Tag Archives: 10-16-2013

Gourmet alert: Stone crabs are crawlin’ to menus near you

Stone crabs are here! And you won’t likely find anything as delicious and fresh as this delicacy from the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters. Only strawberries are sweeter than stone crabs plucked fresh from our local waters.

The recreational and commercial stone crab claw harvest opened Oct. 15 and season runs through May 15. A disappointing stone crab season last year gives crabbers — and diners — hope for a better catch this year.

“We’re hoping for a good year. It’s our time. Usually fishing is cyclical, so if the last year or one before was bad for us and good south of us, we’ll see a good year,” said Karen Bell, owner of A.P. Bell Fish Co. and neighboring Star Fish Co. Market and Restaurant.

Florida’s open stone crab season applies to state and federal waters. For recreational crabbers, there is a 1-gallon limit per person or 2-gallon limit per vessel, whichever is less. Recreational crabbers also are limited to five traps per person. Regulations for harvesting stone crab claws are set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to ensure the species remains sustainable.

To harvest, stone crab claws must be at least 2 3/4 inches when measured from the elbow to the tip of the claw. It is strongly encouraged to only take one claw from each crab to better its chances of survival when released.

Harvesting claws from egg-bearing stone crabs is off limits. They can be identified by an orange or brown egg mass, or “sponge,” on the underside of the crab. It also is illegal to use any device that can injure or crush the crab body. Stone crabs regrow their claws after harvest, so leaving the crab unharmed is vital.

Stone crab claws weren’t harvested until Oct. 15, but recreational and commercial crabbers baited and set their traps in the water 10 days before the start of the season.

Last week, crab traps were sitting on palettes in front of A.P. Bell Fish Co. and near the docks at the Star Fish Co. Bell estimates there were between 4,000-5,000 traps in the water just before season opened.

Crabbers this year had a bit of a late start with Tropical Storm Karen looming in the Gulf Oct. 5. “Most people didn’t want to drop their traps until after Karen, my namesake, had passed. It can affect the traps that were set,” said Bell.

The stone crab claws make their way almost daily into the Star Fish Co. market and onto the restaurant menu. One of the fishing boats usually makes its way to A.P. Bell by noon daily to supply Star with 60-100 pounds of fresh claws.

While A.P. Bell processes seafood, Star has both a retail market and a restaurant selling the fresh product brought to the dock by local fishers. And Karen Bell approves everything that goes on the Star menu, where she likes to keep the recipes simple to showcase the taste of the fresh seafood.

“Stone crab claw meat is so rich by itself. I like it with just lemon juice,” said Bell.

Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant on north Longboat Key must be mentioned with the harvest. For many years the Moore family has operated a fleet of boats, bringing a fresh bounty to their dock.

Another local restaurant offering stone crabs is the Blue Marlin in Bradenton Beach.

There may be more, so readers and restaurateurs are welcome to post information online about locations to enjoy stone crabs.

The opening of Florida’s stone crab season also means the beginning of preparations for the second annual Stone Crab Festival in Cortez Village. The festival will take place Saturday, Oct. 26, and Sunday, Oct. 27. It’s held at the end of 119th Street, a few blocks from the Star Fish Co., and steps away from the Cortez Kitchen restaurant.

The event promises two days of food, music, fun and, of course, stone crabs. Similar to the annual Cortez Fishing Festival held in February, the event includes vendors selling crafts, food and beer.

For festival information, call Bob Slicker, general manager at Swordfish Grill, 941-798-2035.

Appellate court denies standing appeal by HB commissioner

The libel case Holmes Beach resident John Agnelli filed in October 2012 against Commissioner Jean Peelen appears headed back to the Manatee County Circuit Court and Judge Diana Moreland’s courtroom.

On Sept. 27, Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals denied Peelen’s appeal of the circuit court’s ruling that the libel case should proceed. The appellate court returned the case to the circuit court.

Moreland ruled in circuit court to deny Peelen’s standing as a city official in Agnelli’s lawsuit, and it was that decision that was appealed.

Jay Daigneault of the law firm of Frazier, Hubbard, Brandt, Trask and Yacavone, LLP, of Dunedin, was assigned last year by the Florida League of Cities property and liability claims division to represent Peelen based on the city’s insurance plan through FLC.

Daigneault, however, can appeal the appellate court ruling.

