Tag Archives: 09-05-2012
Manatee County officials last week learned the county may receive $3.1 million in BP settlement funds.
But the Florida Association of Counties has revised its estimate of Manatee County’s minimum share of the proposed BP oil spill settlement from $3.1 million to $4.8 million.
Manatee County natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker attended a meeting with the lead attorneys in the suit for the Gulf states — the Gulf Consortium — against BP several weeks ago and was given the $3.1 million estimate.
But that was only a preliminary estimate, Hunsicker said.
The Gulf Consortium hired an accounting firm to review the proposed settlement offer from BP and reported Manatee County could expect at least $4.8 million.
The same report said Manatee County’s maximum share could reach $19.1 million.
The final settlement to the Gulf Consortium has not been determined, but BP has accepted a court order to pay $7.8 billion in private claims. That figure does not include the amount BP will pay to the governments of the five Gulf Coast states impacted by the spill, which could reach more than $10 billion, according to a recent Reuters news story. There is no cap on the amount of BP liability, a federal court has ruled.
The group of lawyers representing Florida in the consortium is still in court, attempting to reach a settlement figure before trial.
Some estimates of the settlement to coastal state governments have been as high as $13 billion.
Florida is the only Gulf Coast state where all settlement funds are being appropriated directly to the 23 affected counties. Louisiana is giving 30 percent of its settlement to its affected counties, while keeping the remaining 70 percent in the state treasury.
Texas, Alabama and Mississippi are planning to put any settlement funds in the general treasury for later disbursement.
The federal court in New Orleans hearing the lawsuits has ruled that any funds received from the settlement must be used by the affected governments for specific purposes.
Those include “restoration and protection of natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches and coastal wetlands of the Gulf Coast region.”
Other allowed projects, among others, are workforce development and job creation, coastal flood protection and related infrastructure, promotion of tourism and the consumption of seafood.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who was recently appointed to the FAC committee that will advise Florida counties on how to set up disbursement accounts, said the commission has not discussed where local settlement funds will be spent.
“We are waiting to see what the final disbursement is and when it will be received before proceeding,” she said.
Once the amount is known, Hunsicker said he will meet with stakeholders to discuss potential projects.
Eventually, he hopes a working group can be organized to prioritize projects and bring them to the commission.
However, Hunsicker added, it’s a “long way away” before the county receives any settlement, particularly if BP decides to fight the Gulf Consortium in federal court.
“We’re just going to wait and see what happens. These are funds we never expected, so we want to manage them wisely,” he said. “And it’s going to take some time before they are used. We want as much public input and public meetings as possible on this.”
A meeting with Florida lawyers in the Gulf Consortium is planned for Sept. 12 at the Manatee County administration building, he added.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill began April 20, 2010, on an oil rig about 40 miles southeast of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico.
An explosion killed 11 people and the cap on the sea bottom to seal the pipeline failed. This resulted in an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil seeping into the Gulf of Mexico before the leak was contained.
Additionally, 1.9 million gallons of oil dispersant were dumped on the slick.
A Labor Day weekend fishing tournament has been delayed due to poor offshore conditions, but with the former Tropical Storm/Hurricane Isaac pushing north this week, the fourth annual Galati Yacht Sales Labor Day Billfish Tournament.is bound to happen Sept. 6-9.
The schedule was not made available for print or the website until Sept. 4.
The schedule of events includes:
- 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, captain’s meeting, Galati Yachts Sales, Galati Marine.
- 7 a.m., Friday, Sept. 7, fishing begins.
- 8:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8, fishing ends.
- Noon-1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 9, weigh in.
Species and Points include:
- Photo or video release.
- Blue Marlin — 501 points.
- White Marlin — 250 points.
- Sailfish — 100 points.
- Spearfish — 100 points.
- Swordfish — 50 points (2 maximum).
The fish weigh-in will include catches of dolphin, wahoo and tuna and is open to the public.
Free dockage and fuel discounts are available for participating tournament boats through Galati Yacht Sales, 900 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria.
