Tag Archives: 10-24-2012

ICE investigation leads to job site raids, arrest

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a state agency that polices insurance — worker compensation — fraud raided several construction sites in Holmes Beach Oct. 16, leading to the arrest of at least one worker.

A sweep by federal and state agents before noon that day ended with a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office report that states Emanuel Centeno-Hernandez, 33, of Bradenton, was arrested for worker compensation fraud.

The report lists Beach to Bay Construction as Centeno-Hernandez’s employer, but company president Scott Eason wrote in an Oct. 17 email to The Islander and the Bradenton Herald, that Centeno-Hernandez is “not an employee of Beach to Bay Construction and we were unaware of him providing false identification to gain employment.”

Centeno-Hernandez was arrested at 119 Neptune Lane, Holmes Beach, which according to an email from Eason, is one of 15 ongoing Beach to Bay projects. Beach to Bay Construction Inc. is located at 5702 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

According to Eason, Centeno-Hernandez works for a Beach to Bay subcontractor and “obtained the required documentation for that subcontractor prior to them working on our job site.”

Eason also wrote he was aware of the investigation before the arrest and has been cooperating with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Custom Enforcement and the Florida Department of Financial Services/Division of Insurance Fraud.

Construction workers were taken from five locations, three of which were Beach to Bay Construction job sites, according to Eason. Another work site visited in the raid Oct. 16 was 213 84th St., Holmes Beach.

At press time, the Centeno-Hernandez arrest was the only action reported by authorities from the raids. No other arrests were reported.

The felony charge against Centeno-Hernandez is based on a state law that makes it unlawful to present any false, fraudulent or misleading information as evidence of a person’s identity to obtain employment.

Centeno-Hernandez was taken to the Manatee County jail and, at press time, was being held for $500 bond.

An arraignment on the felony charge was set for 9 a.m. Nov. 16 before Circuit Court Judge Thomas Krug in Courtroom 2-A, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, adding that further information will be available upon indictments, if any.

A court document filed Oct. 17 indicates Manatee County will not consider Centeno-Hernandez for its supervised release program due to an ICE hold.

“The only thing we have to do with it is the jail,” said MSCO spokesman David Bristow. “Everyone who gets arrested here gets booked through our jail.”

He said Oct. 18, “I’m assuming nobody else got arrested, but I don’t know.”

According to an Oct. 16 report filed by the DFS/DIF arresting officer with the sheriff’s office, Centeno-Hernandez unlawfully used a Social Security number not assigned to him April 8 to procure and maintain employment with Beach to Bay Construction.

The report also stated that the DFS/DIF received information July 17 from Homeland Security that at least 18 workers showed false identification for the purpose of procuring employment.

On Aug. 28, according to the report, the arresting officer learned from the Social Security Administration that the number was not assigned to Centeno-Hernandez. Also according to the report, Eason confirmed Centeno-Hernandez used the number to procure employment.

As of presstime, DFS/DIF spokespersons did not return calls for comment.

Holmes Beach Police Department Lt. Dale Stephenson said there will be no report from the HBPD because it was not the arresting agency.

Cumber arrest ‘bitter-sweet’ for former AM sergeant

Detective John Kenney has been involved in the Sabine Musil-Buehler murder case from the beginning.

He was the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sergeant in charge of the Anna Maria substation when Musil-Buehler, 49, was reported missing by her husband, Tom Buehler, Nov. 6, 2008.

Kenney, now a detective, sat at the table with Detective Rick Alvarado for the Oct. 15 press conference where Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube announced William J. Cumber, 43, Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, had been arrested that day by Kenney and Alvarado.

Cumber is charged with second-degree murder and faces, if convicted, a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The case goes back four years to the night of the national presidential election.

Two days later, early on the morning of Nov. 6, MCSO deputies stopped Sabine Musil-Buehler’s car in Bradenton for an equipment violation. Three people fled from the vehicle and were later apprehended. A check of the registration revealed the car’s owner.

One of the three arrested, Richard Corona, originally said a woman had loaned him the car to go find drugs. He later admitted to stealing the car from the Gator Lounge parking lot, where he found the keys in the ignition.

An investigation into the car theft became a missing person case when Tom Buehler, Musil-Buehler’s estranged husband, filed a report. Although estranged, the two were still friends and co-owners of Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach, which Tom Buehler still owns and operates.

That same day, an MCSO deputy went to the vehicle’s registered address, an apartment on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria, and spoke with Cumber. He and Musil-Buehler had moved there together in October. The two had met when Cumber previously worked at Haley’s, before he went to jail on an earlier arson charge.

