Tag Archives: 04-30-2014

Sandwich (boards) get the bite in Anna Maria

No more sandwiches for you, Anna Maria.

Anna Maria commissioners at their April 25 meeting removed almost any opportunity for a sandwich board sign from city businesses.

Commissioners voted 3-1 not to extend the May 1 deadline that allowed outdoor sandwich boards in front of a business. Commissioner Doug Copeland voted no, while Commissioner Dale Woodland was absent.

At the same time, however, Mayor SueLynn and city planner Alan Garrett are working on an exception procedure for businesses that need a sandwich board to direct customers to their location.

Copeland noted there is one such business on top of the post office in the Bayview Plaza that can’t be found without a directional sign.

Too bad, according to the commission vote. That business owner will have to wait for the exception process to be approved.

SueLynn said the exception procedures should be ready for a first reading at the Wednesday, May 7, meeting.

Commissioners also approved the first reading of an amendment to the traffic ordinance that includes no parking on the traffic island on Blue Heron Drive.

The amendment also provides for pedestrian crosswalks at various locations, and prohibits trucks weighing more than 8 tons from driving on residential streets to reach a business.

In other business, commissioners approved a replat of two lots at Banyan Tree Estates between Park Avenue and Beach Avenue. The approval, however, is contingent on attorney Ricinda Perry, on behalf of the owners, the Walker family, not finding a legal cause to change the city’s 1953 vacation of the property.

That vacation has a scrivener’s error that put the wrong page number of the plat on the city vacation, Perry said.

“Just as long as you don’t find anything since 1953 that the city legally owns the property,” Dye said.

Commissioners continued a hearing on a variance request by Kathy Hayes and Mark McClean, owners of 114 Tern Ave., to install an elevator in the residence. That hearing will resume at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 7.

Webb said he’ll research the Bert Harris Property Rights Act to ensure the owners could have installed an elevator before the city changed the living-area ratio in May 2013.

By changing the LAR for the second floor of a house, Hayes and McClean need a variance of 280 square feet for the elevator. Hayes said she has arthritis and can’t walk the flight of stairs to and from the ground level to the second-floor living area.

Determining if a municipal government took away a property right under the Bert Harris Act “is a very complex process,” Dye said.

“You could have 20 lawyers in a room, and get 30 different opinions on Bert Harris,” he said.

Webb said he’ll have his research done by the May 7 work session.

The city also received a “clean audit” for fiscal year 2012-13 from auditor Randy Dillingham.

“This is the highest we can give, and your city is in better shape financially than a lot of others,” Dillingham said.

For that fiscal year, the city took in $2.6 million in revenue and had expenses of $2.3 million. The excess amount went into the general fund, he said.

SueLynn thanked city treasurer Diane Percycoe for her work in preparing for the audit.

Also, SueLynn presented Holmes Beach resident Nancy Ambrose with a proclamation of support for the Relay of Life May 17-18 to raise money for the fight against cancer.

The next commission meeting is 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 7, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

Meetings are normally on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, but the first meeting in May was changed due to anticipated absences.

Bradenton Beach pier renovation to cost $1.2M-plus

Bradenton Beach city officials finally saw a step forward in the long — more than two-year — process to renovate the city pier.

The good news? The project is fully funded.

Proposals are in for the Historic Bridge Street Pier renovation and the lowest bid exceeds $1.2 million.

The sealed bids were opened during a public meeting April 21 at the Tingley Memorial Library, 111 Second St. W., Bradenton Beach.

Five construction companies submitted bids, seeking to win the contract.

The lowest proposal, $1,202,140.94, was submitted by Miami-based Pac Comm Inc.

Tampa Bay Marine of Gibsonton had the second lowest bid at $1,237,487. Shoreline Foundation Inc. of West Park bid $1,258,543, and Duncan Seawall of Sarasota bid $1,309,452. The most expensive was the bid from a Louisiana-based construction company, Russell Marine, at $1,854,625.

The city will not know which company will be awarded the contract until ZNS Engineering analyzes the bid proposals. That could take about two weeks, according to Steve Gilbert, planning official for Bradenton Beach.

“We look at several factors, including local preference, time projection and whether the plan satisfies all the needs of the city,” Gilbert said.

After the bids are analyzed, the city staff will make a recommendation and the Bradenton Beach City Commission will have final approval.

Of the 11 companies represented at a mandatory pre-bid meeting March 18 at city hall, only five submitted bids.

