.
“We won’t need a crane to remove those sections,” said Cosby. “We think we can float them around to the marina and public works can use their lift to get them out of the water. After we break them down, we’ll recycle the materials that can be recycled and there is a possibility another entity might want the sections to use as an artificial reef.”
Commissioner Ed Straight motioned to approve the final plan to be submitted to FEMA. Commissioner Ric Gatehouse seconded the motion, which passed 3-0. Commissioners Jan Vosburgh and Gay Breuler were not present.
The DOT has asked Cortez residents to prepare for public meetings on replacing or rehabilitating the 55-year-old Cortez Bridge. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Several Cortez residents reported receiving phone calls from excited developers and contractors wanting to be a part of community discussions regarding the possibility of replacing the Cortez Bridge.
Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board member Linda Molto said Sept. 10 at the nonprofit’s monthly meeting, that she received a letter from the Florida Department of Transportation asking for the community to consider holding a public meeting.
DOT said in the letter that a meeting of residents, engineers and environmentalists would be prudent in discussing the possible rehabilitation and replacement of the bridge.
The DOT letter states a project consultant is being selected to determine the best options, according to Molto.
“We’ve had this happen a couple of times before,” said Molto. “If we allow them to put in a larger bridge, depending on the height, they will have to start the entrance to the bridge as far back as 123rd Street, so it would dead-end every street in between.”
Molto said she didn’t know if that was still an option, but Cortez residents know their rights as a registered historic village.
“A federal project cannot impact another federal project and we are a national registered historic district, and that’s how it stopped the last time,” she said. “We need to have everybody give us input on how they feel before we set up a meeting.”
FISH treasurer Jane von Hahmann suggested contacting DOT to first determine its timeline, and that no one should think construction would begin any time soon.
“They will be doing a project development and environmental study first and those studies take a long time, so I don’t think anything is going to happen anytime soon,” said von Hahmann. “We have time to get a little more information before we set that meeting, but we should probably think about doing it before November.”
A PD&E study was reported to be ongoing earlier this year, according to the Sarasota /Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. MPO reported in January that the study would focus on rehabilitating the 55-year-old bridge to give it another 10 years of life, if possible.
A second $1.65 million study planned for the 2012-13 fiscal year will consider the overall replacement of the bridge.
A study completed in the early1990s called for a larger, higher fixed-span bridge, but public outcry, as well as the impact it would have on the historic village of Cortez, brought that proposal to a stop.
DOT announced a new study in February and garnered immediate feedback from Manatee County Commissioners Carol Whitmore and John Chappie, who opposed a resurfacing of the 1990s proposal.
Chappie said such a project would destroy two communities, referring to Cortez and Bradenton Beach, whose residents also have expressed opposition to a larger bridge at previous public meetings.
No date has been set for public meetings.
Molto said DOT only expressed interest in having the meetings begin in the near future.
After a few hours with a facilitator Aug. 10, Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board members, at their next meeting, put aside personal differences and returned to business.
“Dedicated to the promotion, education and preservation of Cortez and Florida’s commercial fishing and other traditional maritime cultures, including the environment upon which these communities depend,” the FISH mission statement, is now a permanent fixture atop the organization’s meeting agenda, which also has been changed to accommodate a time-sensitive priority listing of topics.
FISH board members were previously known to shout one another down and jump from one topic to another at meetings, which led to a contentious atmosphere.
Manatee County Clerk of Circuit Court R.B. “Chips” Shore brought in a facilitator after last month’s meeting, when accusations of board members vandalizing fence work in the FISH 95-acre preserve led to resignations.
At the board’s Sept. 10 meeting, the agenda was changed to help organize the discussion, but attitudes toward one another and behavior at board meetings also were addressed.
“A lot was accomplished with the facilitator,” said president Kim McVey. “You’ll see some immediate results in the time-sensitive agenda. During this meeting, we will use two other tools.”
Board members were given the authority to call a timeout on any other board member who strays off the agenda topic being discussed. Board members were to respect the timeout and bring the focus back to the topic at hand.
“Secondly, we will use a parking lot system, which is a place to talk about ideas that weren’t on the agenda,” she said.
The “parking lot” system amounts to the creation of a list of topics that board members bring up during their discussion that are not on the agenda. The item is shifted to the list and retained as an agenda item for the next meeting rather than an off-topic, off-agenda item at the current meeting.
“We also talked about priority communication tools,” said McVey. “At this time, we want to discuss setting a date for priority communication tools to begin setting priorities for this organization.”
McVey said it would be better if the facilitator could return to help the board with that process, and Shore agreed to set a date to bring the facilitator back.
In the meantime, McVey set forth expectations of what the Cortez community expects of its board members.
“Board members need to have an expectation for themselves,” she said. “We make a choice to leave things in the past, choose our words carefully, raise our hands to speak, suppress negative emotions, communicate, and seek to align the best qualities and skills of each board member.”
McVey said the Aug. 10 meeting with the facilitator was a good day for FISH.
“Many of us saw it as a new beginning,” she said.
Secretary Joe Kane wanted to be a part of that new beginning. Kane resigned along with board member Bob Landry following the vandalism last month and a subsequent contentious FISH meeting where accusations flew around the room.