The suit is against Peelen as a citizen, but, according to attorney Kristina Hager Snyderman of the Mackey Law Group, which represents Agnelli, Peelen now has been denied legal representation as a government official. She cannot be defended by FLC counsel, and now will be forced to seek an attorney at her expense.

The case stems from an October 2012 email Peelen sent through her personal email account to constituents that made what Snyderman claims were disparaging and libelous comments about her client.

Peelen, however, said she had confused John Agnelli with his son Frank in her email, and she apologized to John Agnelli.

Agnelli pursued a libel case against Peelen, but later learned he could not sue Peelen in her capacity as an elected commissioner. He then sued Peelen personally.

Snyderman said if Daigneault does not file for a rehearing with the appellate court, the case will be returned to the Manatee court. She did not know how long it might take for the case to find it’s way to the circuit court schedule.

Efforts to reach Daigneault were unsuccessful.

Island voter turnout expected to be low

Based on previous voter turnout in municipal elections, polling officials at Anna Maria Island precincts can expect 30-50 percent of the electorate to cast a ballot Nov. 5.

According to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, Anna Maria had 1,317 registered voters in 2011, with 625 casting ballots. That’s a voter turnout of 47.6 percent, the elections office said.

That same year, there were 952 registered voters in Bradenton Beach, but no election was held as the incumbents were unopposed and returned to office.

In the 2011 election, Holmes Beach had 3,247 registered voters with 984, or 30.3 percent, voting at the polls.

There were no state or national offices up for election that year, and voter turnout in those odd-year elections was anywhere from 30-50 percent, the elections office said.

For state and national elections in even years, voter turnout is much heavier, the elections office said.

In the 2012 polling, Anna Maria had 1,323 registered voters, with 1,073 or 81.1 percent voting.

Bradenton Beach had 949 registered voters for the 2012 election with 654 casting a ballot — a turnout of 68.9 percent.

Holmes Beach had 3,323 voters for the 2012 election and a 2,578 turnout — 77.6 percent.

With no state or federal candidates up for election on Nov. 5, the elections office said a voter turnout above 35 percent in any precinct would be good.

In Anna Maria, four candidates are competing for three city commission seats — incumbent Commissioner Dale Woodland and recently appointed Commissioner Doug Copeland, along with political newcomers Carol Carter and Michael Jaworski.

According to the SOE website, candidate filing reports due Sept. 27 show Copeland and Jaworski were granted waivers by the office for listing campaign contributions or spending. The waiver is granted for “undue burden,” according to Sharon Steif of the elections office.

Supervisor Mike Bennett said last week that in the case of Anna Maria, the undue-burden waiver can be granted, or the candidate can provide a petition of signatures in place of the filing fee.

Woodland listed a $700 contribution from himself for his campaign, with $48.32 spent on the filing fee.

Carter gave her campaign $600. She had spent $48.32 on the filing fee and $399.68 on political signs for her campaign.

Anna Maria commissioners are elected for a two-year term and paid $400 per month.

The next filing date for campaign expenditures by candidates is Oct. 12, with those results and cumulative totals available about 4-5 days after filing, the elections office said.

Absentee ballots for the Nov. 5 election are available from the Manatee County Supervisors of Elections Office, 601 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton, until 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30.


Bradenton Beach pier restaurant negotiations go on break

The city of Bradenton Beach scheduled a special commission meeting Oct. 8 to officially accept a new tenant and authorize lease negotiations to begin.

The vote seemed a formality after the commission gave a consensus Sept. 17 awarding the bid to Roland Pena and his investors over Fishermen Joe’s, the only other applicant.

However, someone forgot to invite city attorney Ricinda Perry to the meeting. Following discussion during the budget process, it was decided Perry’s attendance at city meetings would be by invitation, to keep attorney fees to a minimum. Her absence proved to be worthwhile because city officials and tenants expressed the need for more time to review the proposed lease.

“We just received the lease agreement,” said Mayor John Shaughnessy. “No one has had time to look at it. Ricinda is not here, but she sent an email saying she needed to add more people to the background and a credit check before negotiations could go forward.”

Shaughnessy suggested continuing the meeting until everyone had more time to fulfill the requirements and review the lease in more detail.

Both sides appeared willing to have a little more time before negotiations begin.

“I just want to make sure we do it right this time and do right by you,” Shaughnessy told Pena. “I don’t want it to be like last time, when it was like tires in a dump. You bury them and six years later they pop back up.”

