Tag Archives: 05-07-2014

Holmes Beach mayor’s boat underwater again

Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti is having boat problems — again.

Neighbor, Larry Solberg, reported the sunken boat April 17 and May 3 to the U.S. Coast Guard Station Cortez.

“It’s been an ongoing thing, it’s still sunk,” said Solberg.

He observed Coast Guard officers spending several hours at Monti’s property May 3 and May 4.

Solberg said he was visited May 3 by four officers from the Coast Guard who thanked him for reporting the sunken boat and the apparent fuel discharge in the canal in connection to the incident. Solberg said the uniformed officers told him they were with the Coast Guard environmental pollution unit.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Scott Crawford said May 5 that he had been briefed on the situation and confirmed the Coast Guard National Response Team had responded to Monti’s home May 3 and May 4.

He said they would be following up further on May 5.

Monti’s boat had previously sunk in the canal April 17. The Coast Guard, Holmes Beach Public Works and Holmes Beach Police departments, as well as code enforcement officer Dave Forbes responded to the incident. At that time, the city departments offered assistance to Monti and reported he was working with them to solve the problem.

The boat was eventually raised, only to sink again May 3.

Solberg said Monti attempted pumping out the boat May 4, but it remained underwater the morning of May 5.

Solberg also received a visit from the HBPD May 4. He said the officer advised him the mayor was doing everything he needed to do to comply with the Coast Guard.

Monti did not return calls to The Islander for comment before press time.

Legislature passes new vacation rental law

It seems wrestling control over vacation rentals faded in the final days of the Florida Legislature, depending on where you stand across the fence.

Both houses of the Florida Legislature passed a bill returning limited regulatory power over short-term rentals to local governments, but cities and counties cannot set a much sought-after minimum-stay requirement.

Senators approved the bill May 1 by a vote of 32-2, a day after it passed the House by a 90-27 vote.

The House removed an amendment by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, that would have allowed local governments to set a seven-day minimum stay at a vacation rental.

The final version of the bill eliminates any regulation on length of stay.

With the Florida Legislature ending its session May 2, the bill, SB 356, will go into effect July 1 — if the governor signs off.

The bill balances the rights of homeowners to rent their property as a short-term vacation rental — established by a bill passed in 2011 — and restores some local regulatory powers.

The prior bill limited local government from enacting new laws to limit length of stay, number of guests and other oversight that routinely applies to a hotel or motel.

Complaints from residents in Anna Maria and Holmes Beach — and other coastal areas of Florida — focused on a diminished quality of life as nearby homes operated as mini-motels. Elected officials expressed frustration that their hands were tied when it came to addressing those concerns.

Only Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island had zoned length-of-stay limits in place in 2011.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said she was excited upon learning the new law passed the Legislature. “Now we’ll have the opportunity as a city to balance our vacation rental industry with our residents,” she said.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen, who with SueLynn was a vocal proponent of SB356 and lobbied the Florida League of Cities for support, said she was “pleased that some home rule is being returned to us.”

SueLynn said the city can work without Galvano’s amendment.

“I don’t want to speculate on what the commission might do, but I’m sure there will be a number of suggestions,” she said.

She said an unintended consequence of the 2011 bill, HB 883, resulted in “party houses,” where people rent a house for a weekend and invite 20 or more people.

Under HB 883, any ordinance the city passed restricting vacation rentals in the residential zone had to apply to all homes.

Larry Chatt, owner of Island Real Estate which manages several hundred vacation rental properties, said the bill is a “good compromise and a good base.” He said he has “every belief we in the industry can work with local island governments in a cooperative spirit and manner.”

“I feel very good that the commission will find an agreeable ordinance that balances the rights of our residents with people in a vacation rental enjoying our beautiful city,” SueLynn said.

She said it’s up to Commission Chair Chuck Webb to schedule it on the agenda.