Cumber, at first, told MCSO that he and Musil-Buehler had an argument on the afternoon of Nov. 5 and she had driven away. He claimed he was unable to reach her on her cell phone.

MCSO paid a second visit to Cumber Nov. 6. In that interview, Cumber changed his story, saying the argument was the evening of Nov. 4 over his smoking while they were watching the election returns on television.

Detectives who visited Cumber said the apartment had a strong smell of bleach.

Forensic tests on Musil-Buehler’s car by the MCSO revealed the presence of her blood.

At that point, the investigation became a possible homicide, said Kenney, who aided in the initial investigation while still in charge of the sub-station, interviewing Cumber and helping follow up some of the anonymous tips that the MCSO received.

On Nov. 17, 2008, a fire, later determined to be arson, broke out at Haley’s.

Cumber, who had been in prison for arson, was interviewed by detectives, but said he had an alibi. No one has been arrested in connection with the arson.

In 2009, Kenney transferred to MCSO headquarters and was asked to join the homicide investigation team.

“I had been with the case from the beginning and was involved in the original search for Musil-Buehler. I had a lot of knowledge about the case, so I agreed to join with Detective Rick Alvarado in the investigation,” Kenney said.

Cumber’s arrest was “bitter sweet,” Kenney said.

“We don’t have Sabine with us anymore and we don’t have her body,” he said.

From the beginning, Cumber was the focus of the investigation because, in part, he was the last person to see her alive, Kenney said.

Steube said Cumber moved out of the Magnolia Avenue apartment in December 2008.

A search warrant was ordered and detectives found blood that later matched that of both Musil-Buehler and Cumber. Steube said there was still a strong smell of bleach in the apartment, as if someone had spent a lot of time cleaning the unit.

He declined to say if any of Cumber’s blood was found in Musil-Buehler’s car.

When Kenney joined the homicide division, he worked primarily on the Musil-Buehler case with Alvarado and other detectives.

“By then we knew it was homicide, but Cumber was a tough act. He didn’t give away anything in all the interviews,” Kenney said.

The MCSO searched the beach in Anna Maria in 2008, 2009 and 2011, but failed to find Musil-Buehler’s body.

“Without a body, it’s very difficult to arrest and convict someone for murder,” Steube said.

But detectives caught a break in 2009, when Cumber was arrested in Ocala for speeding and he was returned to prison for violating his probation on the earlier arson conviction. He was sent back to prison and was in the Charlotte Correctional Institute in Punta Gorda when arrested by Kenney and Alvarado.

With Cumber behind bars, detectives had time to take the case step by step, Kenney said.

“We then knew he wasn’t going anywhere, and we began arranging frequent interviews with him about the case,” Kenney said.

Steube said the MCSO can’t release the evidence it has collected, but he stressed that Cumber has given different answers to the same questions several times.

In July 2011, some of Musil-Buehler’s personal items were discovered in some underbrush near the Willow Avenue beach access in Anna Maria.

The MCSO began an intense search of the area looking for a body, but without success.

They brought in cadaver dogs and dug large holes in the sand, but failed to find additional evidence.

But there was something in the personal effects that provided Kenney and detectives with some clues, he said.

Steube said that evidence will be given by the state attorney’s office when it presents its case in court.

After the discovery of the personal effects and the resulting new evidence, the interviews with Cumber increased.

Kenney said the homicide team went to the state attorney several times in 2011 asking if the evidence warranted Cumber’s arrest. Each time they were told they needed more proof.

The most important evidence would be to find the body.

“We didn’t have that,” Kenney observed, so the homicide team had to dig deeper.

Kenney said it’s not impossible to get a conviction without a body, but the case has to be solid.

“At least we knew where he was and he wasn’t going anywhere. We took our time gathering more evidence,” Kenney said.

Finally, in March, Kenney, Alvarado and the homicide team brought what they believed was the best set of evidence against Cumber to the state’s attorney. Steube agreed with the evidence.

Earlier this month, Kenney learned the state attorney had agreed to file for a writ of capias, an order to arrest, which was approved Oct. 11 by a judge.

Early on Oct. 15, Kenney and Alvarado arrived at the Charlotte Correctional Institute with the arrest warrant.

Cumber seemed “stunned at first,” Kenney recalled. “But he had been tough in every interview and didn’t give away anything.”

Cumber was taken to the Manatee County jail and booked on a charge of second-degree murder.

