Tag Archives: 03-19-2014

Welcome to Anna Maria Ireland

Welcome to Anna Maria Ireland and the 16th annual Sean Murphy-Beach Bistro-Eat Here Parade. Photos by Karen Riley-Love and Bonner Joy


Cora the elephant and her partner Bill. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy


Enjoying the March 16 Beach Bistro-Eat Here St. Patrick’s Parade in Holmes Beach are Mikey Bowes, Kylie Huffman and Luke Bowes. Islander Photo: Karen Riley-Love/RileyLovePhotography.com


The Dunedin Pipe Band emerged from Duffy’s Tavern playing to everyone’s thrill, marching directly into the street for the March 16 parade and Irish celebration.  Islander Photo: Karen Riley-Love/RileyLovePhotography.com


Aspen awaits the parade. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy


Fred “Sully” O’Sullivan helps lead the camels up Marina Drive. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy


Honored World War II veteran Sam Castelli. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy


St. Patrick O’Connor of Buffalo, N.Y., is an annual attraction of the Beach Bistro-Eat Here parade. Islander Photo: Karen Riley-Love/RileyLovePhotography.com


Zoe Bourgoing, 3, gets a big Irish ducky hug before the parade. Islander Courtesy Photo: Lauren Mom Bourgoing


AME second-grader Connor Allan catches plenty o’ beads on the sidelines of the parade. Islander Photo: Karen Riley-Love/RileyLovePhotography.com















HBPD thwarts murder attempt

A man was arrested March 14 after he allegedly stabbed a woman multiple times after learning she had an intimate relationship with their roommate, according to the Holmes Beach Police Department.

Andrew Helderman, 23, of the 300 block of Clark Drive, faces charges of attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after police found him covered in blood, straddling a woman in the bathtub. The victim was found with a “medium-sized pocket knife” protruding from her neck, according to a press release from Chief Bill Tokajer.

Around 11 p.m., officers arrived at Helderman’s home in response to a 911 call.  When they entered the home, they could hear a woman calling for help from the bathroom, the report said.

Officer Steve Ogline forced entry into the bathroom, allegedly finding Helderman straddling the 31-year-old woman.

The woman had suffered multiple stab wounds to her body.

Ogline ordered Helderman at gunpoint to stop and stand up. He complied and was led to the living room, where he was taken into custody, the report said.

The 39-year-old roommate, who called 911, told police the three of them reside together at the Clark Drive address.

Prior to the attack, the male roommate told police, all three of them had a discussion about the woman “hooking up” with them. He told police that everything seemed fine following their conversation, but then Helderman began attacking the woman.

The witness said he tried to intervene several times, at one point picking up the shower curtain rod from the floor and hitting Helderman in the head.

Tokajer said the male victim also told police that he videotaped the attack with his cell phone before calling 911.

All of the parties involved were treated by EMS. Both Helderman and the victim were transported to Blake Medical Center.

The female victim was in reported to be in serious but stable condition and was initially moved to an intensive care unit.

Helderman was cleared and taken to the Manatee County jail, where he is being held without bond.

The second victim suffered minor cuts from trying to stop Helderman during the attack.

Tokajer said the suspect and the victims have been the subject of numerous complaints prior to this incident.

Anna Maria punches paid-parking plan into forward gear

After nearly three decades of discussing paid parking in Anna Maria’s rights of way, the idea may at last be moving toward a conclusion.

At their March 13 work session, commissioners informally agreed 4-1 to proceed with the idea of placing payment kiosks for some parking spaces in the rights of way. The paid parking would not affect private spaces and parking lots, just right-of-way parking, including public spaces along Pine Avenue, Gulf Drive, North Shore Drive and some parking spaces at the city pier.

Mayor SueLynn said it’s been a long time coming.

“It’s been discussed for years and years. Many residents have simply given up trying to get paid parking because no commission would proceed with a plan,” she said.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb said the proliferation of visitors to the city the past five years or so has fueled the push for paid parking.

City residents would not have to pay to park at kiosk-regulated parking locations.

