The first ever recall election in Manatee County history ended at 9 a.m. Sept. 20, when the Anna Maria canvassing board certified the Sept. 7 vote to recall Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus from office 362-331.
Certification came following a Sept. 16 order from Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal that lifted a stay of the certification by the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.
Gene Aubry, who ran against Stoltzfus in the recall election to fill the remaining 14 months of Stoltzfus’ term, will be sworn in as a commissioner at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.
Aubry received 363 votes to Stoltzfus’ 333 votes in the election for commissioner, which was on the same ballot as the recall question.
Prior to the DCA decision, Anna Maria city clerk and canvassing board chair Alice Baird said she had planned to certify the election Sept. 20 to be in compliance with state law.
Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said she was relieved that the recall issue was over.
“This was the democratic process,” she said. “Now, the city can get back to doing its business.”
But the DCA also gave Stoltzfus 20 days to respond to its certification order.
City attorney Jim Dye said it would be a “foggy area” if Aubry were sworn in to fill the remainder of Stoltzfus’ term and makes decisions, then Stoltzfus files his show cause motion and the DCA orders he be returned as commissioner.
Dye said he did not know why the DCA did not explain its decision in its order, but said the city was now “free to certify the election.”
In his opinion, certification is the final step in the recall process.
Efforts to reach Stoltzfus’ attorney, Richard Harrison, were unsuccessful.
A week of motions
A flurry of motions and court orders last week ended when the DCA issued its order late on the afternoon of Sept. 16.
The week began Sept. 13, when the DCA ordered the ballots be counted and the results announced to the public. The votes had been sealed under a court order by Circuit Court Judge Edward Nicholas, who also ordered that certification be withheld.
At 4:30 p.m., the elections office announced that 362 votes were cast for the recall of Stoltzfus, with 331 against. The voting for commissioner was 363 votes for Aubry and 333 for Stoltzfus.
But the results were not certified as Nicholas, at a Sept. 3 hearing, had ordered certification withheld until Sept. 24, unless the 2nd DCA ordered differently.
Attorney Andrea Flynn Mogensen of Citizens for Sunshine Inc., found a flaw in Nicholas’ order.
Florida election law requires an election be certified by the 12th day following an election or the results become moot, she said.
Mogensen filed an emergency appeal with the DCA Sept. 14 requesting the court “grant relief” and order certification.
Otherwise, she wrote, any certification after Sept. 20, including Nicholas’ Sept. 24 deadline, would be invalid. Mogensen asked the court to immediately grant an order to certify the election.
The DCA apparently recognized the time issue and ordered Stoltzfus and his attorney to respond by 3 p.m. Sept. 15.
Stoltzfus and Harrison filed a response that, essentially, claimed the recall petition and election were illegal and in conflict with a Florida Supreme Court decision in 1998 known as the Garvin case.
Harrison also argued that to certify the election prior to a decision on the appeal would harm Stoltzfus.
But Mogensen noted that Florida revised its election laws and certification procedures following the 2000 presidential election and the Garvin case no longer applied.
On Sept. 16, just 24 hours after receiving Stoltzfus’ reply, the DCA issued its order lifting the certification stay and gave Stoltzfus 20 days to show cause why the appeal already filed by Stoltzfus should not be moot.
Late on the afternoon of Sept. 17, Harrison was apparently seeking an emergency hearing before the Florida Supreme Court to stay the certification, according to an attorney involved in the case.
History of the recall
Stoltzfus was elected in November 2009 on a platform of ensuring all new developments in the city’s retail-office-residential district along Pine Avenue were safe for parking and complied with the city’s comprehensive plan and land-development regulations.
He opposed several ROR project site-plans submitted by Pine Avenue Restoration LLC.
In March, Stoltzfus received a public records request from legal consultant Michael Barfield of Sarasota to release all e-mails on his private computer pertaining to city business.
Following release of the e-mails, city resident Bob Carter said he was so shocked by the revelations he formed a Recall Commissioner Stoltzfus Committee to obtain the legal requirements for a recall election.
According to Carter and committee members, Stoltzfus in his e-mails had betrayed the public trust at the least and was guilty of misfeasance and malfeasance.
In e-mails released:
• Stoltzfus has pledged to kick the “asses” of Mayor Fran Barford and planning and zoning board member Bob Barlow, and called Barford a “donkey.”
• Stoltzfus asked Robin Wall to file a lawsuit against the city and offered financial backing for the effort.
• He asked other supporters to join the lawsuit.
• He provided individuals with information on how a lawsuit could be successfully prosecuted against the city.