Steube said anyone who knows anything about the whereabouts of Musil-Buehler’s body, or who has information on the case, can call the anonymous MCSO tip line.

Kenney said there was personal satisfaction in being on the case from start to finish and making the arrest, but the arrest has not brought closure of the case for him.

“We’re still looking for the body. We’ll find it. I don’t know if Cumber will confess, but we do have some leads,” he said.

Tom Buehler said Cumber’s arrest was good news.

“When I hear Cumber is behind bars for the rest of his life, it will be closure,” Buehler said.

He thanked the MCSO for keeping him informed the past four years, and gave tribute to Kenney.

“I especially want to thank him. He was there from the beginning to the arrest and always kept me up-to-date,” he said..”

AMITW winds down, celebrates record sea turtle season

With only three un-hatched nests remaining on Anna Maria Island, volunteers with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch & Shorebird Monitoring can rest easy after a record-breaking year that saw both triumph and tragedy.

Beach walkers and section coordinators made 691 reports of activity, including nests and false crawls, according to AMITW executive director Suzi Fox at an Oct. 16 year-end gathering at Manatee Sports Grill, 7423 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

“That’s like two or three years worth of work in one year,” said Fox. “We couldn’t do it without our walkers. We went over our statistics and we had a huge amount of nesting. It was an amazing year.”

Fox said the combination of Tropical Storm Debby in June, and Isaac in August left a number of days where volunteers were unable to walk the beach.

As a result, Fox said, “We had 75 unverified nests and, on the bay side, a lot of nests were up in the bushes and difficult to verify.”

There were more than 360 nests this year, an all time Anna Maria Island record. TS Debby brought bad news initially, with an estimated 100 destroyed nests.

That number dropped over the ensuing weeks to about 60, but the year-end totals turned dire. Fox’s updated numbers are 156 nests of the 179 pre-Debby nests were lost to storm surge.

But nesting resumed following the storm in dramatic fashion.

AMITW record keeper Pete Gross said in the weeks following Debby, up to eight nests a day were being recorded.

The surviving nests through the season produced 12,481 hatchlings, but Fox said the number is likely much higher when taking into account the number of unverified nests.

“If you figure we had 75 unverified nests we didn’t get numbers for, we could have had a killer number of hatchlings to the sea,” she said.

AMITW volunteers didn’t get much rest between nesting and hatching. Gross said beginning on July 28 to mid-September — about 54 straight days — “We averaged 225 hatchlings per day.”

Shorebird nesting also suffered from the two storms. AMITW’s Glenn Wiseman said skimmer nests were wiped out from heavy rains before Debby arrived, but “they re-nested and then Debby wiped them out again,” he said. “The skimmers tried one more time, but didn’t do well.”

Wiseman said the more populated species, such as terns and gulls, fared much better, and only “one snowy plover had two chicks.”

On a positive note, Wiseman said the large amount of sand deposited on the north end of the island from Debby will benefit shorebird nesting in the future.

Fox said AMITW has overcome a lot of lighting problems this year, which is the primary cause for disorientation events, which were recorded as being more than 20 this season.

Disorientations occur when either the nesting sea turtle or hatchlings head landward, toward artificial lights rather than to the reflection on the water.

“We had $40,000 in lighting money obtained from grants that we spread out to 10 different resorts,” she said. “Next year, if my grants go through, we’ll have an additional $10,000 to work on areas where we are still having some lighting issues.”

Fox said the money would be used for smaller buildings, like single-family homes, “to give them a light fixture and a sea turtle-friendly bulb.”

Manatee County also has agreed to fund Fox’s request to place an informational kiosk or poster wall at the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach to help educate the public about sea turtle nesting on the island.

One of the remaining three nests on the island is overdue, said Fox. The other two are expected to hatch sometime after nesting season officially ends Oct. 31.

Bradenton Beach not likely to agree to ‘arbitration’

Bradenton Beach city attorney Ricinda Perry said she would not likely recommend that city accept an offer to arbitrate a lawsuit filed to end a joint development agreement with the BeachHouse Restaurant for a dune/parking lot project.

Perry updated commissioners at an Oct. 18 city meeting, following an Oct. 4 announcement from one of the plaintiffs that they were willing to send the case to binding arbitration as opposed to litigating in the court system.

The lawsuit alleges the joint development agreement violates the city charter, land development codes and comprehensive plan, and seeks to halt the project the city approved in May.

Jo Ann Meilner said Oct. 4, “We propose to withdraw our complaint against the city of Bradenton Beach regarding the development agreement and offer instead a review by a qualified judge arbitrator experienced in land-use matters.”