There is a $1,500 entry fee, plus tax, per boat, with additional $500 for tuna, dolphin and wahoo.
A $2,000 entry fee applies to the billfish division. Tax is added to all boats entry fees.
The tournament is limited to 20 entries.
For more information, call Chris Galati at 941-778-0755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies stationed in Anna Maria have been begun investigating rental properties in the city in search of unlicensed or unregistered vacation rentals.
An Aug. 28 memo from Sgt. Dave Turner, head of the MCSO substation, gave approval to Deputy Steve Ogline to investigate suspected violators as a criminal — felony — offense if they are not registered with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation as required by statute.
Ogline is using a database prepared by Anna Maria code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon that lists the owner and/or rental agent responsible for a vacation rental if available. Vacation rentals not in the database will be noted by Ogline as well as other deputies and code enforcement officers.
Rathvon said she has about 500 properties in the database for Anna Maria vacation rentals and she expects more to be added in the future. Anna Maria Commission Chair Chuck Webb has said he believes there are nearly 700 vacation rentals in the city.
State-backed criminal charges can be initiated by the state attorneys office against the homeowner based on the MCSO report should the report show the homeowner using a home or unit that is not licensed by the DBPR as a vacation rental. Failure to have a proper tax collection license issued by the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office is a misdemeanor governed by county law.
In a memo to code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon, Ogline said he started his investigations with 12 properties on his suspect list, including seven not in Rathvon’s database.
These are all homes that law enforcement and code enforcement officers have identified as possible vacation rental properties operating without the required state license.
Ogline plans to send the homeowner’s name and property address to the DBPR for the agency to determine if a license to use the house as a vacation rental was issued.
“There are some others I plan to start investigating, but I figured these 12 would be a good start,” Ogline told Rathvon.
He said there is no indication any of the 12 suspect properties use a local rental agency.
If any name or address comes back from the DBPR as unregistered for a vacation rental, Ogline said he will write a report on the violation and forward it through MCSO channels to the state attorney’s office for further action.
City Commissioner SueLynn, who has been advocating for control of rowdy tenants who rent from owners who ignore established rental “best practices,” said this is a “significant first step” in getting a handle on keeping Anna Maria a quiet and peaceful destination.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said, but added that finding unlicensed operators is a start.
The vacation rental issue came to the forefront in Anna Maria after the Florida Legislature passed a bill stating that cities could no longer limit vacation rental zoning beyond previously established regulations. The legislature required residential and rental properties be regulated the same in the future.
Many cities were unaware of the legislation, said Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, and the statute passed quietly before the Florida League of Cities could organize an effort to halt the bill.
The state statute literally blind-sided SueLynn, Mayor Mike Selby and other Anna Maria commissioners.
“I was stunned when I learned we could no longer control our own zoning,” said Selby.
SueLynn agreed: “It’s like being able to build a 7-11 on North Shore Drive, or put in a pizza delivery store on Magnolia Avenue, and the city can’t stop it.”
Selby is still working to have deputies issue code violations to nuisance tenants or noisemakers.
Turner has said issuing citations is not the job of deputies.
Negotiations between city attorney Jim Dye and Michelle Hall, attorney for the MCSO, are ongoing.
The Anna Maria rental database can be found online on the real estate page at www.islander.org.
The search for a replacement for retiring Anna Maria Island Community Center executive director Pierrette Kelly continues more than four months after she submitted her resignation.
Greg Ross, president of the center board of directors, said the executive board was scheduled to interview five finalists from the second round of applicants on Aug. 25, but those plans were canceled due to Tropical Storm Isaac.
Ross said he has not set dates for the board to interview the candidates or the next board meeting, but he hoped to have the board interview the five finalists within the next two weeks. Those interviews will be closed to the public.
Kelly submitted her resignation in late April and planned to leave the center by June 30. She also agreed to stay until the board selected a replacement.
A committee headed by West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price was appointed by the executive board to review applications for the job and submit a short list of candidates.
In early July, the board rejected everyone on the committee’s short list and again called for applications.