Gilbert said that is typical in the bid process.

“What happens is the contractors have conflicting projects and therefore don’t complete the process,” he said. “It just depends on what they have going on.”

He said construction on the pier will begin in June, but completion is dependent on the weather since it will fall in hurricane season.

If the project begins as scheduled, it will be reach completion about 10 months from the original completion target date of August 2013.

But the delay proved to be beneficial.

It resulted in an agreement for a $1 million matching-fund partnership with Manatee County, easing the financial worries of Bradenton Beach. Still, officials have been on edge to get the project started.

The pier will be funded through a joint effort by the city of Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and Manatee County government.

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council recommended up to $1 million in matching funds for the project.

According to Mayor Bill Shearon, the county and the city CRA will split invoices as they are processed.

The county agreed to pay its share of each invoice within 30 days of receiving the bill.

BBPD dismisses security breach

An alleged security breach at Bradenton Beach City Hall was investigated, but the Bradenton Beach Police Department found no evidence to prompt charges.

The BBPD was investigating a report of unauthorized sharing of city files after ELRA Inc. attorney Robert Lincoln sent an email to city attorney Ricinda Perry questioning Mayor Bill Shearon’s authority to give two employees pay raises.

The city clerk’s office noted that Lincoln had attached photos of city personnel records that had not been obtained through normal channels.

ELRA, the corporate entity for the BeacHhouse Restaurant, is suing the mayor, claiming the city charter defines his mayoral position as part of a weak-mayor system of government and alleging that Shearon has tried to remold the position to give him more authority.

The police investigation found that public works employee Christine Watson took photographs of documents and provided them to Lincoln. The records show $1-per-hour pay raises for two administrative employees, Tammy Johnson and Audra Lanzaro, according to the police report.

Of concern was whether the documents were taken and photographed without consent.

The investigation resulted in no criminal charges.

Investigating BBPD Sgt. Lenard Diaz said it was his opinion that no criminal acts occurred within the city government because the files, which are normally in a locked file cabinet, were said to be found on a desk in plain view when the photographs were taken.

City clerk Jamie Anderson told police the files had been moved from former deputy clerk Karen Cervetto’s office in order to have the room painted. Cervetto resigned in January after being disciplined by Shearon.

The investigation revealed that Watson took the photographs in January with her cellphone, when she noticed the documents on the desk while painting in some of the city offices.

Tom Woodward, the city’s public works director, said he would issue Watson a verbal warning.

Woodward said he did not believe Watson’s actions were malicious because news of the raises had upset several employees who claimed the mayor did not follow protocol for salary increases.

Johnson issued an email response to commissioners and city department heads regarding the conclusion of the investigation. In the email, she expressed her disappointment with the results.

“Regardless of whether there were criminal activities or not, unethical and unprofessional activities certainly took place, and that seems to have been swept under the carpet,” she wrote. “Someone employed by the city passed on illicitly gained information to an attorney who is in litigation with the city.”

Shearon defended his decision to issue pay raises, noting that Johnson and Lanzaro had no supervision, were acting as department heads and took on a lot more responsibility after longtime City Clerk Nora Idso resigned in November due to health issues.

“The problem was I couldn’t act as a department head, so I chose to make them department heads, my administrative staff was depleted by half.” he said. “The ship was sinking and I had to plug a hole.”

The pay raises were included in the $47,564 budget amendment that was approved by commissioners at the April 17 commission meeting.


In other business

The commission April 17 voted 3-2, with Shearon and Vice Mayor Janie Robertson opposed, to require that the city attorney communicate with all commissioners, not just the mayor, when discussing litigation.

During the April meeting, Robertson pulled an invoice for Perry that details her work from the consent agenda, saying she is uncomfortable with Lincoln communicating with Perry, who had charged the city for the conferences.

Robertson said Lincoln should be communicating with the mayor’s attorney Charles F. Johnson, of Blalock Walters, not the city attorney.

“We are not being informed about what is really going on in any of the lawsuits,” she said. “We are not getting any updates from any attorneys.”

Perry said she is obliged to respond to Lincoln in certain situations, but said she could “handle herself” if she believed Lincoln was taking advantage of the situation. She said she is required by law to provide Lincoln with public records and to discuss certain items in order to give him background.

Discussion ensued and Commissioner Jan Vosburgh made a motion to have Perry copy all commissioners when conferring litigation with the mayor.