24-hour rainfall exceeds 7 inches, events canceled or delayed Staff Report

The National Weather Service in Ruskin reported that by noon May 3, 7.01 inches of rain had soaked Anna Maria Island in less than 24 hours, and more was expected.

The island was under a flood watch and hazardous weather warning May 2-3. Small craft advisories kept anglers in port. Some streets had standing water, but there were no reports of flooding.

Additionally, the island was under a tornado warning from noon to 2 p.m. May 2. No tornados were reported on the island, but one was observed at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport during the warning, the NWS said.

The forecast prompted organizers to cancel the May 3 Food and Wine on Pine street fair on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria. A notice said no rain date was planned.

Rainy weather forced organizers to reschedule an event benefitting the Anna Maria Island Community Center at McKechnie Field from May 2 to May 22.

The rescheduled Anna Maria Island Night will feature play between the Bradenton Marauders and the Daytona Cubs.

Game time is 6:30 p.m. and gates will open at 5:30 p.m. The ballpark is at 1611 Ninth St. W., Bradenton.

For more information, call the center at 941-778-1908.

Highest court to hear local commercial fisherman’s fish tale

The U.S. Supreme Court is getting involved in a fish tale — a true fishing story.

On April 28, the Court agreed to hear an appeal by Holmes Beach resident and former Cortez fisherman John Yates that his 2012 federal conviction for evidence tampering was based on the wrong law.

The evidence in the federal law used to prosecute Yates — Sarbanes-Oxley — were three red grouper a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer investigating his catch in November 2007 determined were missing from the officer’s count the previous day.

Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted by Congress in 2002 to close loopholes in laws against destroying evidence following the Enron scandal.

Yates was charged in federal court with destroying evidence — the three missing fish — an alleged act the government said is prohibited by Sarbanes-Oxley.

He was convicted by a jury in 2012 and sentenced to 30 days imprisonment and three years of probation.

Yates’ attorney, John Badalamenti, contends in the appeal that Sarbanes-Oxley was the wrong law to use in the prosecution of Yates.

Yates has been ordered by Badalamenti not to discuss the appeal with the media.

According to a definition of Sarbanes-Oxley on the Internet, the law “set new or enhanced standards for all U.S. public company boards, management and public accounting firms,” among other standards.

Yates’ wife Sandy said even a favorable decision by the Supreme Court can’t undo what’s happened to them since the conviction.

“We lost our time-share, our livelihood, our income and our quality of life because of three fish,” she said. “File this one under Ripley’s ‘Believe it or Not.”

The Supreme Court decision will apply only to whether the correct law was used by federal prosecutors in the 2012 court case.

Yates and his wife operate Off the Hook antiques and gift shop in Cortez, and continue to live in Holmes Beach.

Sandwich-boards signs gain support in Anna Maria

Sandwich-board advertising signs are not permitted under Anna Maria’s code, but Mayor SueLynn isn’t putting the bite on business until May 22.

At a special commission meeting May 2 requested by Commissioner Dale Woodland, commissioners discussed allowing sandwich boards at businesses until a special exception ordinance passes a second reading, which is slated for May 22.

An ordinance prohibiting A-frame signs outdoors at a business passed in January. And the moratorium that stalled removal of sandwich board signs was in effect until May 1.

Commissioners had voted 3-1 with Woodland absent at their April 25 meeting not to extend the moratorium beyond May 1.

Woodland, who called the May 2 meeting, said he talked with owners of a business upstairs in the building that houses the Anna Maria post office. That business and it’s signage can’t be seen from the ground level — only a sandwich board sign positioned downstairs directs customers to their location, Woodland said.

“I called the mayor and she said only the commission had the power to extend the deadline,” Woodland said.

Mayor SueLynn agreed, but said she learned from city attorney Jim Dye that she has certain enforcement powers.

She said she’s decided to relax enforcement on sandwich board signs until the drafted special exception ordinance is approved by the commission.

But she advised business owners that code enforcement officers would definitely enforce the ban after the special exception ordinance passes.