“Residents pay taxes, property owners pay taxes and business owners pay taxes to support parking. We only have so many spaces, so it’s time for paid parking. It’s not going to be a popular issue among some people, but it has to be done,” Webb said.

The details of fee collection at the kiosks in various areas needs work, he added.

SueLynn, who previously presented options for paid-parking, said she and staff would have a draft plan ready for discussion at the March 27 commission meeting.

Commissioner Dale Woodland suggested drivers could buy a parking pass for a day, week, month or year, but SueLynn said those details will be studied by staff and presented in the draft.

Commissioner Doug Copeland, who was the lone commissioner against paid parking, suggested the city might have to hire a part-time parking enforcement officer on weekends to tickets violators.

“That’s a long way off,” said SueLynn. “We’ll come back with a draft and I hope the public will show up to provide input.”

The mayor also asked for a social media expert to volunteer to help the city get the word out about agenda items, such as parking.

“I want the public really involved in this and other decisions,” she said. “We need to be able to inform them of important meetings almost immediately.”

Commissioners also discussed the new sign ordinance.

Although the ordinance was directed at real estate signs, free-standing business signs in the right of way got caught in the middle, said Commissioner Dale Woodland.

“Some of the businesses can’t be seen from the road without an A-frame sign,” he said.

Woodland said he met with a number of business owners who asked why A-frame signs were restricted.

“It’s a good marketing and business tool,” Woodland said he was told by the business owners.

But Commissioner Carol Carter said too many businesses were taking advantage of the previous ordinance, which allowed one A-frame sign and a window sign at a business.

“I walked Pine Avenue on Sunday and found one business with three A-frame signs, window signs and a vehicle with signage advertising the business. It seems if we give an inch, some people take a mile,” she said.

Commissioner Nancy Yetter agreed. “Pine Avenue is starting to look like Panama City.”

Commissioners, however, wanted to ensure businesses have the tools to draw customers.

“We’re all pro-business,” Webb said.

City planner Alan Garrett said the new sign ordinance is ambiguous about signs for multi-tenant business properties and the section on business signs may have been poorly written.

“If you are in a multi-tenant location, you can have one wall sign and one directory sign of no more than 4 square feet in size and you can only use one side of the sign,” he said.

“So the problem is how can I let customers know where my business is?” he said.

“And there are a lot more businesses now than when I was mayor 10 years ago,” SueLynn said.

Ten years ago, discussion of a new sign ordinance centered around restaurants, Garrett observed. “Now, it’s about restaurants having a menu board, but other businesses can’t.”

Copeland said he liked the signs at the Anna Maria Historic Green Village. They are uniform, attractive, brief and meet the size limitations.

Webb, however, noted the commission has extended the moratorium on A-frame signs until April 3.

“We can always extend it again. We have bigger fish to fry than A-frame signs,” he said.

City attorney Jim Dye advised commissioners to use caution on the sign ordinance.

“You can regulate size, but be careful about trying to regulate content. That’s a free-speech issue,” he said.

Dye also noted that some municipalities allow 5-15 years for a business to come into compliance with a new sign ordinance.

“If you have someone who just spent $10,000 on a sign that was legal, and now you say it’s not legal, you’re going to have pushback from the owner,” he cautioned commissioners.

“We have our homework. Look at areas that are acceptable to have an outside sign,” Webb said. Commissioners agreed to study sign ordinance exceptions and bring their ideas to the March 27 regular meeting.

Dye also told commissioners that under the current charter, the mayor has the choice to be pro-active or reactive regarding code enforcement. The commission agreed to support the mayor, however she proceeds.

SueLynn said code enforcement officers would be pro-active on vehicles and signs in the rights of way, and they would use discretion to solve code violations without going through the violation process.

Code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon said in the nearly two years since the city adopted the special magistrate system to solve code citations, the city has yet to employ the magistrate.

SueLynn said the object of code enforcement is to solve the issue amicably, not bring the offender to the magistrate.

“These are our residents, our citizens. We want to work with them to bring problems into compliance,” she said.