• He communicated with an attorney representing a plaintiff in a legal action against the city.
• He communicated with a plaintiff who has filed a lawsuit against the city.
• He e-mailed an attorney offering him the job of city attorney after current city attorney Jim Dye is removed by Stoltzfus from office this November.
• He also asked the same attorney for advice on how he could avoid making public his personal e-mails about city business.
• Stoltzfus contended he’d like to see two Pine Avenue Restoration LLC projects on Pine Avenue bulldozed, although the projects were approved by the city and are already built.
• He directed his supporters on how to stop a proposal for Pine Avenue parking that he opposed.
• He said Barford was ignorant and stupid.
• He made allegations that city planner Alan Garrett and Dye are on the PAR payroll.
• He called Garrett incompetent.
When the e-mails became public record, Stoltzfus denied any wrongdoing or violation of Florida’s Sunshine Laws and said he was only doing what he pledged to do during his 2009 campaign.
After the Recall Commissioner Stoltzfus Committee delivered its two required petitions to the supervisor of elections office and the circuit court, Stoltzfus filed a motion to have the petition dismissed on the grounds it was legally insufficient.
Nicholas, however, determined the recall petition was acceptable and forwarded it to the 12th Circuit Court.
Prior to Nicholas hearing the Stoltzfus dismissal motion on Aug. 12, Circuit Court Chief Judge Lee Hamond ordered the recall election be held Sept. 7, unless Nicholas ruled in favor of Stoltzfus.
Nicholas denied the Stoltzfus challenge in a decision announced Aug. 24. He upheld the petition, which allowed the election to proceed as scheduled.
Stoltzfus then filed appeals with the Florida Second District Court of Appeal and with Nicholas, requesting a stay of the vote until the appeal court decision.
On Sept. 3, Nicholas ruled the election would proceed as scheduled, but the ballots sealed and the election not confirmed until after 5 p.m. Sept. 24, or earlier if the appeal court announced a ruling.
If the appeal court had not reached a decision by Sept. 24, Nicholas said Stoltzfus could request a further stay of confirmation of the election results and the public announcement of the vote.
After the results of the recall vote were announced, Mogensen filed the emergency motion with the DCA.
It may only be a recommendation to the city commission, but Anna Maria planning and zoning board members gave unanimous approval to the site plan for Pine Avenue Restoration LLC’s project for 308 Pine Ave. with an added stipulation to bond future sidewalk construction.
This site plan was new, but it was a second review for 308 Pine Ave., which was denied a recommendation in May.
The plan was reviewed with board members by Lynn Townsend of Lynn Townsend & Associates LLC, civil engineers and land planners, representing the developer.
Board member Sandra Mattick, acting as chair for Randall Stover, who was present but said to be “under the weather,” reviewed the site-plan analysis with city planner Alan Garrett and building official Bob Welch.
The analysis summarized the site plan, including three stipulations: Designated parking for residential use; enclosed retail trash receptacles; and the maintenance of the two proposed structures, one residential unit over an offie/retail unit in each building, as a unified site.
Mattick inquired about sidewalk requirements, and the discussion centered on postponing sidewalk construction, which will be provided by the developer, until a city parking plan is finalized.
The board agreed that a bond would be provided by the developer to allow the city to install the sidewalk on Pine Avenue — required by the land-development regulations — at its discretion.
The engineer will obtain sidewalk construction estimates that will be provided to the building department and city engineer, who will then recommend the bond amount. It will be initiated with the certificate of occupancy and be held for the length of the project, or two years, whichever comes first.
Further, the board recommended the city commission include the four stipulations in a resolution that will be recorded with the property deed.
The board also considered a variance request for an elevator to be located partially in the setback at 201 Fir Ave., the Gulffront home of Larrie and Vince Mercadante.
The Mercadantes are seeking the elevator to assist them in accessing the elevated home due to medical needs, and a review of the property by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection found only two possible areas for installation, either on the Gulffront, which would extend the building footprint seaward, or the side yard, where the elevator construction is requested.
Vince Mercadante told the board that Steve West of the DEP did the inspection and said the side yard construction was preferable.
The board agreed by a vote of 4 to 1 to recommend approval to the city commission. Bob Barlow, Margaret Jenkins, Stover and Mattick voted to approve, and Nancy Yetter voted no. Members Tom Turner and Mike Pescitelli were absent.
Bot matters will go to the city commission at its Sept. 23 meeting.