Perry said the manner of presenting a legal offer at a public meeting was unusual.

“As you all know, in an unorthodox manner, one of the plaintiffs came in and asked for binding arbitration,” said Perry. “We found it appropriate to speak to opposing counsel, so I sent correspondence to see if he was seeking mediation or arbitration.”

Perry said there is a difference.

“The client said arbitration but, if he is seeking mediation, then he needs to give us an idea of what he wants to go forward with,” she said. “There is no point of getting to mediation with no concept in mind of how they intend on getting this settled.”

Perry said arbitration would end up costing the city almost as much as litigating the suit.

“So I’m not in favor of arbitration,” she said. “You do the same amount of legwork as you would for a judge … I’m much more comfortable litigating it.”

Perry said she is still waiting to hear back from opposing counsel on the details of the offer.

“If it is mediation, give us an idea of what you are thinking of in terms of settlement, so we don’t waste time,” she said. “We are at a standstill until he clarifies what he wants.”

Meilner and Bill Shearon, both former members of the planning and zoning board, as well as Tjet Martin, a business partner of Shearon at the Linger Longer Resort are plaintiffs in the suit.

Meilner, Shearon, and two other P&Z members resigned after a contentious process to pass the agreement in partnership with the Ed Chiles-owned restaurant across from city hall.

P&Z recommended in April that commissioners reject the agreement based on the violations they cited in their recommendation.

A May city commission meeting turned into accusations from the commission and city attorney that P&Z members were not qualified to make such a recommendation and that the recommendation was based on personal bias.

The contentious meeting led to the four P&Z resignations in May, and the subsequent June filing of the lawsuit.

Bradenton Beach homeowner wins variance to elevate home

A Bradenton Beach homeowner, with no objection from the city, was awarded variance relief during an Oct. 17 special master hearing at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

Chris Miller, 1201 B Gulf Drive S., Bradenton Beach, sought to elevate his home by 8 feet and to move the home 3 feet to the west.

Even though the city was not objecting to Miller’s request, building official Steve Gilbert said the hearing before Special Master Harold Youmans was required because Miller sought a variance.

Gilbert said anytime an action requires relief from the land development code, it must go through the process to ensure the city is protected from litigation.

“There can’t be an appearance of playing favorites,” said Gilbert. “The city can’t tell one person that they can and turn around and tell another they can’t. The action still has to follow the requirements for a variance relief, so it has to be heard either by a board of adjustment or, in the case of Bradenton Beach, a special master.”

Youmans said the burden of proof rests solely on the applicant, and asked several questions before making his quasi-judicial ruling.

Miller said the purpose of the request to lift the 1950s-era home above base flood elevation is to minimize storm damage.

“A key factual piece of evidence I need has to do with whether you have practical difficulties or personal hardships that are unique to the property that is beyond your control,” said Youmans. “What has happened to you that required you to seek to raise this property?”

Miller said the surrounding properties are above flood elevation, and he feels his home is in danger at its current elevation. Also, the cost of flood insurance for a property below flood elevation is substantially more.

Youmans said the cost of insurance by itself is not a reason to grant relief, but that a potential hardship is a reason.

“I’ve spoken with the flood insurance people and they have no claims on record,” said Miller. “But I believe this house sold for $15,000 in the 1990s, and I don’t believe any previous owners felt the need to insure it at that price. But it appears to me that the house has flooded before.”

Miller said nothing is level and the floor is sinking.

By raising the small home on the 150-foot lot, and moving it back 3 feet, per a request from the city, Miller said parking would be easier. He said pulling in and out of his property onto Gulf Drive is a safety hazard.

“A broad issue in these cases has to do with harmony in the community,” said Youmans. “The issue here is, if what you are proposing is complementary to the city’s comprehensive plan and this plan should be OK. Do you anticipate opposition?”

The city supported Miller’s request, as did Miller’s neighbor, Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, who spoke in support of Miller’s proposal. Other neighbors on both sides of Miller’s property submitted letters of no objection.

One letter of objection was submitted by a neighbor north of Miller’s property, Richard Perry, who stated his objection was based on concerns that his view to the Gulf of Mexico would be impeded.

Youmans considered the objection, but dismissed it in his conclusion.

“When someone comes into this state and buys a piece of property and there’s a gulf, a lake, a stream or whatever else, and someone else comes down and buys the property in front of him, courts in this state have consistently said you don’t buy a view,” Youmans said. “I’m not rejecting his decision to object. It’s just a matter of law that he has no legitimate claim to a view. It just doesn’t exist.”

