Tag Archives: 12-21-2011

Kids cheer Santa’s arrival at Sandbar

Jubilant kids, hands waving in the air, smiles on their faces, ran to the shore, all shouting, “Santa!”

        Santa’s sleigh had broken down in the Gulf of Mexico waters, but a rescue was in progress, according to the loud speaker at the Sandbar Restaurant pavilion in Anna Maria just before noon on Dec. 13.

        Minutes later, after a collective sigh from the 91 children attending the 18th Annual Lawton Chiles Christmas for Kids Party, a Jet-Ski roared to the shore with Santa and his bag full of toys.

        And all was well with partygoers at the Sandbar, 100 Spring Ave.

        Each child received a personalized gift, with a new outfit and pair of shoes, and gift certificates for a complete holiday dinner for their family.

        The party featured the Anna Maria Island Privateers greeting guests with goody bags and shiny beaded necklaces, Spiderman, who “took a day off from fighting crime to come to the beach,” Frosty the Snowman, Clifford, the Big Red Dog, Sponge Bob SquarePants, Winnie the Pooh, Big Bird, other kid-friendly characters, and, of course, Santa’s elves.

        The party also included lunch for the kids, games, rock-climbing, face-painting and craft-making.

        Those invited included 56 children from Healthy Families of Manatee County, a nonprofit serving families with children from prenatal age and up, and about 35 from Headstart programs and other special invitees.

        Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar and son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, also attended the event, and described it as a “fun, fun thing.”

        Chiles said the event, now in its 18th year, was named for his father after the 13th year.

        “He was all about kids. He was in politics to help kids from start to end,” he added. Chiles said his father supported prenatal care for moms, helping the less fortunate and measures to stem infant mortality.

        “The economic challenges we all face are felt much deeper by many of these families, so this year’s party will provide some relief for families trying to provide a semblance of Christmas for their children,” according to a Sandbar press release.

        A Sandbar press release suggested community donations to help cover the party’s expenses could be made to Sandbar Restaurant, Chiles Group, Attn: Christmas for Kids Party, P.O. Box 1478, Anna Maria FL 34216.

Ward 3 applicants sought

Bradenton Beach city commissioners will begin the new year still minus a colleague on the dais.

Since Nov. 8, the date of the general election, the city has lacked a Ward 3 commissioner. That’s because no one filed to run for the office vacated by Janie Robertson, who, due to term-limit rules, could not seek a fourth term on the city commission.

The charter leaves to the commission the responsibility of nominating and appointing a successer. That could happen as early as Jan. 5, the date of their next regular meeting.

As of Islander press time, two people had shown an interest in representing their ward — Richard Gatehouse and John Tillison.

Commissioners said last week that others interested in the seat should volunteer their names at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., in the next two weeks.

The city’s largest geographic ward, Ward 3 is generally bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on the west, the bay on the east, the center of Second Street North on the south and about 1800 Gulf Drive North on the northern end.

Throughout her last term, Robertson repeatedly raised concerns about a lack of civic involvement from her ward, which has a large number of rental accommodations and a large population of seasonal occupants.

Anticipating there would be no candidate in November, she suggested either going to an at-large election of commissioners, which is how Anna Maria and Holmes Beach officials are seated, or creating three small wards and one at-large ward for Bradenton Beach. Either change would require a city charter amendment.

Robertson and other commissioners also raised concerns about the number of residents — and eligible voters — in Ward 3. In the late summer, when preparations for the Nov. 8 election were under way, a general survey in Ward 3 found a scarcity of occupied housing.

And the 2010 Census suggests a citywide change in population — more snowbirds than in 2000. The city’s population in 2010 was 1,171 people. The census count showed 643 households. The 2000 census count put Bradenton Beach’s population at 1,482 people.

In its 2010 housing count, the census bureau reported 1,859 housing units in Bradenton Beach, with just 35 percent of them occupied full-time. Of the 1,216 “vacant” housing units in the city, more than 700 — 38 percent — were for seasonal or occasional use.

In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 1,762 housing units in Bradenton Beach. At that time, 45.6 percent were occupied by residents.

Arraignment delayed in cyber-sex case

Arraignment again was delayed for a 64-year-old Holmes Beach man accused of using Facebook to solicit a child for unlawful sexual conduct.

Ronald Littlehale was scheduled to answer allegations of sexually-related crimes in DeSoto County on Dec. 12, a court date delayed from Nov. 29. On Dec. 12, the arraignment was again postponed — until 9 a.m. Jan. 10.

Littlehale was arrested in Manatee County on Nov. 9 on a warrant from DeSoto County, where the sheriff’s office worked the case against him.

A spokesman for the DCSO said Littlehale was arrested for soliciting a child by computer for unlawful sexual conduct, transmitting by electronic device harmful material to a minor and transmission of pornography by electronic device. A DeSoto County Clerk of the Circuit Court website shows that Littlehale faces 13 felony charges.

Authorities began investigating Littlehale after a DeSoto County resident informed deputies of suspicious activity on her Facebook account — a stranger had contacted her about a photograph of herself as a child.

Investigators with the DCSO, part of a central Florida task force on Internet-related crimes, initiated a sting. They created Facebook accounts with profiles for 13-year-old females and allegedly were befriended by Littlehale.