Occupancy of Island accommodations rose 3.3 percent in August 2010 compared with the same month last year, according to statistics released by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
But the increase in Island occupancy was offset for the Bradenton area by a 16.7 percent decline in occupancy of mainland accommodations. The BACVB reported occupancy in that accommodation category at 38.9 percent for August 2010, against a 46.7 percent occupancy rate for August 2009.
Overall occupancy of accommodation units in the BACVB area was reported at 44.5 percent for August 2010. That was a drop of 4.1 percent from the 46.4 percent level in August 2009.
At the same time, the average daily rate of an Island accommodation continued to decline. The ADR for August 2010 was $114.89 compared with $123.35 in August 2009, and $125.30 for the same month in 2008.
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said visitors in August were primarily from Florida and southeastern states.
“This was a time when Florida families head to the beach, and it was a very good August,” she said.
August tourism dropped significantly in 2001 after the Florida Legislature mandated all public schools had to finish the first semester by the Christmas holiday period.
That forced schools to open as early as the first week of August and prompted many Florida families to cancel summer vacation plans at the beach, including on Anna Maria Island.
Occupancy of Island accommodations fell to as low as 36 percent in 2003.
But Florida tourism officials lobbied the Legislature to change the law and beginning in 2007, the opening of public schools was delayed two weeks.
In August 2007, the first year after the Legislature moved the school starting date back, occupancy of Island accommodations rose from 40.2 percent to 50.7 percent, a 26.1 percent climb.
Manatee County Environmental Health Services officials recently removed the water advisories warning swimmers for the south side of the Palma Sola Causeway and at Bayfront Park in Anna Maria about the high bacteria levels found in those waters.
EHS director Tom Larkin said marine water bacterial level indicators at both locations had dropped below the maximum allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A similar advisory for the north end of Coquina Beach was lifted three weeks ago.
Larkin said tests were performed twice at each location to ensure the bacteria levels “comply with those recommended by the EPA.”
The waters at all 10 testing sites in Manatee County are tested weekly for bacteria levels that could cause harm to swimmers.
Generally, enteric bacteria levels rise because of several factors, Larkin said, including human and animal waste and stormwater runoff that brings fertilizer and other waste products used on land into the waters.
The presence of high levels of bacteria in waters pose a risk to swimmers and people susceptible to disease, he said. Skin rashes and itching are not uncommon when bathing in waters with high bacteria levels, and the risk of infection also increases, Larkin said.
Bacteria levels often increase after heavy rainfall due to stormwater runoff, but pinpointing a specific reason for the increase in enteric bacteria is “beyond the reach of our testing equipment,” he said.
The federal government has the type of test equipment that can accurately determine where the bacteria came from, but such tests are expensive and lengthy, he explained.
Larkin said horses in the water on the north side of the Palma Sola Causeway are not the cause of any rise in bacteria levels.
However, many people allow their dogs to play in the water on both sides of the causeway. They are supposed to clean up after their dogs, but many people don’t, he suggested.
Water quality testing is funded by both federal and state funds.
The board tasked with overseeing projects in Bradenton Beach’s downtown district last week backed tearing down a city-owned cottage to expand public parking.
The Monroe Cottage, built circa 1950 and used most recently for the now defunct city project/program management department, is on property just south of a public parking lot and the city public works department.
Earlier this year, the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency committee began looking at ways to expand use of the parking lot, which is between Church and Highland avenues.
Matt Morris of the Bradenton firm LTA Engineers appeared before the CRA committee Sept. 14 to present several ideas. The firm is under contract with the city to work on the project.
Two of four concepts were immediately dismissed by the committee, which is made up of the city commission and the mayor and business representative Ed Chiles, who was absent. Those two concepts involved changes or the elimination of the small Lou Barola Park across the street from the parking lot. The committee learned last week that such actions would require a referendum under the city charter.
“I’m glad we have to keep the park,” said Commissioner Gay Breuler. “In the course of time, we need to maintain some green areas.”
One of the remaining options, exhibit one from LTA, involves reconfiguring the existing parking area with a row of angled parking spaces, as well as added spaces adjacent to the park and on Church and Highland avenues. The preliminary plan shows a total of 38 public spaces, as well as city spaces.
The other option, the one the committee favored, is labeled exhibit three and involves the changes proposed in exhibit one, as well as the demolition of the Monroe Cottage and a shed and garage at the site at 304 Church Ave.
The plan shows a total of 47 public parking spaces, as well as city staff spaces.
The city purchased the cottage property several years ago for about $300,000 with plans to renovate — the cottage is not up to code and fails to meet access requirements under the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.