“And I think only two or three businesses might qualify” under the special exception requirements. She’ll present those to commissioners at their Wednesday, May 7 meeting, when the first reading of the ordinance is scheduled.

Commission Vice Chair Nancy Yetter was not happy with the mayor’s decision to relax enforcement.

“We’re not trying to harm anyone’s business. But we went through this process and now the mayor is saying she’s going to override us. Our governing policies don’t appear to hold much water,” Yetter said.

Woodland has support from Commissioner Doug Copeland, who also has no problem with the mayor’s decision. The agree to considering the special exception on a case-by-case basis.

“Not everyone who applies will get an exception,” Woodland said. “But I’m fine with what the mayor is doing. I just wanted some relief for business owners until the special exception is in place.”

Several business owners spoke in favor of allowing sandwich board signs to remain, including Debbie Webster, who owns Artspace, located upstairs, above the post office.

“My business is at 101 S. Bay Blvd. We have pulled our A-frame sign and we only had one customer May 1 and she was a friend of mine. So, basically, without our A-frame sign, nobody knows where we are,” Webster said.

AME to get new principal for start of new school year

Changes made by the Manatee County School District will bring a new principal to Anna Maria Elementary School for the 2014-15 school year, and all schools are under a targeted spending freeze.

Three-year AME principal David Marshall will be replaced by Jackie Featherston, current principal at Stewart Elementary in Bradenton. Marshall will become principal at Gene Witt Elementary, 200 Rye Road E., Bradenton.

“It’s the natural course of things,” Marshall said. “There were a lot of retirements this year.”

Throughout the county, eight principals are transferring and seven schools are accepting applications for new principals.

“Witt is a great school, just like Anna Maria. It’s an A school, there are great things in place and, similar to Anna Maria, it has good teachers and parent involvement,” Marshall said.

He also said he looks forward to the change and to enhancing Gene Witt.

“I think that’s the same thing you do when you go to any school,” he said. “We brought some great things here, battle of the books, the mother-son social and the father-daughter dance.”

Also, Don Hall, deputy superintendent of the district, announced a targeted spending freeze in a memo to principals and department heads April 25. The spending freeze is in effect until June 30.

The district has been struggling to recover from an overspending shortfall totaling millions of dollars.

“As Superintendent (Rick) Mills shared with you last week, we have had some major successes, even within a financially difficult period. However, he also shared that we would have to look at some additional measures to improve our final closing balance. As he further shared, we have the unknown costs of the state and federal audit findings pending, and we are still awaiting news of final disposition,” Hall wrote in the memo.

Marshall explained that every school has budgeted funds and internal funds. The budgeted funds are targeted for the freeze — items such as teacher supplies.

“Anna Maria is in great shape. We had such a small budget and we use internal funds, which are not frozen,” he said. “It’s one of the benefits of being a small school.”

Internal funds are the result of fundraisers for field trips and other events around the school, Marshall said.

“Fortunately, it’s May and most of our teachers have already purchased their supplies,” he added.

Exemptions to the spending freeze can be requested in order to support life, health and safety of students and staff.

In additional to internal funds, all state and federal grants, categorical funds, operational supplies, tools and equipment for the maintenance and operations, custodial, transportation and vehicle maintenance departments are exempt from the freeze.

1st shorebird nest marked on the beach

Soon to be moms are spending their time beachside this Mother’s Day.

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring marked its first shorebird nest of the season April 26. According to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox, the first nest is a least tern nest.

An area 150 by 400 feet is marked off in the 2500 block of Gulf Drive on the Gulf beach to give the nesting birds some privacy and protection.

Least terns, the smallest tern on the island, are listed as a threatened species and are protected by state law. When a nest is spotted, the AMITW crew heads out to protect it from harm.

Least terns are migratory birds, and arrive on the island in early spring from their winter grounds in South America. The travelers begin to romance fairly quickly after their arrival and typically lay eggs in April and May.

Donning their breeding plumage, a black “cap,” the males will attempt to woo prospective mates by offering them small fish.