The mayor also said she would allow anonymous code violation complaints. For several years, the policy has been that a complaint had to be signed by the person making the objection.

Garrett observed Rathvon and code enforcement officer Diane Sacca have resolved nearly all code complaints the past two years.




Special work session March 18

Anna Maria commissioners were to hold a special work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, to discuss agenda items that were continued from the March 13 work session.

Included on the agends is discussion on the size of bedrooms in a new single-family residence.

Beach renourishment reaches final stretch at Coquina Beach

It seems like it’s been a long time coming.

But the two-part renourishment of Anna Maria Island beaches that began Dec. 20 at 79th Street in Holmes Beach is now in its final phase at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

Renourishment contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. completed its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers renourishment project March 3 at 13th Street South in Bradenton Beach.

Following that $13 million project, GLDD began renourishing Cortez Beach in a separate contract arrangement and continued pumping sand southward, moving to Coquina Beach.

Renourishing of the southernmost island beaches is a $5.7 million Manatee County project under the supervision of the parks and natural resources department.

Department director Charlie Hunsicker said the state would reimburse the county for about half the cost of renourishing the county-maintained beaches.

The county’s share of beach renourishment comes from the tourist development tax fund. That’s the 5 percent tax collected on rentals of six months or less. The money can only be used for tourism-related projects.

Once renourishment is complete, Hunsicker said the department will begin preparing an estimated $2.5 million project to replace groins at Cortez Beach. The groins will be installed there under the supervision of Coastal Planning and Engineering of Boca Raton.

Hunsicker stressed this was only an estimate as bids have not yet been requested. He said he expected the groin project to last nine months.

The new groins will be state-of-the-art equipment and allow marine engineers to control the flow of sand and water to minimize erosion.

Hunsicker said he did not know when a request for bids would be sent groin construction companies.

Any plans to allow pedestrians and anglers on the new groins would come from the Manatee County Commission in conjunction with the Bradenton Beach City Commission, he said.

AMI braces for spring break

Time was on Anna Maria Island when spring break wasn’t given much thought by law enforcement.

Spring break thus far this year on the island is mostly composed of crowds of local high school students given a week off from their studies, said Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

Marketing officials with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau have emphasized in promotions that the island is not Panama City Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach or South Beach in Miami. Beach visitors during spring break here would come for the day, then leave as the sun went down.

BACVB marketing director Deb Meihls said the bureau’s marketing program is directed toward families and couples. The island is seen as a place for peace and quiet, away from the noise and bustle of places like Walt Disney World or Miami Beach.

But a few years ago, the marketing image of peace and quiet on AMI also came at a lower price than more popular spring break destinations.

It seemed college students discovered Anna Maria Island’s vacation rental homes were renting for about $2,000 a week — less than a comparable accommodation in Panama City.

In early March 2012, Holmes Beach police were called to a vacation rental house on 73rd Street — in the area zoned for weekly rentals — after neighbors complained of noise in the early morning hours.

Police found 18 people in the house, including eight youths. The adults were warned about Florida’s alcoholic beverage laws, and the property manager saw to it that the group left the following day.

A few days later, HBPD was called to a house in the 200 block of 50th Street on another complaint of loud noise.

They found the house had been rented by a group of female students in a singing club who were practicing vocals in the pool at 2 a.m.

Those incidents and others brought Larry Chatt of Island Real Estate, Mike Brinson of Anna Maria Island Vacation Properties and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn together to compose a “List of Best Practices” for vacation rental companies on the island. The list was adopted by many rental companies by early 2013 and renters were provided with a copy at check-in.

Among the provisions is an agreement that tenants can be evicted for disturbing the peace. Renters also must agree to respect their residential neighbors.

The number of noise complaints and other problems associated with trash and parking were significantly reduced after the best practices were implemented, SueLynn said.

“I think it’s been significant in keeping loud noise complaints and partygoers to a minimum,” she added.

Chatt agreed. “It appears to be a very effective tool.”

But area students will still come to Anna Maria Island for spring break, if for nothing more than a day at the beach.