Pena took no issue with continuing the matter and said he also had issues.

“Looking at the lease, I see things in the front section saying what we can do and then in the back it says something else,” he said. “Those are things we need to hash out.”

Pena was advised to submit some of his concerns in writing so commissioners could see them before they meet again.

In other matters, Pena’s chef was recently arrested on Bridge Street and he’s looking for a replacement. He initially told The Islander that it was suggested he distance himself from the alleged offender, but he told commissioners he would be demoting him.

Pena’s restaurant group is made up of family members and veterans. Pena said his former chef is a veteran who deserves another chance.

“We told him that he had to separate himself from the way he was and that this opportunity was bigger than him,” said Pena. “My wife and I stand behind this. We are going to be a family-oriented place.”

Pena explained the demotion but said, “He’s a veteran and we are going to help him.”

That was satisfactory to the commission, and Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said he was glad Pena understood what the consequences of an employee’s alleged behavior can have on the city.

“I’m glad to hear that you understand that as a leasee, you are in a partnership with the city and represent the face of the city,” he said. “We have to keep our best face forward.”

Commissioners rescheduled the special meeting for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

HB commissioners exchange barbs, mayor says ‘bad politics’

An Oct. 8 Holmes Beach commission turned contentious as Commissioner Marvin Grossman first addressed a complaint from Commissioner David Zaccagnino. The two commissioners then engaged in a sharp exchange after the meeting concluded.

Zaccagnino is up for re-election this year, while Grossman is not. But that didn’t stop Grossman from campaigning for challenger Carol Soustek, outing an apparent, growing discord between the two commissioners.

The discussion was over an inquiry made by Zaccagnino to city attorney Patricia Petruff regarding a property in Bradenton that lists Grossman as owner with a homestead exemption on the Manatee County Property Appraiser Office.

As for the homestead discrepancy, it would be illegal for one person to have two properties homesteaded, but Grossman’s residence in Holmes Beach is homesteaded in his wife’s name.

Marvin and Jane Grossman each own numerous properties, and Marvin Grossman purchased the subject property in May 2013. As a clerk at the PAO explained by phone earlier in the week to The Islander, the previous owner’s homestead status remains with that property owner until the end of 2013.

A memo from city staff member Mary Buonagura, who assisted in the investigation of Zaccagnino’s claim by collecting documents from the appraiser’s office, concludes the exemption will expire at the end of the year.

“It has not done so yet since all the conveyances took place in the calendar year 2013,” she wrote. “Therefore, I conclude that this property is not the homestead of Marvin Grossman.”

Buonagura said the Grossman’s property on 84th Street in Holmes Beach was quitclaimed in 2003 and conveyed to the Jane A. Grossman Trust.

“There is a homestead on this property,” said Buonagura.

Grossman claimed Zaccagnino could have cleared up the matter of his Bradenton property without using city resources.

Grossman said he could have let the property inquiry go, but an attack on his family was out of line.

Reading from a prepared statement during the meeting, Grossman said there wasn’t much he could do about “gossip peddling.” He said he hopes “everyone who has worked hard for their property and has a trust on this island doesn’t have to fear that Commissioner Zaccagnino will try to turn protecting your family into a dirty business.”

Grossman said everyone should be concerned that “unfounded insinuations and rumor mongering like this will discourage good people from running for office and doing public service.”

Commissioner Judy Titsworth also read a statement, saying the first thing she was taught after taking office is “treating each other with respect and not to use our position to make each other look bad.”

Titsworth said commissioners should be working together and she was embarrassed by Zaccagnino’s behavior.

Mayor Carmel Monti concluded a series of emails on the matter with the subject heading “Bad politics.” He wrote: “The motive to discredit Marvin was obvious.”

At the conclusion of the meeting discussion, Grossman had been cleared, but Monti said costs were incurred by several city staff to investigate Zaccagnino’s claim. He estimated a full day’s labor by several staff members amounted to “a fair amount of money. To say the least, this is very unprofessional behavior.”

Zaccagnino said he was following up on rumors and thanked city staff for their diligence in clearing up the matter.

“This allegation has been going around the city for the last week,” Zaccagnino said in an email. “Because Marvin is a real estate developer, it is hard for the lay person to understand all the nuances regarding his wife’s real estate trust and those taxes paid by that trust.”