Youmans concluded that Miller’s request met the six primary specifics when seeking a variance, but warned that his order would become invalid should any specifics of the project to elevate and move the home change from the evidence submitted.

Chappie says ‘shovel ready’ a possibility for BP money

Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie told Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce board members that any money the county receives from the BP oil spill of April 2010 may first have to go to “shovel-ready jobs.”

Chappie was responding at the chamber’s Oct. 17 meeting to a question from Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen. She asked if some of the BP money might go toward construction of a new pier at Manatee Public Beach. The old pier was torn down several years ago after engineers declared it unsafe.

The Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion in April 2010 that resulted in millions of gallons of oil seeping into the northern Gulf waters affected the coastal environment of all five Gulf Coast states. The states collectively have sued BP, which has set aside a fund of $27 billion to pay claims. The lawsuit is in a Texas court and no trial date has been set.

County natural resources director Charlie Hunsicker has said the county could receive $4 million-$20 million in BP money.

Chappie said the county commission has not had any final word on a settlement and discussions of “shovel-ready jobs” has only been informal.

A problem with using any BP funds for the pier, Chappie said, is that the location of the old pier is under a five-year erosion study by the county and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The study still has a few more years to run, he said.

If the study finds erosion occurs at that location, engineers have said a groin is the answer. If there’s no erosion found, the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants any new structure to be higher than the old pier.

“So we may or may not get a pier,” Peelen said.

Chappie said the BP settlement is a long way from being finalized and he did not want to predict where any BP money received by the county might go.

In other chamber business, David Teitelbaum, Ellen Aguilina, Joe Landolfi and Linda Dickson were re-elected to the board of directors, along with new board member Amy Tobin. Wayne Gunter was elected alternate board member.

Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Gay Breuler said her city’s cell tower ordinance is “in shape and going forward with a location behind the police station.”

The location will be adjacent to the marina and the tower will look like the mast of a tall ship in port, she said.

She estimated it would take about a year to get the tower “up and running.”

Chamber president Mary Ann Brockman reminded members of the Nov. 5 annual banquet and installation of officers at the Key Royale Club in Holmes Beach.

Morris death to be featured on Dr. Phil show

Dr. Phil McGraw will devote two episodes of the Dr. Phil show to the ongoing debate of how Sheena Morris, 22, died that fateful 2009 New Year’s Day, in Bradenton Beach.

According to dr.phil.com, the two episodes will air Oct. 25-26.

Kelly Osborn, Sheena’s mother, is a featured guest on the show. Osborn has publicly maintained that her daughter was murdered, although the case was initially ruled a suicide, but changed to undetermined in 2011.

Osborn has long suspected that Sheena’s boyfriend Joe Genoese, 48, is responsible for her daughter’s death.

Genoese has maintained his innocence, and has never been named a suspect in the case.

He has agreed to take a polygraph for the Dr. Phil show to clear his name. The results of the polygraph will be revealed in the Oct. 26 episode on CBS.

In a promotion of the show Dr. Phil asks how Genoese’s story differs from Osborn’s, who has spent the last few years trying to have her daughter’s case reinvestigated.

She was recently partly successful in her endeavor as the Bradenton Beach Police Department has administratively reopened Morris’s case in the wake of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Smart Panel review of the case.

FDLE recommended that BBPD follow up on the family’s concerns.

Political rally brings out voter interest, candidate speeches

A crowd of about a 100 people gathered in the parking lot as the sun set Oct. 18 for The Islander newspaper’s old-style political rally, Popcorn & Politics.

        Those in contested races — including for the 71st District state representative spot, a school board race and for two seats on the Holmes Beach city commission and for mayor in Holmes Beach — stumped with their supporters, many wearing T-shirts showing their allegiance, cheering and jeering.

        The League of Women Voters distributed voter information and conducted a straw poll on the city of Holmes Beach nonpartisan commissioner and mayoral races. The informal ballot tally was as follows:

        Holmes Beach mayor: Carmel Monti, 78 votes, Rich Bohnenberger, 57 votes. For Holmes Beach commissioner: Judy Holmes Titsworth, 81 votes; Marvin Grossman, 75; John Monetti, 59; and Sandy Haas-Martens, 53.

        First up at the microphone was Democratic candidate for the Florida House of Representatives, 71st District, Adam Tebrugge, who expressed dissatisfaction with how the state is being managed, and promised to represent Manatee and Sarasota counties to protect the environment, support education and work for ethics reform.

