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.