Tokajer said he would have extra officers on duty to enforce traffic laws, parking regulations, as well as the law against alcohol consumption on the beach.

Tokajer said the department’s ATV would be patrolling the length of beach in Holmes Beach, looking for violations.

“Come and have a good time, but don’t break the law,” he advised people coming to the beach.

That was a sentiment echoed by Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Davis, who heads the Anna Maria substation.

“We’re going to be very busy at Cortez Beach and Coquina Beach,” Speciale said. “Even with beach renourishment at Coquina, I expect a lot of locals that week on the beaches.”

Speciale said just enjoy the beach and drive carefully.

Bradenton Beach on pace to overspend budget by $400,000

It may be a familiar problem to some people, not having enough money for everyday needs.

Almost six months into the 2013-14 fiscal year budget, reviewed and approved in 2013 under the former administration, Bradenton Beach now faces a $400,000 shortfall.

This year’s budget was approved at more than $2.5 million, but projected spending is now more than $2.9 million.

With a new mayor and two new commissioners taking office following the November 2013 municipal election and a new city clerk and treasurer recently taking up their positions at city hall, dissecting the budget has been a priority for Mayor Bill Shearon.

The mayor ran on a platform of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. Almost immediately after taking office there were concerns about the budget and how the city spent money. It quickly became apparent that it was difficult to track where the city’s money was being spent.

As a result, Shearon tasked commissioners to form a budget review committee and ordered an internal audit. The results of that audit have been much anticipated and, while not officially released to the public, the overall problem was revealed during a March 13 department head meeting.

Police Chief Sam Speciale questioned his department’s attorney fees, and treasurer Sheila Dalton said it appeared to be cell tower-related.

Neither Dalton nor the mayor nor Commissioner Jack Clarke nor Vice Mayor Janie Robertson were in their current positions when the budget process was finalized.

Commissioner Ed Straight was in office and said all attorney fees, including the cell-tower fees charged by city attorney Ricinda Perry, should have been spread out equally among the departments.

“But it does appear that all cell tower-related charges went to the police department,” said Dalton.

Shearon said everything related to the budget process will “drastically change.” With the audit, the mayor proposes a new look at the budget. “In six months, we are going to restructure it and make one massive budget change.”

Clarke, who heads the budget review committee, said it was that kind of information his committee needs to know about as the review process continues. The committee has struggled with identifying line-item spending in the budget’s current format.

It was then that Shearon disclosed the full weight of the financial burden facing the city.

“The budget was done the quick and dirty way,” he said. “We have almost $400,000 in expenses that exceeds revenue. There was $250,000 that was spent without budget amendments. That is against state law. It isn’t going to happen again.”

Shearon said there were 24 line-item issues in this year’s budget that incurred overspending, according to the audit results.

“These are all things I had to sign for and it wasn’t even my budget,” he said. “I didn’t approve the budget, and I didn’t spend the money.”

The detailed results of the audit are expected to be released at the next city commission meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, March 20, at city hall, 105 Gulf Drive N.

Trial date set in real estate-renter fraud case

A trial date has been set for the former Anna Maria Island vacation real estate agent who allegedly pocketed rental deposits and double-booked vacation homes without providing adequate refunds.

Michael Carleton, 61, of Bradenton, was charged in November 2013 with unlicensed real estate activity, a third-degree felony. He posted a $1,500 bond and was released the day of his arrest.

His trial will be held June 6 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1115 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, according to court documents.

Calls and messages for Carleton from The Islander were not returned.

According to court documents, Carleton was under investigation by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Real Estate from March 5, 2013, to May 7, 2013, following a complaint filed by a Massachusetts man.

The investigation found Carleton, formerly of Coast Line Rentals, was advertising properties for rent on Anna Maria Island and requesting deposits be made to reserve the rentals.

A day before renters were scheduled to arrive, usually from out of state, they would reportedly receive a letter stating the property was unavailable due to damage and a refund would be sent by mail. For the most part, the investigation found, the renters did not receive a refund.