Eventually, city officials agreed that renovation was too expensive and that there was no good use for the structure. There had been some discussion about it becoming a welcome center, but there was consensus on the CRA committee earlier this year that the cottage is not close enough to Bridge Street to serve that purpose.
“From what we’ve already concluded, it’s a pretty messy place,” Breuler said. “And not very good for anything.”
The Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office has assessed the value of the land at 304 Church Ave. at $155,330 and the value of the structures at $19,399.
City clerk Nora Idso said the property has not been designated “historic” by the state, and that the city “can do whatever we like with it.”
The added public parking likely would be used by people who work in the CRA, which consists of the downtown area from Cortez Road south to Fifth Street South.
The CRA district was established about 18 years ago to revitalize what was deemed a blighted area of the city. The CRA is a tool to dedicate certain property tax dollars for revitalization within the district.
During last week’s meeting, resident Bill Shearon urged the committee to keep in mind the city’s regulations as it designs the parking lot.
“I believe that any parking lot and parking plan should meet the requirements of our land-development code,” Shearon said, emphasizing surface, lighting and landscape rules. He said the city should follow the same rules that exist for commercial enterprises.
Mayor Bob Bartelt said, “I really don’t think any project in this city is going to be built unless it goes through the proper permitting process.”
The committee wants the surface to be a 250 sand mixture, which would allow for better drainage, and, based on a reading of the LDC, would be allowed.
Exhibit one would cost the city about $41,000 in CRA money, according to Morris. His preliminary estimate for exhibit three was $55,000.
Bartelt said, “Obviously this isn’t all final.”
Bradenton Beach ScenicWAVES members, faced with funding questions, are working to prevent the city’s doggie do-do program from going bye-bye.
City commissioners said last week that funding for the program, which launched last year with a grant from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, is not in the city’s newly adopted budget for 2010-11.
There also is some question about how much the program will cost the city — estimates range from $500 per year to $500 per quarter for the purchase of biodegradable bags.
The city’s ScenicWAVES Partnership Committee has promoted the use of the pet-waste eradication program, which involves stocking 11 stations on the city’s bayfront with bags to help dog-walkers to clean up after their pups.
The city received a $2,000 grant from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program to launch the program last spring. The money went toward the purchase of the doggie bag dispensers, as well as a supply of biodegradable bags made with cornstarch.
But in the new fiscal budget, the commission eliminated the department that administered the pet-waste program — the project/program management department — and funding for the department projects.
So the new budget likely doesn’t provide for the continued purchase of pet-waste bags, which could cost the city as much as $2,000 a year, said Commissioner Janie Robertson.
However, ScenicWAVES chair Pat Gentry said a year’s supply should cost the city about $500 and that grants might be available — possibly from the local estuary programs or anti-litter organizations — to operate the program.
“There are other resources,” said Gentry. “We can’t just say we’re not going to buy anymore.”
Pet waste is a major cause of non-point source pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA warns that many pathogens found in animal waste can infect humans, including some organisms that can cause skin infections or chest pains. E. coli has been the source of disease outbreaks in the United States. Cryptosporidium, which is resistant to disinfection with chlorine and also found in pet waste, causes gastrointestinal illness and can be fatal in people with weakened immune systems.
The EPA also warns of stormwater carrying waste into water bodies, threatening marine life and water quality.
Gentry estimated that more than 250 pounds of pet waste is collected each year under the eradication program.
“If you made a pile of dog crap — 250 pounds worth — it’d be pretty significant,” she said.
Democratic challenger Sundae Lynn Knight is reporting less than $3,000 in donations while Republican incumbent Carol Whitmore has raised more than $75,000 in contributions.
The two candidates are facing each other in the Nov. 2 race for an at-large seat on the Manatee County Board of Commissioners.
Knight’s campaign finance reports, filed with the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office, show as of Sept. 17 a few small loans from the candidate to her campaign, as well as some in-kind contributions.
The reports also show a series of contributions — $250 or less — from individuals and a few organizations, such as the AFL-CIO. No donors listing Island residences showed up on the financial disclosure list.
Knight’s expenses – totaling about $1,000 — have mostly been for postage, printing, mailers, signs and election fees.
Financial papers for Whitmore, who lives in Holmes Beach and was that city’s mayor, show contributions of $75,635 and expenses of $46,570.77.
Like Knight, some of Whitmore’s contributions include candidate loans to the campaign, but mostly they are donations of $500 or less from individuals and organizations.