As previously reported, among the rejected applicants were the center’s assistant executive director Scott Dell and board secretary Monica Simpson, and Simpson was restricted from the executive board review.
The review committee again began the process of reviewing the second round of applications and preparing a new short list.
The committee has now submitted a second priority list of five prospective candidates to the board, but Ross said scheduling difficulties and Isaac prevented a special meeting from taking place to interview finalists.
The board “usually takes off in August,” Ross said, and a number of board members were unavailable for a meeting earlier that month. Then came TS Isaac.
Ross said the board officers now plan to interview the five candidates individually, then discuss each candidate’s merits and take a vote. The name of the new director will — hopefully — be announced at the next board meeting, probably in early October, said Ross.
The board usually meets at 8 a.m. at the community center on the first Monday of each month, although in September, that day was Labor Day.
Kelly resigned after more than 22 years as executive director of the community center, which is at 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria.
Past firings and a gruesome discovery of preserved human organs found in a Pensacola storage unit last week have raised concerns regarding Dr. Michael Berkland’s involvement in the investigation of the 2009 death of 22-year-old Sheena Morris at a Bradenton Beach motel.
The storage unit previously belonged to Berkland, but the unit at Uncle Bob’s Self Storage in Pensacola was auctioned to the highest bidder for nonpayment by Berkland. The new owner was sifting through items when he reported to investigators that he was overwhelmed by a strange odor.
He found a 32-ounce drinking cup containing a human heart and leaking formaldehyde. Investigators from the Pensacola District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office also found hearts, lungs and sections of brains being preserved in everyday household plastic food containers in the storage unit.
Previous to the gruesome discovery, Berkland played a pivotal role in the decision by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review Morris’s death.
Morris was found dead New Year’s Day 2009 in her BridgeWalk Resort bathroom, hanging from a dog leash in the shower. The case was initially ruled a suicide after the Bradenton Beach Police Department and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office found no evidence of foul play.
In 2011, Berkland was hired by Morris’ mother, Kelly Osborn, to further investigate her daughter’s cause of death. Berkland determined from photos of the crime scene that it could have been staged to look like a suicide. It was his opinion that swayed the medical examiner to change the cause of death from suicide to undetermined.
But that opinion is being questioned after last week’s discovery and new information that Berkland has twice been fired from medical examiner jobs, including a 2003 dismissal from the Pensacola District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office, which now is involved in investigating the macabre discovery in Berkland’s storage unit.
Berkland was fired for not completing autopsy reports properly and accurately. He was fired for the same thing in 1996 as a contract medical examiner in Jackson County, Mo.
He began a private practice after being fired from the Pensacola office, conducting private autopsies. It is unclear if any of the organs that were discovered belonged to the deceased individuals Berkland was hired to investigate.
The Pensacola office is investigating that possibility, and law enforcement officials are determining if any criminal acts may have occurred, but no charges had been filed as of The Islander press time.
But for those who first investigated Morris’ death, the impact of last week’s find and the information regarding Berkland’s employment history is clear.
“I’m very concerned about this because this is the ‘expert’ that convinced everybody the crime scene was staged,” said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, whose department has taken criticism from Morris and her supporters.
Osborn has accused BBPD of reaching the wrong conclusion through poor investigative techniques.
“They have been telling us for three years that he’s an expert to base facts on, and here he is falsifying documents,” said Speciale. “This guy’s word is totally discredited.”
Speciale said he was stunned at the turn of events, “But I’m sure we will find out more in the coming days. The basis of his opinion is what started this and he has no credibility.”
Speciale said the Pensacola investigation won’t change FDLE’s review process of the Morris case. FDLE sealed the case file last month and is assembling a team that is expected to begin reviewing the case next month.
“FDLE is not using his opinion in their review,” said Speciale. “It was Berkland’s opinion that is the basis of this process, but his opinion has no credibility. FDLE will base their review solely on the facts of the case.”
Osborn retains confidence
Osborn said she previously knew of Berkland’s employment history and now has been made aware of the discoveries in his storage unit, but neither has caused her confidence in him to waiver.