        “There’s nothing better than citizens who are interested in the political process,” Tebrugge concluded.

        Tebrugge’s opponent in the race for the re-districted area of District 71, incumbent Rep. Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) complimented Tebrugge on “a good-clean campaign.”

        Boyd touted his experience as a small Bradenton business owner and lifelong Florida resident who wants to lower the tax burden on businesses, grow the economy, improve schools and balance the budget.

        “I know what it takes to create jobs and balance budgets,” Boyd said, the prior two years in the house were “financially tough in Tallahassee with $6 billion in shortfall.”

         He said the future is looking brighter with better revenue projections.

        “As my friend said, Nov. 6, Election Day is a big day in a lot of ways,” Boyd added, and asked that he be returned as second-term state representative.

        Manatee County school board candidate Dave “Watchdog” Miner, member of Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island and the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, also asked for a vote.

        “Dave Watchdog Miner is the only candidate who has, for over 12 years, attended school board meetings representing your concerns,” he said, adding all along he’s been raising accountability issues, which led to a recent “train wreck” at the district.

        “We discovered the money we had been paying hadn’t been accounted for in the proper way,” he said.

        Anna Maria Commissioner-elect Nancy Yetter, unopposed for office, called for more involvement in the city of Anna Maria. She pledged cooperation with the island cities, saying all island cities face the same issues. She also indicated she would work to repeal the state law that prohibits communities from passing rental restrictions.

        Marvin Grossman, 13-year island resident and candidate for Holmes Beach commission, was the first candidate from the contested race in Holmes Beach to speak. Of his background, he said his doctorate in educational research is well suited in working toward solutions to overdevelopment in Holmes Beach.

        He harkened to the past when high-rise condominiums were built in the 1970s, and thanked citizens for putting the brakes on development at that time.

        “Again our island is being threatened, and our citizens and commission control our destiny,” Grossman said.

        “We’re at a crossroads in the history of Holmes Beach — party city or authentic old Florida,” said Grossman, adding that at the Sustainable Florida conference last week he heard sympathy for “those who have to live next to large out-of-scale rentals.”

        He credited the city planner and city attorney as supportive in trying to address the problems.

        Grossman said, “Citizen voters have a clear choice in this election. The incumbents say there are no problems. I say there are enough problems — and enough of these out-of-scale rentals in the R-2 district.”

        Grossman pointed to code and FEMA violations, and people who have voiced their concerns for two years, “and the huge resort rentals continue to grow.

        “I pledge to enforce the city codes and work for major solutions of the overdevelopment in Holmes Beach,” he added.

        Grossman called for a blending of old and new to maintain the island lifestyle.

        Just as popcorn and straw poll ballots appeared to be running low in supply, Sandy Haas-Martens, a 14-year commissioner, brought the crowd her campaign message.

        She commented on the hotly contested issues related to property rights and building codes.

        “Is it about the old Florida we love, or another agenda? It’s pitted one friend against another friend, neighbors against neighbors. That’s not who we are,” she said.

        “Until recently, Holmes Beach residents have succeeded in living peacefully with tourism.

        “This issue has been about two houses. Yes, I said two houses. It’s been allowed to hijack the whole city,” Haas-Martens said.

        Looking at “the bigger picture,” she pointed out that in the recent economic downturn, “few communities have remained so stable.” Holmes Beach hasn’t had to spend its reserves and “the tax rate remains the lowest of any city in Manatee County.”

        She said crime is low and the environment is protected, and she invited the public to visit the recently opened city preserve, Grassy Point.

        Like the other candidates, Haas-Martens asked for the vote on Nov. 6.

        “It’s my birthday, so I’d love to have your birthday present,” she said.

        John Monetti, running for his third term as a city commissioner, thanked his wife and five children for their support, and delved into local issues.

        “It should really not be a one-topic campaign. Limiting home sizes. This arose directly from a discussion on short-term rentals,” he said.

        “A Florida statute forbids further rental restrictions, and any changes threaten existing rental restrictions,” he said.

        Referencing proposed new construction limits currently being considered by the city commission, Monetti said he opposed them as “legislating the buildings, not behavior of individuals.”

        Monetti also came out against property right restrictions, saying they would lead to reduction in property values or higher taxes, or both.

        “Our property tax base would be assaulted,” he said, adding such a change would create “hundreds of new nonconformities.”

        Judy Holmes Titsworth, a life-long resident of Holmes Beach, operates Shoreline Builders with her husband, Steve Titsworth.