Shearon assured the commission that there was no duplication of counsel and opposed the motion. “I’d like to see you try this and run the city,” he said.

Holmes Beach commissioner jump starts paid-parking talks

Talk of paid parking is moving south from Anna Maria into Holmes Beach.

Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino presented a plan April 22 he dubbed “Commissioner Zaccagnino Preservation and Parking Control Plan” for discussion.

“I’ve had it. We’ve asked for money from the county for years and years,” said Zaccagnino. “I want to take control from the county’s hands.”

The proposal comes on the heels of an April 16 forum hosted by Mayor Carmel Monti in which he discussed a possible gondola lift and parking garage to ease traffic. While Monti’s ideas lacked support, residents voiced concerns over growing traffic congestion on the island.

Zaccagnino’s proposal is threefold: He opposes a parking garage at the public beach, he wants to generate revenue for the cities of Anna Maria Island, and he wants to address traffic congestion.

Also, in order to “take control” of the public beach, Zaccagnino suggested rezoning the area from recreational to preservation.

“This will ensure that Holmes Beach decides the future look of Manatee Beach, not a bunch of county commissioners and administration from out east looking to maximize profit,” he wrote in his proposal.

Zaccagnino’s aim with stricter zoning is to prevent possible future development by the county.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said Manatee Public Beach is deeded to the county, but its use is guided by Holmes Beach’s land development code and zoning rules.

Petruff said that while the city, to some degree, can regulate what happens at the public beach, “I would have some heartburn about making it preservation when it’s been used for recreation for years.”

Zaccagnino also suggested islandwide paid-parking permits.

He suggested a $24 annual parking permit for residents of Manatee County and $120 annually for those who come to the island from other areas.

He said the price should be the same for island residents and other Manatee County residents because he doesn’t want to punish day-trippers from the mainland.

The permit would allow people to park in rights of way where free parking is currently allowed. Parking at Manatee and Coquina beaches could remain free and, when the lots are full, they are full.

Zaccagnino said permit parking would encourage visitors in accommodations to walk, ride a bike or take the trolley. Out-of-county visitors to the island might consider visiting other beaches, closer to home.

“Unfortunately it is about revenue, and if the county and the (Tourist Development Council) is not going to help us, we have to be proactive and take control of our own destiny. We have begged and pleaded for years to no avail,” he stated in the proposal.

He also said money collected from the suggested parking permits could be split between the cities and used for cleanup, traffic management, law enforcement, code enforcement, infrastructure improvements and other costs associated with the permitting process.

Commissioner Jean Peelen, who sits on the TDC, said the island officials would need a unified approach, not as “three little cities.”

“I think at the (April 16) meeting I heard an openness to paid parking from the residents,” said Monti.

The commissioners have voiced opinions against the idea of paid parking in previous meetings concerning traffic congestion.

“After the meeting (April 16), I thought about it long and hard and I changed my mind,” said Zaccagnino.

Peelen also said her opinion had swayed on paid parking.

Monti said he would plan a meeting with mayors of Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria.

Anna Maria Commissioner Dale Woodland presented his city commissioners with a paid parking plan April 8. At an April 10 work session, Anna Maria commissioners agreed to seriously discuss the issue, which has been on and off their agendas for 10 years.

Man charged with grand theft auto

A Bradenton man was arrested April 24 during a traffic stop for allegedly driving a stolen vehicle, according to the Bradenton Beach Police Department.

David Allan Sweeney, 45, faces charges of grand theft auto, resisting arrest and driving with a suspended license after fleeing on foot from a BBPD patrol officer.

According to the police report, the BBPD officer pulled Sweeney over around 2:45 a.m. in the 100 block of Third Street South in Bradenton Beach after observing Sweeney swerving in and out of his traffic lane.

When the vehicle stopped, Sweeney reportedly began running west.

After being apprehended, Sweeney said he ran because he has a suspended license, the report said.

Officers soon discovered Sweeney had been driving a car stolen from Longboat Key earlier in the evening.

Sweeney allegedly told officers he took the vehicle because he found the keys in the ignition.

Sweeney was taken to Manatee County jail where he remained on a $2,120 bond. His arraignment is set for May 9 at Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

MCSO: Woman stole $100K-plus from marina

A Myakka woman was arrested April 23 for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 from a business where she worked for more than 10 years.

Kristine Louise McWilliams, 46, faces charges of grand theft over $100,000 and scheming to defraud over $50,000.

The theft occurred over the course of a year, according to the police report.