“We did know about his background when we checked him out before hiring him,” said Osborn. “We looked at both sides of the story and we believed his dismissals were politically motivated, as he has stated in the past.”
Osborn said the recent discovery of organs in Berkland’s storage unit took a little more time to digest.
“I had to let the news sink in for a day,” she said. “After thinking about it, I feel bad for the families whose family members may have organs in that storage unit, but it’s no different than my daughter’s body parts rotting away in the Bradenton Beach Police Department’s non-climate controlled evidence room.”
Morris’ fingernails were clipped at the crime scene and retained as part of the case file. Osborn believes her daughter was murdered and has questioned why Morris’s fingernails have not been tested for DNA.
“My understanding is that Dr. Berkland used organs in his teaching, as well, which is why he had them stored,” she said. “At this point, I have no reason not to believe he is a professional criminal pathologist and what has happened hasn’t changed my opinion of him, and hasn’t changed the fact that my daughter was murdered.”
Osborn did not receive the news FDLE was reviewing her daughter’s case with much enthusiasm. She said previously that a review is not an investigation, but she said that’s not why she’s frustrated.
“I’m frustrated with the lack of communication from FDLE, and the Bradenton Beach Police Department,” she said. “There has been no communication at all. Chief Speciale made a comment he won’t talk to me because I berate him. That is absolutely not the case. I am capable of having an adult conversation when it comes to my daughter.”
Osborn said BBPD is incapable of handling a homicide investigation, “but Dr. Berkland is a criminal pathologist and is qualified to make this determination. And the fact hasn’t changed that three other pathologists agreed with Dr. Berkland’s findings.”
Three forensic experts were contacted by Berkland to review the crime scene photos.
Berkland’s attorney, Eric Stevenson, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that Berkland’s storage of organs is no different than a lawyer storing case files. The only difference, he said, was the differences in profession and that this incident has no bearing on the Morris investigation.
As of press time for The Islander, Stevenson did not return Islander requests for an interview.
A rash of burglaries has struck Anna Maria in recent weeks, and they’re mostly occurring when one deputy is on duty and answering another call, said Sgt. Dave Turner, who heads the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office-Anna Maria substation.
“It’s all local people, younger people. We know who they are. They ride around on their bicycles or are on foot late at night and know where the night deputy is, then they find an unlocked car or house,” Turner said.
Only one MCSO deputy is scheduled for the late-night to early-morning shift, but Turner said he asked his supervisor for additional support for those hours.
While most of the burglaries reported in August were from unlocked vehicles, some occurred at unoccupied or vacant homes and one was at a garage where the door was left open overnight.
For August, Turner said he had eight reports of burglary to an unlocked motor vehicle and several reports of breaking and entering a residence.
In one vehicle burglary, a .25-caliber loaded handgun was stolen. In another burglary, an automatic shotgun was stolen from an unlocked truck. Turner said the shotgun was on a storage rack in full view of the outside, and the sliding glass door to enter the truck through the rear was unlocked.
North Shore Drive appears to be a popular location for auto burglaries, according to Turner’s report, while automobiles on Gladiolus Street, Lakeview Place and Oak Avenue also were burglarized. Unlocked houses on Oak Avenue also were targeted by the criminals, Turner added.
“Burglars are stealing guns, cash, jewelry, tools and drugs, and most crimes are crimes of opportunity, where a car or home is left unlocked,” he said. “We only had one burglary with forced entry.”
Turner said the best advice is “Keep your car locked and your home secure when you’re away.”
Investigations are ongoing and several juveniles are suspects.
Anyone with inform on any burglary is asked to call 911 or 941-708-8899. The information can be given anonymously, Turner added.
Holmes Beach resident Mary Buonagura has compiled her findings from six months of study of building department files in a one-page memo to the city.
Buonagura was a member of the zoning-permitting focus group headed by Commissioner John Monetti, one of several city groups headed by commissioners that were formed in January to address renter, construction, garbage, noise and parking complaints.
The focus groups were named in February shortly after Buonagura made her initial records request.
In a one-page memo dated Aug. 28, Buonagura summarized her findings, but does not provide substantiating evidence or a report to document her claims.