The eggs are laid in shallow depressions on the open, broad expanse of bare sand, camouflaging the eggs. They hatch after 21 days.

The young least terns will leave the nest after a few days, but will not fly for three weeks.

Least tern nests are highly susceptible to disturbance, making the protection important to their survival. The terns lay their eggs in small scrapes in the sand on the beach. The high foot-traffic of beachgoers can easily destroy the nests before they are spotted.

The small shorebirds nest in colonies. The disturbance of one nest usually leads to the disturbance of many nests.

The least terns have lost extensive nesting habitat to increased human activity on the beaches and development. Efforts by the AMITW combat some of the obstacles nesting terns face.

According the Florida Fish and Wildlife, least terns have begun nesting in the gravel of flat roofs on homes due to habitat loss in the past couple of decades.

The FWC developed an educational pilot program being implemented in Pinellas County to encourage tolerance of the roof squatters.

Disturbing the nesting birds is illegal. Beachgoers who see the marked nesting grounds should stay behind the marked area so as not to disturb the birds.

Any unmarked nests should be reported to the AMITW by calling Fox at 941-778-5638.

Technology woes spark heated Bradenton Beach debate

Bradenton Beach commissioners aren’t ready to throw out their old information technology for a new system, despite problems within the city’s outdated computer server.

Commissioners and staff are experiencing technical issues, including email deficiencies and inadequate digital storage capacity.

Even more concerning, some commissioners are using personal email accounts when responding to the public, a civil servant no-no, according to city clerk Jamie Anderson, who says the emails must be stored to preserve the public record.

“I am very uncomfortable with you using your personal Gmail accounts when dealing with city issues,” Anderson said. “Those emails are public record and saving them is required by law.”

But commissioners declined to implement a new program on learning that former Commissioner Ric Gatehouse, the city’s longtime tech administrator, would not turn over control to Anderson.

Gatehouse currently acts as custodian for the city’s email accounts and he owns the city’s domain names — the URL addresses on the World Wide Web.

“Since the domain was set up with the city over 12 years ago, I have acted as custodian, in control of registration,” he wrote commissioners in an email. “I act as the city agent for this domain. That means, I do the bidding of the commission and not that of any individual.”

The board voted for Anderson and Gatehouse to work on a compromise during an April 29 work session. But on learning Gatehouse was unresponsive in the days after vote, the matter turned into a heated debate at the May 1 commission meeting.

“This decision is hindering me as mayor,” Mayor Bill Shearon said. “People are sending me emails that I never get and, without email, this city dies.”

Shearon suggested city attorney Ricinda Perry write a letter asking Gatehouse to relinquish control over the city accounts.

However, Commissioner Janie Robertson was Shearon’s only supporter. Her motion died when it failed to gain a second, which prompted a stern message from the mayor.

“ I work seven days a week, trying to get day-to-day operations straightened out,” he said. “I will no longer be proactive. I will be reactive and the chips will fall where they fall.”

Shearon asked for a second motion and when he heard none, he swung the gavel, adjourned the meeting and left the dais in rage.

“It’s going to be a long year and a half around here because I don’t have any authority,” he said. “Instead, I get sued.”

At the April 29 session, Anderson proposed dumping the old method and transitioning to Microsoft 365, which works with Microsoft Office and allows users to access email and other features available with a cloud system.

The system also would automatically archive emails through a third party so they can be retrieved by search words. It would not rely on the city’s computer server for storage. The cities of Anna Maria and Holmes Beach use similar systems.

“You can go back and forth and handle your own email,” she said, “as you have been doing,
but if I get a request, I can’t get to it.”

The clerk is the official custodian of the city’s public records and, as such, responsible for responding to all public records requests.

Anderson said the city administrative server lacks the capacity to archive emails and the new IT system would cost the city about $4,700 a year.

Upon hearing of the clerk’s proposed new system, Gatehouse said he could address email and storage issues for less money.