        She told the rally attendees she decided to run for commissioner as she sat “quite happy behind my gates, enjoying my family.

        “It just became too difficult to ignore the changes that have been taking place in our community,” Titsworth said.

        She said her construction knowledge will help the city find solutions to “the intensity of usage” in the R-2 district.

        From a recent check of the Manatee County property appraiser’s office website, Titsworth said she pulled a list of 147 land condo owners in the city, not including those currently under construction. She said the majority are resort housing, providing “a guaranteed return for investors.

        “Developers do have an influence over our current administration,” said Titsworth. “And this has to end with this election.”

        She pointed to other issues, including a lack of enforcement of land development codes, and the acceptance of questionable affidavits for remodel permits.

        “In every instance, the mayor said his hands were tied,” Titsworth said.

        She also criticized the mayor for calling her a “whistleblower, not a messenger” relative to recent complaints.

        “It is the enforcement of the building codes that protect us against ourselves,” Titsworth said. “Our island is worth fighting for.”

        Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, with eight years as the city’s mayor and eight years a commissioner, responded to Titsworth’s criticisms, and pointed to his successes in office and experience in federal and state boards.

        “Unfortunately, the current construction that Judy doesn’t like,” Bohnenberger said, is the city’s duplex construction, which is allowed by the land development code and “the building official has no choice but to issue permits.”

        Bohnenberger said he was “kind of surprised” Titsworth thought he labeled her a whistleblower, and denied saying nothing could be done about her complaints.

        He pointed out he’s changed building department policies in response to some of Titsworth’s suggestions.

        As far as changes to the code, Bohnenberger said he favors minimum room sizes rather than floor area ratio that would restrict new construction.

        He said he’s been talking to state legislators and candidates  in defense of the city’s home rule authority, including proposed legislation to limit local code enforcement and local business tax receipts.  He’s also seeking repeal of the recent law that prohibits cities from changing rental restrictions.

        Beyond the rental issues, Bohnenberger said, other issues include the police pension fund. He said new police hires need to be put in the state pension because it could lead to reductions in current pensions.

        “I’m very active at all levels of government and will continue to be so,” including the federal public service and Homeland Security committee.

        Carmel Monti introduced himself as a graduate of Michigan State University, who worked in the photo industry and ran three companies.

        “I’m proud to say I’m not a politician,” he said.

        Monti said he’s knocked on 100 doors in the city and heard two major issues about city commission from the residents: Lack of responsiveness and lack of action to retain the character of the island.

        He said he’s heard from attending city meetings in the past six months, and he’s “flabbergasted” that the city doesn’t believe there’s a building problem.

        “There’s a defeatist attitude of whatever laws they’re going to put on the books, they’re going to get around anyway,” Monti said.

        The city, not the developers, should be in control, Monti said, adding that it should run like a business with responsibility and accountability.

        Monti also said the city should harness the time and energy of its many talented people as volunteers.

HB building department verifies remodel values for FEMA

Holmes Beach public works superintendent Joe Duennes responded Oct. 18 to concerns about building department decisions on four recently remodeled ground-floor homes with a one-page letter.

    In an Oct. 8 letter, Steven Martin, program manager of the Florida Division of Emergency Management State Floodplain Management Office, sought backup information and reminded the city to update its code to reflect new Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

    Martin coordinates with local governments for FEMA, which manages the National Flood Insurance Program for new construction in flood-prone areas.

    “More than one citizen has recently expressed concerns about the city’s permitting process and enforcement of its floodplain ordinance concerning substantial improvements,” Martin wrote.

    The letter included a Power Point presentation on the properties at 606 Crestwood Lane, 531 Key Royal Drive, 302 67th St. and 207/209 55th St.

    Martin asked that the city respond and “provide detailed determinations” to indicate the remodeling did not exceed 50 percent of the market value prior to the structural improvements and to include elevation certificates for improved structures in flood-hazard areas.

    “If such properties underwent substantial improvements, then they should meet the city’s ordinance, including elevation above the base flood level, and comply with minimum requirements of NFIP,” Martin wrote.

    In his Oct. 18 letter, Duennes said, “Elevation certificates are not required for improvement projects under 50 percent, although some homeowners choose to have one prepared.”

    In the Oct. 8 letter, Martin followed up on his agency’s May visit to the city. He said while the agency found “no apparent potential violations,” there were “several problems” with the city’s flood damage prevention ordinance that the city was late in addressing.

    The report asked the city to revise its ordinance to conform with 2010 state building code amendments no later than Aug. 23.