She noted that she requested an examination of the building department’s records in January and she completed her research July 10.
She called lack of code enforcement by the city “egregious” and alleged malfeasance on the part of elected officials.
Though Buonagura complimented the building department staff as efficient and for professional and accurate recording of “what is in each property file,” she also noted missing information on the building inspector’s reports.
“In virtually every case of records I searched,” wrote Buonagura, inspection reports were noted “acceptable,” adding there were no comments or instructed “redos.”
The inspection reports did not track with what I witnessed in my drive-by site inspections, she said.
Buonagura continued, “In one case I reported a reconfigured roof line and encroachment onto the neighbor’s property,” adding that her report led to an almost immediate stop work order.
In addition to looking at the files and various construction sites, her research with county, state and local codes and other public records was aimed at determining who was at fault for homes being illegally built for eight years, according to her memorandum.
“Clearly, the research points to an egregious lack of enforcement by the city,” she concluded.
Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said last week he and public works superintendent Joe Duennes were studying Buonagura’s memorandum.
He said because it only sets out general allegations, without specific addresses, it was difficult to know what’s being claimed as problem properties.
Nonetheless, Bohnenberger said he is researching the issues raised by Buonagura, and will provide a more thorough response at a later date.
October court dates have been set for the former clerk of a Holmes Beach convenience store who allegedly stole $2,223 in Florida lottery tickets.
Jeanna Mehrhoff, 29, of 7504 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, was arrested Feb. 1 by the Holmes Beach Police Department. The arrest stemmed from allegations that she printed and failed to pay for Florida lottery tickets while working as a cashier for two months at Timesaver, 5353 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
Timesaver provided HBPD with detailed records supporting the allegations, according to the police report.
Shelly Safford, public affairs specialist with the Florida Lottery, said that while the lottery may assist local law enforcement in investigations, there was no such assistance provided in the Mehrhoff incident.
The 12th Judicial Circuit Court State Attorney’s Office filed third-degree felony grand theft/embezzlement charges Feb. 8 against Mehrhoff.
There have been depositions taken in the felony case, according to Timesaver representative Mondher Kobrosly.
Judge Janette Dunnigan will hold a docket sounding Oct. 10, and a trial is set for the week of Oct. 22 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave., Bradenton.
According to public defender Anne Hunter’s office, the trial will be a non-jury trial.
After posting bond and being released from the Manatee County jail on the theft charges in February, Mehrhoff was again arrested March 3 by HBPD. She was stopped for driving erratically on Gulf Drive, according to the police report.
She was charged with first-degree misdemeanor marijuana possession in connection with a search of her vehicle.
In the March 3 affidavit signed by Mehrhoff that is filed in the Manatee County circuit court records, she admitted that a pipe, a bag of marijuana and a grinder found by HBPD police were hers.
A misdemeanor charge on the possession of 2.2 grams of marijuana was filed April 4.
Mehrhoff’s assistant public defender, William Sheslow, on June 6 filed a motion to dismiss the charges as “facially unconstitutional.”
Sheslow argued in his motion that Mehrohoff’s charges should be dismissed because a 2002 state marijuana possession law did not require her to know the illicit nature of the crime.
A notice of hearing and status conference on the misdemeanor drug charges will be held Oct. 5 at the judicial center.
Holmes Beach planner Bill Brisson reports Aug. 28 to commissioners his preliminary research and analysis into the character of Residential-2 district. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
When Holmes Beach planner Bill Brisson came forward to speak on an Aug. 28 city commission agenda item about short-term rentals, he steered commissioners to take a different focus on anticipated changes — and spoke mostly about possible living-area to lot-size ratio limits on new construction.
“Let’s not talk about short-term rentals,” he said.
Though acknowledging they are part of the problem, he recommended a decade-by-decade study on the problems that have been arising and the character of R-2 single-family and duplex homes.
At a city meeting earlier this month, the city planner was asked to begin a comprehensive study to support new measures brought forward by focus groups on building codes, rentals, zoning, permitting and code enforcement.