He said he could add storage space to the server for about half the cost of the Microsoft program.

But Anderson said more storage would only be a temporary fix for all the problems plaguing the city.

Further, the city has purchased the system and staff is ready to install it.

Commissioner Jack Clarke had requested the matter be put on the April 29 work session agenda.

Clarke said after the meeting, “I am disinclined to be flexible on this issue.”

Clarke and Commissioner Ed Straight said they had concerns with the security of the system.

“I would liken the cloud to a big bowl of vegetable soup,” Clarke said. “That means if some outside source gets in and is looking for the macaroni, nobody else can get into the soup.”

Anderson, however, said the information stored on the cloud would be public record — legally accessible to everyone.

The IT system has been a concern for more than a year.

In November, commissioners voted to provide as much of their communication to city staff and officials by electronic means as possible. But those plans were put on hold after January, when the two senior staff members implementing the new policy, former city clerk Nora Idso and former deputy clerk Karen Cervetto, resigned.

Clarke said deputy clerks Tammy Johnson and Audra Lanzero “plotted their own course and ably navigated us through this time until the current city clerk and treasurer came on board.”

However, he said recent information shows that some emails may not have been handled in compliance with Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

Clarke said the violation is being remedied by new policies and procedures implemented by Anderson.

“Our IT has been exasperated by the city’s antiquated computer hardware and obsolete software,” Clarke said.

But he disagreed with Anderson’s purposed resolution, adding that the commission voted unbudgeted funds to address the problem by purchasing the Microsoft 365 software.

In addition, commissioners unanimously voted March 20 to renew the city’s agreement with Gatehouse.

Clarke said the implementation of the new program has caused larger problems.

“Some of us found that the simple functions we utilized earlier in the year were all of the sudden unavailable or working sporadically,” he said.

Clarke also said he could not find any evidence of the commission ever voting to fund the alternative plan.

Shearon disputed the lack of funding, saying the new system was included in the budget under information technology.

Shearon and Robertson said the decision to transition to the new system should be the clerk’s choice.

“We hired her to make these kind of decisions,” Shearon said. “We approved upgrading the computer system, and Jamie has stayed within the budget.”

Clarke criticized Anderson for not proposing the new system before commissioners renewed the agreement with Gatehouse, although he favored finishing the contract with Gatehouse through the fiscal year before transitioning to another program.

Shearon said Gatehouse would remain on the payroll, and focus his efforts on the website instead of city email.

“So what that means is we are stymied,” Shearon said. “That’s unacceptable. If you want to micromanage the city you need to be here every day and deal with all the issues staff faces.”

Man threatens to kill repairman with B.B. gun

A Holmes Beach man was arrested May 2 after allegedly threatening to kill a repairman with a B.B gun.

Errol Phillips, 75, 3000 block of Avenue E, faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly pointed the gun at a man’s head when he refused to move his work van.

According to the police report, the 62-year-old victim parked his van outside an apartment where he was working around 11:30 a.m.

Phillips came outside his apartment and told the man he had to move his van. An argument ensued, and the man said Phillips threatened to “kick his (explicative).”

After arguing with the victim, Phillips allegedly went inside and returned with a weapon resembling a black handgun.

He reportedly pointed it at the victim’s head and said he would “shoot him dead,” the report said.

The victim walked away and called 911.

When officers from the Holmes Beach Police Department arrived, they retrieved the gun from Phillips’ pocket. The Beretta Storm B.B. gun in Phillips’ possession was an exact replica of a 9mm Beretta handgun.

Phillips was held without bond at the Manatee County jail, but released on his own recognizance May 3.

Holmes Beach mayor’s boat underwater again

Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti’s neighbor, Larry Solberg, across the canal from the mayor’s home and two derelict boats the mayor has stored on the canal for several years, complained to the U.S. Coast Guard when one of the boats was found sunk again May 3. This time around, someone put fuel-oil absorbing pads on the water near the boat. Islander Photo: Larry Solberg Click here for more