Zaccagnino said that as an elected official, it was his duty to respond to any rumor about possible illegal activity.

“That was the right thing to do and I stand by that,” he said.

“It would be extremely unprofessional to not report this and not get to the bottom of it. I have heard of unqualified officials having their past votes rescinded. If you think that ‘bad politics’ is protecting the integrity and liability of our citizenry, I am sorry we disagree.”

Holmes Beach officials get shady with Sunshine Law

Holmes Beach officials have faced two accusations of violating the Sunshine Law since July.

One violation is alleged to have occurred regarding a July 8 City Center Committee meeting and the other occurred at an Oct. 8 city commission meeting.

The City Center Committee was put together by Mayor Carmel Monti to look at traffic flow, congestion and beautification of an area near Gulf and Marina drives.

The first meeting of the committee was in July, but was allegedly held in violation of the Sunshine Law, as it was conducted outside of the public eye and not properly noticed as a public meeting.

According to city clerk Stacey Johnston, she was unaware of the meeting until the group arrived at city hall, at which time she inquired as to whether the meeting was noticed to the public.

Johnston said she was told by Monti that it was not a public meeting. But as it was an advisory group to the commission, Johnston said it was.

The meeting continued despite the warning and Johnston received confirmation via city attorney Patricia Petruff that the meetings must be public and also must be noticed.

The committee met again in August and September and both meetings were open to the public and noticed as such.

Monti was involved in another Sunshine incident at the Oct. 8 city commission meeting when he passed a note to Commissioner Judy Titsworth. Members of the public called Islander Publisher Bonner Joy to say this was a frequent activity on the dais.

Joy arrived at the meeting and during public comment confronted the commission, demanding to see the content of the note. Monti said nothing while Titsworth denied the existence of the note.

Petruff said if there was a note and it contained city business, that it was public record, but was unclear if materials containing private messages would qualify as public record.

Titsworth wrote a letter to the editor dated Oct. 9 apologizing to the public, saying at the time of Joy’s request, she did not remember a note being passed to her, but was reminded by Monti later that night.

“After the meeting, I was explaining the story to my husband when the mayor called,” wrote Titsworth. “He had gone through his papers and reminded me of a note that he had written on his pad.”

Titsworth said she was embarrassed that she had forgotten about the note from Monti which read, “Everybody is being so nice tonight … What’s up with that?”

Titsworth acknowledged the note, but said in her letter that the action between herself and the mayor was legal.

Samuel Morley, general counsel for the Florida Press Association, disagreed.

In an email to Joy, Morley said, “Board members may not use notes or computers to conduct private discussions among themselves about board business.”

Morley said board members may share a laptop that contains ideas of a member, “as long as the computer is not being used as a means of communication between the members.”

Morley cites two Florida Attorney General opinions regarding Sunshine violations.

Neither Monti nor Petruff were available for comment, as of Islander press time.

Tree house ordinance dies for lack of second

As promised during a Sept. 26 Holmes Beach work session, a citizen’s initiative ordinance to grandfather the tree house at Angelino’s Sea Lodge, 103 29th St., was moved to an Oct. 8 commission meeting for a possible vote.

As expected, a motion to approve the ordinance — drafted by Sarasota attorney David Levin representing the tree house owners, Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen — died.

As a formality, Commissioner David Zaccagnino moved to approve the ordinance, but lacking a second, the ordinance was rejected.

Tran and Hazen successfully forced the vote by gathering 10 percent of Holmes Beach voter’s signatures on a petition, but it was just one step in the process that has branched into multiple directions.

The next step — a referendum — would allot a vote on the fate of the tree house, but the city has filed a for a declaratory judgment in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court that would kill the special election. The action filed by city attorney Patricia Petruff seeks a legal opinion as to whether a development order is a building permit.

A new statute says a referendum cannot take place for a development order and Petruff contends that anything requiring a building permit is a development order.

In the meantime, Hazen and Tran were found to be in violation of city codes by the code enforcement board, which imposed a $100 a day fine beginning Sept. 13, and continuing until the structure either comes into compliance or is removed.

Since the board found the structure was found to be built seaward of the state’s erosion control line, it cannot be brought into compliance. However, the city has agreed to inspect the structure if it is relocated on the property.

Levin is expected to appeal the code enforcement findings, as well as seek a stay on the imposed fine until the outcome of the appeal.