Kane rescinded his resignation before the Sept. 10 meeting and was back at his post.
McVey said there was nothing in the organization’s bylaws to address either a resignation or a subsequent rescinded resignation between two official meetings.
“So we reverted to Robert’s Rules of Order that states as long as he rescinded before the next meeting, he’s automatically reinstated,” said McVey.
Turner Mathews said the reinstatement is in conflict with the board’s standing rules that say if at least two members received the resignation, “you can’t withdraw it.”
Board treasurer Jane von Hahmann said every other resignation that has occurred in the past has come before the board for acceptance.
“But this board has never accepted Joe’s resignation,” so officially it never took place, said von Hahmann.
Mathews said the process was a mess and needed to be cleared up.
“I don’t know who is on the board and who isn’t anymore,” he said. “If anybody takes the time to write a letter, they should put it in a drawer for a few days. If they still send it, then it should be a resignation. People need to think about the consequences.”
A motion was made under the board’s review of its bylaws concerning resignations, but bylaws can only be changed at the board’s annual election meeting in March.
In the meantime, the motion was accepted and carried to write a new standing rule that if a board member submits a written resignation, it has to be voted on at the next board meeting.
FISH meets once the first Monday of the month at Fisherman’s Hall, 4515 124th St. W., Cortez.
Holmes Beach code enforcement officer David Forbes and Diana McManaway of the newly formed Anna Maria Coalition talk with rental agents, builders and concerned residents at a Sept. 10 meeting at Eat Here, 5315 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Property rights are on the front burner for Diana McManaway and Anna Maria Coalition LLC — a recently formed organization picking up where an earlier consortium of rental agents left off earlier this year.
McManaway of 66th Street gained the consensus of about 30 builders, rental agents and others who met Sept. 10 at Eat Here, 5315 Gulf Drive, to bring AMC LLC’s good-neighbor policies to city commissioners.
“I saw what they were proposing would affect your property rights,” she said. “We need to have a voice.”
Before the meeting, McManaway — a former Ocala businesswoman who moved to Holmes Beach about three years ago — said AMC will help address and monitor rental agent best practices.
Larry Chatt, broker at Island Real Estate, told the commission in December he’d been meeting with five of the island’s largest property management companies to address renter-related trash, parking and noise problems.
Chatt continued promoting best practices with focus groups and in the community, but now appears to prefer a lower profile. In July, his agency was sent a violation notice for an alleged illegal first-floor game room at 203 69th St.
Asked for an update on his group, Chatt said they’ve only met informally, and while he hasn’t audited the others about the best practices, he believes “everyone’s using them.”
According to Chatt, Island Real Estate provides its renters with information about city rules, and has given Holmes Beach Police Department its list of rentals with instructions to call immediately if there are complaints.
McManaway said she decided to form AMC Sept. 4 after learning commissioners were considering new living-area building restrictions that she believes will discourage desirable full-time residents who want more living space.
After explaining the coalition’s focus to the attendees, McManaway introduced city code enforcement officer David Forbes.
Forbes identified top issues in code enforcement as ground-level game rooms and rentals under the seven-day or 30-day minimum zoning restrictions.
For both issues, he told the group, “the easiest fix in the world” is for the property agents and owners to change advertising.
Even though the ground-level game rooms are not allowed, he said advertising could indicate pool tables or other amenities are provided.
“It’s not supposed to be a finished product,” he said.
On the zoning-restricted rentals, he said, “What I boil it down to is one rental for the seven-day period. One rental for a 30-day period.
“I understand everyone wants to maximize their income. But there are rules to playing in Holmes Beach,” Forbes said.
He also discussed parking and trash.
“Right now we have people parking on lawns and rights of way. And the crazy thing is they can. You can park out there indefinitely. But I don’t think you want to see that up and down your streets,” he said.
Forbes encouraged rental agents to enforce a one-space-per-bedroom parking rule.
As far as garbage, trash and noise, Forbes and Tom Rushmore of Gulf Drive emphasized renters need to know the rules and regulations.
Many attendees expressed confusion about Waste Management’s side-door trash pickup service.
Forbes also said he’s hearing from tenants, cleaning crews and others saying they don’t know city rules even though a one-page list was distributed to rental agents.
“I highly advise you use it,” Forbes said. “Put it on your refrigerators.” He also suggested the list be posted in places people frequent in community complexes, including pools.
“You have to have face-to-face contact with the renter,” Rushmore said. “Then you take the ammunition from the other side.”
McManaway and others said many noise complaints fail to amount to violations, and police and rental agency resources are wasting time responding to them.
Forbes said there are people who “don’t want the rental community here.”
Anna Maria Vacations principal Joe Varner agreed, saying “that is the problem here.”
McManaway suggested coalition members “let everybody know we’re working on it with the renters, the builders. It’s bricks and sticks, guys. It’s not the building that is the problem. It’s the people in the buildings.”
She then concluded the meeting with a fist pump after getting a consensus from attendees to carry their message of trying to create a balance for residents and visitors.
Forbes added, “Can’t we all just get along?”
McManaway agreed, “There you go. Can’t we all get along?”
McManaway said the coalition did not form for a business purpose, nor was it a political group supporting any candidate or political cause, but rather a solutions-oriented entity for the betterment of neighborhoods.