The commission formed focus groups after residents packed city hall chambers in November and December with their problems about garbage, noise and parking and also relating to construction and short-term rental practices.
Based on his preliminary research and analysis, Brisson said there had been “a dramatic change” in living-area ratios.
Setting a floor-area to lot-size ratio to limit large duplex units was a primary recommendation of the building code focus group.
In June, commissioners voted in favor of a .30 FAR.
Brisson reconciled “living-area ratios” with “floor-area ratios,” explaining he regarded FAR as a measurement of the total space “under roof,” and the LAR as a measurement of the space generally thought of as air-conditioned.
He added the focus group FAR recommendations to the city appeared to use the same “living area” calculations. Commissioner Jean Peelen, who headed the building code focus group, confirmed that the FAR report used under-air calculations.
In his preliminary LAR findings for the R-2 district, Brisson used data from the Manatee Property County Appraiser’s Office and Geographic Information System maps of the city.
He said “the changes were most dramatic from 2009 on” in what is the city’s R-2 district, consisting of about 463 single-family homes and 601 duplex units.
As for single-family homes constructed from the 1920s through 2005, Brisson identified two-thirds that range between .22-.27 LARs. Of those constructed between 2006-2008, two-thirds were built at a .34 LAR, and for new homes built between 2009 and 2011, he calculated a .39.
He also noted an average of three bedrooms in single-family homes before 2009, but after 2009 the average jumped to 4.6 per home.
In 2009-2011, he said there were 15 single-family homes constructed, seven of which had five or more bedrooms.
With respect to duplex units, he said before 2006, two-thirds were built with a LAR of .33 or less. For units built between 2006-2008, he calculated a .46 LAR, and for those built between 2009-2011, a .51 LAR.
Of 27 duplexes constructed between 2009-2011, he had told commissioners there were five homes with six bedrooms, but later revised that number to four.
He pointed out four duplex homes with four bedrooms built during this period.
The other 19 were constructed with three bedrooms or less.
Brisson said, “The most significant changes are between 2009 and 2011, but changes began in 2006.”
He also emphasized more research results to come, but his initial findings were given to assist commissioners in understanding his studies and the process.
Brisson has been contracted as the city planner since about 2003.
Holmes Beach City attorney Patricia Petruff drafted a new ordinance for review by the planning commission that may include one of the most restrictive swimming pool slide rules in the country.
Some newer vacation homes have pool slides that allow the users to enter the pool from the second-floor balcony and neighbors have complained about noise and safety issues at those locations.
Commissioner John Monetti previously was tasked with the job of consulting a well-known pool builder as to what constitutes a standard slide for pools as the commission continued its quest to address short-term rental problems in Holmes Beach.
“At the same time the general feeling was we didn’t want to prohibit all slides because there are a lot of families with little kids,” Monetti said.
Monetti’s research found that a 6-foot-tall slide is standard for a residential pool.
In addition, the city is looking to restrict connecting slides and ancillary structures to second-floor porches and encroaching on setbacks.
So commissioners next discussed grottos, fountains, waterfalls, and how best to prohibit setback encroachments. They also received their planner’s input.
“As far as actual regulations of slides, we did global searches for many states and looked through Municode and such,” said Bill Brisson, the city’s contracted planner.
He said the only ordinance found was in Fontana, Calif., which restricted slides from encroaching into setbacks.
“I’d say, yes, you wouldn’t want any the pool accruements to intercede into the setbacks,” Brisson said.
Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said there was a consensus that nothing be allowed in the 5-foot setback.
“So if we pass this, what will be recorded is we will have the most restrictive slide rule in the country,” Monetti said, drawing laughter from the gallery.
Petruff sent the draft ordinance to city officials last week.
In addition to the 6-foot maximum height requirement on pool slides, the ordinance includes:
• Two parking spaces for each dwelling unit and one parking space for each additional bedroom.
• Four-foot fences to surround existing pools.
• No pool in any front yard or facing a street.
• Enclosures to baffle pool equipment noise.
• Five-foot setbacks for pools, decks and ancillary structures, such as fountains, grottos and slides.