    Duennes and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said city attorney Patricia Petruff is in the process of drafting such an ordinance, which will be sent to FEMA for review before it comes before the city commission.

    “We are not concerned with it,” Bohnenberger said about the Martin letter. “We’re confident we’ll be in compliance.”

    Holmes Beach, like other cities, police permits in accordance with local ordinances that incorporate FEMA guidelines to ensure homes are built or remodeled with safeguards against flooding.

    “I just think they want more information and then they’ll decide,” Duennes added. “And I just anticipate them coming down and going through our files because that’s what happened in the past.”

    The city adopted a new flood plain ordinance that included FEMA guidelines after a floodplain audit in 2007.

    To meet the pre-August FEMA guidelines, if a remodeling project is proposed on a property below base-flood elevation, the first-floor living area must be built off the ground, or contractors and owners’ cost affidavits and an appraisal must show new costs are no more than 50 percent of the market value of the structure.

    Discussion at city commission meetings over the past year has included complaints that contractors are submitting questionable affidavits as to the 50 percent rule, practically demolishing the structure and re-building without elevating the structure.

    This summer the city began requiring demolition permits and inspections prior to the issuance of building permits.

    Bohnenberger, who is up for re-election Nov. 6, said the complaints likely came from “a contractor who did not get the project,” and someone who thinks a person “can drive by and tell substantial improvements from the road.” He specified the complainant may have been Steve and Judy Holmes Titsworth.

    Judy Titsworth, who is running for one of two commission seats against incumbents Sandy Haas-Martens and John Monetti, and newcomer, Marvin Grossman, has been outspoken on the subject of ground-level improvements that exceed the 50 percent rule, but she denied making the FEMA complaint. Her husband also denied making such a complaint.

    “We brought it to the city’s attention only,” said Judy Titsworth.

    She added, “Steve followed it up with a letter to all the commissioners. It’s now part of the FEMA investigation because it was in public records.”

    Titsworth said she warned Bohnenberger and Duennes in August that she knew of another citizen who had complained to FEMA, but she kept the complainant’s name confidential.

    Bohnenberger and Titsworth agree that compliance to the flood plain management ordinance and the substantial improvements rule is important so it does not jeopardize flood-insurance discounts for all residents.

Holmes Beach response, values

    Holmes Beach public works superintendent Joe Duennes wrote Oct. 18 to the state coordinating agency for the Federal Management Emergency Agency that details the values and appraisal amounts used to make building permit approvals for four ground-level home remodel projects.

    According to pre-August FEMA guidelines, for projects below the base flood elevation level, contractors and owners’ cost affidavits and an appraisal must show new costs are no more than 50 percent of the market value of the structure.

    The information Duennes provided to Martin includes the following addresses and values:

Address  Depreciated value   Project cost

               per certified     per owner,

               appraisal    contractor affidavit

207/209 55th St.          $252,974     $119,600

302 67th St. $382,200 $121,550

606 Crestwood            $612,284     $299,499.20

531 Key Royale      $307,919 $113,500

HB removes unauthorized political sign

A political sign attacking Judy Holmes Titsworth, a candidate vying for a seat on the Holmes Beach City Commission in the Nov. 6 election, was removed Oct. 14 by police from a median at Gulf and Marina drives.

        Commissioner Pat Morton reported an anonymous person improperly placed the sign on public property at 5400 Gulf Drive. The sign may appear to be slanderous, but it was in violation of city ordinance, according to the Holmes Beach Police Department report.

        Two more red-and-black signs with the same message and a statement it was “sponsored by concerned citizens,” were subsequently found at the corners of Harbor and Gulf drives and at Sixth Street and Manatee Avenue. They too were removed by police, according to code enforcement officer David Forbes.

        HBPD Lt. Dale Stephenson said the sign Morton reported was on city-owned property without permission, and therefore removed. He also understood the two other signs were in the rights of way and, therefore, were removed.

        Last week, HBPD delivered one of the signs to Forbes, who pointed to a section in the city’s sign ordinance that authorizes the removal of illegally placed signs. Forbes said the sign lacked candidate approval, and displayed no address or the identity of its sponsor. State election law requires political advertisements to expressly state the content of the advertisement was approved by a candidate or political group, as well as who paid for it.

        Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino said he contacted Titsworth and asked if she approved the sign, and she advised she had not.

        Titsworth denied the signs’ allegations against her, adding she’d seen the sign on private property.

        Regardless, she said, it will not deter her campaign.