McWilliams was employed as the bookkeeper for Cannons Marina, 6040 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, for about 10 years, the report said.

During her tenure, she reportedly performed bookkeeping duties that included making bank deposits.

Around July 2013, David Miller, the business owner, noticed discrepancies in the cash and check deposits and found modified deposit slips.

A forensic audit of subpoenaed bank records revealed modified slips with the cash portion of the deposit greatly reduced or missing.

From June 1, 2012, to July 10, 2013, McWilliams allegedly modified more than 100 deposits, pocketing cash of as much as $109,506.16.

Lucile Capo-Miller, public relations director for Cannons Marina and wife of owner David Miller, said the incident was “unfortunate” but would not comment further.

McWilliams was being held at the Manatee County jail on a $10,000 bond. She was released April 26.

Her arraignment will be Friday, May 9, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Island road watch

The Florida Department of Transportation is conducting a three-month repair project on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue West from Perico Bay Club to Palma Sola Boulevard.

A flagging operation to keep vehicles moving will be in place in the event of any lane closures. The project is expected to finish in late July.

The DOT began repairs to the Cortez Bridge April 28 with an expected completion in January 2015. The bridge will remain operational for motorists and boaters.

Any lane closures will be 9 p.m.-5 a.m. weekdays. If the bascule is raised for repairs, it will be for no more than a 15-minute duration between 2-3 a.m. weekdays, the DOT said.

Manatee County TDC says ‘yes’ to future aid for island tourism

On the heels of what some Anna Maria Island accommodation owners say was the best winter visitor season ever, Manatee County Tourist Development Council members have agreed to work with island officials on some of their tourism concerns.

Traffic is of particular concern to TDC member Ed Chiles, an Anna Maria resident and owner of the Sandbar and BeacHhouse restaurants on the island and Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant on Longboat Key.

“I’d like to work together on traffic and look at that 30-45 day period in February and March when we have several choke points on island roads,” Chiles said at a TDC meeting April 21.

“It would benefit the island and show we are trying to work to solve island issues. At least let’s look at any possible solutions.” He suggested traffic control officers might be considered at some of the choke points.

Good idea, said TDC member and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen.

The problem, she said, is the island “doesn’t get much in terms of resort tax dollars,” although the island is “the jewel in the crown of area tourism.”

A large portion of the tax is allocated for beach renourishment, with other funds going to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Manatee/Bradenton Convention Center, the Powel Crosley Estate, professional baseball and other tourist-related county projects. Any resort tax expenditures must be for a tourism-related and approved by the TDC.

Peelen said it might be time for a long-term vision statement for the island. She said Longboat Key had one done for $125,000, but that is a lot of money for “three little cities with three little budgets.” The TDC could help fund such a study, she said.

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said the study has merit, but should include the island’s relationship to the rest of Manatee County. He suggested there might be enough Bradenton and Manatee County staff with the expertise to perform such a study.

TDC member David Teitelbaum, owner of four motels in Bradenton Beach and an Anna Maria resident, agreed, saying his concern is some people think “close the bridges and we don’t want any more tourism. We need a unified, non-hysterical approach to deal with island problems.”

Among Teitelbaum’s concerns is “large houses that have been built and rented that become over-crowded,” and operate as “pseudo-hotels.”

He added that enforcement of ordinances at rentals is an issue.

“It’s a question of quality of life for our visitors and residents,” Teitelbaum said.

BACVB executive director Elliott Falcione said it’s not always the case that resort tax money does not come back to the island. One exception is beach renourishment funding.

He also reminded board members that the TDC pledged up to $1 million for Historic Bridge Street Pier improvements and is “looking for a similar partnership” with Anna Maria to improve its city pier.

Although tourist surveys have been discontinued, the Anna Maria City Pier ranked many times in the past as the No. 1 visitor attraction in Manatee County.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn did not attend the TDC meeting, but said later that she has discussed the city pier with Falcione, although not since last October.

She said Falcione proposed a 50-50 split on a $60,000 study of pier improvements. The mayor said the city did not have the money at that time to move forward.

Falcione said Lakewood Ranch is the prime area to build a major sports venue to attract national and international events. Those events include lacrosse, soccer and swimming, among others.

While Falcione said he sees the “future of tourism growth” taking place in Lakewood Ranch, Manatee County Commissioner and TDC Chair Vanessa Baugh said the county’s tourism future “is everywhere in Manatee County.”