Other complainants allege Carleton could not be contacted after paying deposits or, at times, he would only agree to partial refunds, which frustrated renters hoping to recoup more of their money.

The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce said it fielded numerous complaints about Carleton’s alleged practices, while the Holmes Beach Police Department received more than 60 complaints.

The state suspended Carleton’s license in March 2013.

On May 7, 2013, HBPD turned the investigation over to the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Service. Their review is still ongoing.

Holmes Beach charter review covers mayor vacancy

Should the city retain its weak-mayor form of government and add a city manager?

The devil may be in the details of the government’s charter.

If attention to detail were ever in question with the Holmes Beach Charter Review Committee, all concerns can be put to rest.

The committee resumed its work March 12, reviewing the suggested edits flagged during its initial review. Minor and significant edits were painstakingly scrutinized in the more than three-hour meeting.

Minor edits included comma placements and word choice and order, where significant edits included rewrites of officer sections and procedures for elections and recalls.

Elections and recalls focused on the procedures for replacing the mayor in the event of a vacancy, which led to discussion about adding a city manager to the charter.

“I looked into island communities similar to ours and Anna Maria is the only one who really looked into it. And they changed theirs because of the problems they had,” committee member Pam Leckie said. “None of the coastal villages, towns or cities address it anymore than we do.”

The current procedure in the charter in the event of a mayoral vacancy is for the commission chair to assume the post. The chair then would be filled by the vice-chair and the vacant commission seat would be filled by appointment by the remaining members. Those in the newly filled positions hold them until the next general election.

“That could be rife with some difficulties. What could we do to resolve it in a more quickly and targeted way?” asked committee chair Bob Johnson.

Johnson proposed three options:

• Leave the charter as it is.

• Change the charter to require a special election to fill the vacancy.

• Grant the city commission the ability to appoint a mayor from a pool of applicants.

“I think in many cases you’re going to end up with a situation like in Anna Maria, where you have someone who doesn’t want to be mayor,” said Mayor Carmel Monti, who spoke in favor of a special election. The mayor is not a member of the review committee and also does not vote with the city commissioners. He will have no say in whether the committee’s recommendations go on the ballot in November.

Leckie felt the city commission chairperson would be the most appropriate choice to become the mayor because the chair would be the most familiar with the operations of city hall.

But shifting seats as outlined in the charter could be problematic, said Johnson. The commission chair turned mayor would get a boost in pay along with added responsibilities — managing the city staff. However, the new mayor would lose his or her vote on the commission.


Mayor proposes major change

As the committee discussed pros, cons and reasons someone may or may not want to become mayor “without signing up for the job,” Monti again voiced his opinion.

“There’s an onus of responsibility that’s not a part-time job and, frankly, I think we’re going to end up with the same problem Anna Maria is having. Who would want to step up to this role?” Monti asked. “The reason I may run or not run is strictly economical. At $12,000 a year, I’m the lowest-paid employee. Is that what we want, or do we want a professional?”

The conversation abruptly changed from filling a mayoral vacancy to adding a city manager to the charter.

City attorney Patricia Petruff cited a general example of cities adding city managers to their charters and shifting the role of the mayor to a less involved position.

“It’s been discussed before, but not seriously because to hire someone who’s a competent city manager would require a six-figure salary, I would assume,” said Petruff.

“I think it’s time we really discuss this seriously,” said Leckie. “I agree with the mayor that things are so complex now and we really need someone who knows what they’re doing.”

But Johnson redirected the conversation back to the issue of vacancies.

“It’s another discussion about form of government and city managers, and it’s a very involved discussion. If it’s going to be discussed, I think it should be done completely and it should be done based on facts and not on opinions and wishes,” said Johnson.

Johnson reminded the committee and the mayor about the timeline for proposed changes to the charter. The charter is reviewed every five years, and proposed changes need to be presented to the commission in time to make it onto the November ballot.

The discussion of a city manager was added to the March 26 meeting agenda.

The committee agreed the option of a special election to fill a mayoral vacancy should be a proposed change.