Even if the city loses its development order argument, Tran and Hazen are successful on their appeals and the tree house goes to a favorable special election, the final obstacle remains. The tree house location seaward of the erosion control line is a state violation.

Under Florida law, a city cannot create an ordinance that is contrary to state law.

Bradenton Beach man arrested for felony drug possession

A 22-year-old Bradenton Beach man was arrested Oct. 5 for felony possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Joseph Gaston, 2413 Ave. C., Bradenton Beach, was riding his bicycle in the 8600 block of Cortez Road West, Bradenton. A Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Deputy was passing by when he noticed Gaston riding without lights.

The deputy initiated contact and asked if Gaston had identification. As he pulled out his wallet to present his identification, the deputy observed a plastic bag containing 3.5 grams of a green, leafy substance that later field-tested positive for marijuana.

According to the police report, Gaston spontaneously said, “I thought I left that at home.”

While further investigating, the deputy allegedly found three pills in Gaston’s wallet marked with the letter “M.”

The deputy determined the pills to be morphine sulfate.

Gaston was arrested and transported to the Manatee County jail where he was held on $2,000 bond. According to the jail website, he posted bond and was released the following the day.

Gaston is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 25 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Island resort tax collections continue setting records

Time was on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key when August was considered the end of the summer season, and many vacation rental owners and managers made plans to take a vacation of their own, or have work done on the rental property.

But times certainly have changed.

The resort tax collection department of the Manatee County Tax Collector reported $555,930 in resort taxes were collected in September for August stay-over visitors, a 15.4 percent increase from the $481,686 collected for August last year.

And a positive sign that island vacation rentals and resorts had a busy August, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.

Resort taxes are paid one month in arrears.

The tax, often called the bed tax but officially the Manatee County Tourism Development Tax, is the 5 percent collected on rentals in the county of six months or less.

With the $555,930 collected for August, the resort tax fund stands at $8.544 million, a new record for collections with one month left in fiscal year 2012-13 for collections.

The $8.544 million is a new resort tax collection record, well ahead of the $8.1 million collected in 2011-12.

The 15.4 percent increase in collections is a likely barometer that stay-over visitors increased on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key for August 2013 compared with August 2012.

For 29 of the past 30 months, the monthly increase in stay-over visitors to the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Center area has been about half the increase in resort tax collections.

In its June report to the Manatee County Tourism Development Council, Research Data Services Inc., the company that prepares tourism information for the TDC, reported tourism to the BACVB area was up 6.5 percent for year.

With an anticipated increase in tourist tax receipts of approximately 10 percent by the end of fiscal year 2012-13 on Sept. 30, the increase in stay-over visitors can be anticipated to be around 5-6 percent.

“It has definitely been a great season and I’m not surprised the tourism tax set a record,” said Brockman.

“We didn’t have any members complaining they weren’t busy this summer. Many of them said they set records for occupancy. From what I hear, this winter season also is going to be great,” she said.

The resort tax is used to fund Anna Maria Island’s share of beach renourishment projects, the BACVB annual budget, the Bradenton Convention Center, the Powell Crosley Mansion and other county-related tourism projects.

WMFR inspector rules Rod & Reel Pier fire accidental

    Radiant heat from the deep fryers at the Rod & Reel Pier restaurant that built up in the wall over a long period of time, caused the Sept. 30 fire that has closed the 66-year-old structure.

    West Manatee Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Brett Pollock said the investigation into the fire at the pier, , 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, revealed the cause. The build-up of radiant heat over time eventually caused spontaneous combustion between the walls of the kitchen.

    There was no evidence of negligence or malicious intent in connection with the fire, Pollock said.

    Pollock said the origin of the fire was on the south side of the structure on the second floor inside the wall behind the fryers. Over a long period of time in a confined space, the radiant heat from the fryers led to the slow oxidation of a combustible material. At that point, spontaneous combustion inside the walls took place, he said.

    “The fire’s unique circumstances did not release enough heat to activate the pier’s fire alarm or activation system,” Pollock said in a news release.

    Finding the cause of the problem, however, won’t speed up the process to rebuild and reopen the long-standing pier, originally opened in 1947.

    Pier manager Dave Cochran said insurance adjusters have begun the task of assessing damage and getting estimates for repair.

  •     Anna Maria building official Bob Welch said repair costs would have to conform to the 2010 building codes adopted by the city.