Island donors to Whitmore’s campaign include Hurricane Hanks, Charles Stealey, Miriam Goolsby, Pierrette Kelly, Arthur Valadie, LaPensee Plumbing, Scott Moore, Christine Rudacille, Anna Maria Island Resorts, Marsh Bloom, Gary Hickerson, Janice Oaks, Edward Upshaw, Paul Kelly, Hughes Rice, Ross Built, Air & Energy, Darcie Duncan, Denise Johnson, Lawrence Chatt, , Frank Davis, Harrington House, Bark and Company Realty, Barry Gould, Jason Sato, Tina Rudek, John Cagnina, Rex Hagen, George Jackson, WELD Inc., An Island Place Realty, Janet Aubry, Kimball Construction, Mike Sales, Sissy Quinn, Sandy Mattick, Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford, Michael Coleman and County Commissioner John Chappie.
Whitmore, as of Sept. 16, reported several PAC donations, including contributions from Beall’s, Innovate Florida, Floridians for a Sustainable Economy and the Greater Florida Leadership Group.
On the expense side, most of Whitmore’s campaign costs have been for printing, postage, consulting and for food and beverages at fundraisers.
Holmes Beach Commissioner John Monetti is hoping he can help bring some extra BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill money to the Island.
“I think there will be money to be had on Anna Maria Island,” Monetti said.
Monetti said the law firm involved in distributing $20 billion in oil crisis money to the southeast has committed to a commission meeting at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Oct. 5, at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Monetti said attorneys and commissioners will discuss how the money will be distributed to areas such as the Island, which has not had oil reach its beaches.
At a Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association state board meeting Sept. 14 in Orlando, Monetti, an FRLA board member, said he told the attorneys suing BP for money that he would like to hold a meeting somewhere on, or near, the Island. Monetti said he pushed to get the meeting held at the 100-seat Holmes Beach city chambers.
Monetti said he was surprised Kenneth R. Feinberg, the man tapped by the federal government to figure out how to disperse some $20 billion in BP relief funds, made an appearance during a 10-minute break. “That was big,” Monetti said. “This was the go-to guy.”
Monetti said Feinberg initially only thought it appropriate to disperse the money to areas in which oil had reached beaches. But Monetti said Feinberg retracted that idea after considering overall effects the oil spill might have on areas such as the Island, which has not seen oil on its beaches.
Monetti is general manager at the Columbia Restaurant on St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. He said that position, coupled with being a city commissioner on a Gulf coast island, made some attorneys interested in working with him to set up a meeting regarding the dispersing of BP relief money throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The attorneys are from the law firm of Levin-Papantonio-Thomas-Mitchell-Echsner-Rafferty and Proctor, based out of Pensacola. Monetti said the firm claimed it has won more than 70 $1 million in lawsuits.
“I told (Papantonio), ‘On our Island we have 900 single-family units and vacation rentals owned by 800 different people,’” Monetti said at a commission Sept. 14 Holmes Beach City Commission meeting at city hall.
“They said they’d love to (have a meeting here),” Monetti said. “I’m definitely going to work with them and be right on top of it. I’m very interested in going forward with this for our community.”
The Longboat Key Trolley lives on.
At a Sept. 16 Manatee County budget hearing, county administrator Ed Hunzeker announced a proposal that will keep the trolley service running through Dec. 31 but requiring a budget amendment of $70,000.
He said the transit department must then come up with alternative revenues to pay for service, which will be addressed at the county’s Sept. 28 meeting.
Many Longboat Key officials attended the county’s Sept. 14 meeting as the county considered eliminating the two-year-old transit service because commissioners decided the trolley did not produce adequate ridership compared to how much revenue it brought in.
“People are just starting to depend on the service,” Longboat Key Vice Mayor Jim Brown said at the meeting.
Manatee County Commission Chair Donna Hayes said she was most concerned with meeting the 2010-11 fiscal budget, which begins Oct. 1.
“We don’t ever want to reduce service in the area,” she said. “But we have a budget we need to meet.”
The commission wanted to save $146,000, or one-third of the trolley’s operational cost. Sarasota County covers the rest.
County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said Longboat Key should consider having business contribute money to the trolley, citing how the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce chips in by selling advertising on its trolleys.
Brown pointed out that Longboat Key “contributes fairly heavily in taxes to Manatee County.”
To which Hayes said, “The Lakewood Ranch area contributes 12 percent of taxes,” and later, “Lakewood Ranch has 12,000 people employed and 30,000 residents, and it doesn’t have a transit. There’s a big need here and, by the way, in Lakewood Ranch they live here year round.”