City clerk Stacey Johnson estimated such an election would cost about $6,000 and would take at least two months to arrange.

“My feeling about government is to allow the people as much involvement as possible,” said Johnson.

The next charter review meeting will be in the evening in order for residents to attend who work during the day, when the committee has routinely met. It will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.


Town meeting on charter

The Holmes Beach Charter Review committee plans to discuss significant issues at its March 19 meeting.

Committee chair Bob Johnson is encouraging citizens to attend and weigh in on the changes considered to the city charter — often considered the bible for government entities.

The committee will discuss limiting terms and term lengths for the mayor and commissioners, as well as height and density requirements and other controls for buildings.

The committee will meet 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 19, at city hall, 5801Marina Drive.

January resort tax tops $1M

Once upon a time, a million dollars was a lot of money.

In 1990, the year Manatee County first instituted a resort development tax on rentals of six months or less, $1.4 million was collected. The resort tax was set at 3 percent.

The revenue that first year was considered a remarkable sum by then-Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Larry White.

But as Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changing.”

Twenty-three years later, Manatee County resort tax collections for a single month — January — topped the $1 million mark for the first time in history. The tax is now set at 5 percent of the rental rate.

As Jesse Brisson, owner-broker of Gulf-Bay Realty, 5309 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, said: “It’s obvious to island residents and accommodation owners and managers that tourism didn’t take the normal drop in January.”

Brisson said it’s easy to see why resort tax collections have increased, while the average daily rental rate has gone up just about 1.5 percent from January 2013.

“There’s no question that tourism marketing by the BACVB has increased the number of people visiting Anna Maria. We used to have a slight lull the first few weeks of January, but this year all our vacation rentals were booked from Jan. 7 through the end of the month.”

He said that in December his office listed 15 new-to-the-rental-market vacation rental units.

“Those were all rented for January within a few weeks,” he said.

Sue Sinquefield of the resort tax collections department reported $1.022 million was collected in February for January rentals.

The resort tax — or bed tax — is paid one month in arrears.

The $1.022 million was a 13.5 percent year-to-year gain from the $900,960 collected in January 2013 and, based upon past reports, is a sure sign that tourism to Anna Maria Island increased about 6.5 percent for the month.

For nearly three years, the percent of increase in tourism has been about half of the percentage increase of resort tax collections.

The full report of tourism to the area will be delivered by Walter Klages of Research Data Services at the April 7 meeting of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. Klages reported in February that tourism for 2013 was up 6.6 percent from 2012.

For the fiscal year beginning in October, resort tax collections for the first four months are at $2.851 million, a 17 percent gain from the $2.436 million collected during the first quarter of fiscal year 2012-13.

Sinquefield attributed the increase to the rise in visitors and better collection techniques, including locating property owners renting their property without paying the resort tax.

Sinquefield reminded anyone renting their property short-term — less than six months — that they must have a license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Department of Revenue, register with the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office and a municipal license to rent property, if required.

At the current rate of resort tax collections, the county is on pace to break the record for annual collections of $8.99 million set in the past fiscal year.

Sinquefeld said the department agents aren’t looking to set records, they are just doing their jobs.

“And doing them quite well,” she added.

Fire district delays search for chief

The search for a successor to West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price was supposed to begin in February, but district commissioners weren’t sure where to start.

Price is retiring in May 2015 and the WMFR board of elected commissioners gathered March 6 in a work session to decide if they would begin the hiring process among qualified WMFR candidates, look outside the district or do both.

After much discussion, they delayed a decision to the March 20 regular commission meeting.

One candidate considered in line for chief is WMFR Deputy Chief Brett Pollock. But he is retiring in 2016.

Commissioners agreed Pollock would be an unlikely successor with only one year to serve as chief.

Commissioners will bring the names of potential candidates within the WMFR to the March 20 meeting. If none appear to meet their qualifications, commissioners will begin to search outside the department.

Commissioners could search within Manatee County or advertise the position statewide and nationally.

The next WMFR district commission meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, March 20, at the WMFR administrative building, 6417 Third Ave. W., Bradenton.