Littlehale was taken into the Manatee County jail in an arrest that involved the Holmes Beach Police Department, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the DCSO.

Littlehale, as of Dec. 13, remained in the DeSoto County jail.

No contest plea made in HB theft case

A woman accused of ripping off a Holmes Beach couple away from home on a European vacation pleaded no contest Dec. 15 to charges that she stole the couple’s car and possession.

Catherine Theresa O’Malley, 49, was arrested earlier this year on charges of grand theft, a second-degree felony, and grand theft of a vehicle, a third-degree felony, in Manatee County.

In a courtroom at the Manatee County Judicial Center last week, she pleaded no contest to the charges and was judged guilty.

O’Malley’s sentence, handed down by Circuit Court Judge Scott Brownell, was 194 days in the Manatee County jail and three years probation.

O’Malley was first taken into custody in Sarasota, where, in an unrelated case, she was accused of fraud, presenting a false ID to a law enforcement officer and possession of narcotics/narcotics equipment.

In the Manatee County case, O’Malley, who provided addresses in Holmes Beach and Sarasota for her residency, was an early suspect. She had been hired by Barbara and David Hines to watch their Holmes Beach home while they were away.

Instead of acting as caretaker, O’Malley allegedly stole the couples’ car, jewelry and other possessions, as well as cashed forged checks.

A probable cause affidavit filed at the courthouse stated that O’Malley “knowingly obtained the property of another with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of their right to the property.”

The document also said, “The victim’s bank fraud department has images showing the defendant cashing and attempting to cash the stolen checks throughout the area. The total amount for the items that were stolen is $23,213.”

O’Malley pleaded not guilty in July and a trial date was set for February 2012.

If she had gone to trial and was convicted, she could have faced 10 years in prison.

Beware Holmes Beach: Privateers run this town

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger was given “fair warning” at a Dec. 13 city meeting.

        “Privateers run this town,” Tim “Hammer” Thompson told the commission, wielding a hammer and pointing to the mayor. “Our demands will be met or you will pay!”

        The Anna Maria Island Privateer decreed that the mayor will be shackled to the Skullywag and held for ransom on Dec. 30 at 3:45 p.m.

        Among the Privateers’ demands are a key to the city, a proclamation in support of the Privateers, and a $1,000 ransom.

        Thompson is the Privateers’ 40th anniversary events coordinator. He said that the ransom would be reached with community donations to be collected at the close of the business day Dec. 30.

        He added that the mayor’s release from the Skullywag, or his continued capture — depending on one’s political bent — has the ransom as its fundraising goal.

        The capture is one of more than 75 events organized in 2011 by the Privateers in support of its scholarships and community programs, including the Christmas and Fourth of July parades on the Island.

        Thompson said $29,000 in scholarships were given this year to 15 area students to further their education in their selected fields.

        The Privateers’ city captures have taken place across the Island to celebrate its 40th year as a nonprofit community organization with a motto of “Kids and Community.” Mayor Mike Selby of Anna Maria and former Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt were held for ransom by the AMIP in January and July.

        After the Dec. 30 capture and ransom collection in Holmes Beach, the Privateers will celebrate with food and grog, as well as a champagne toast courtesy of The Islander to conclude the 40th year celebration.

HB votes to settle 27th Street border dispute

To settle the recent dispute between the bordering cities of Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach over public access the Sandpiper Resort mobile home park, Holmes Beach commissioners voted Dec. 13 to seek a settlement that would restore access to a 30-foot-wide length 27th Street.

In 2008, the city of Bradenton Beach quitclaimed the right of way to the Sandpiper Resort, to help the resort clarify ownership of land in order to finance some improvements.

A dispute arose in 2011 after a fence and gates were erected, and signs posted to keep people from trespassing.

The platted, but unimproved street is 50 feet wide and about half a mile long and runs between the Sandpiper Resort and Holmes Beach.

Having atteneded the initial assessment meeting that is required by the state for conflict resolution, Holmes Beach city attorney Patricia Petruff requested that the commission consider a settlement discussed with Bradenton Beach representatives, with the added knowledge from two surveys of the 27th Street property she recently received.

She said the surveys indicate only 20 feet of the prior public right of way is encumbered by encroachments of mobile homes, porches and possible other improvements, and thus pose no interference.

        “I’m concerned that our residents have full access to what they have always accessed before,” said Holmes Beach commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens.

        Other terms of the proposed settlement include:

        • Setting a date for a joint meeting that satisfies what Petruff described as the “deadline intensive” conflict resolution statute.

        • Retaining the white fence.

        • Removing “do not enter” and “no trespassing” signs from the fence near the border between Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach at 27th Street.

        • Removing any and all gates so the alleys can be accessed.

        The vote was 2-1 with two members abstaining. Commissioners David Zaccagnino and Haas-Martens voted in favor, Pat Morton voted no. Two commissioners abstained due to previously identified conflicts, John Monetti because of his home nearby and Jean Peelen because of an ownership interest at the Sandpiper.

        Bradenton Beach city attorney Ricinda Perry said at the dispute resolution meeting Dec. 7 that with a proposal from Holmes Beach, she could bring the matter up at the next Bradenton Beach commission meeting, which will be Jan. 5.

        However, Bradenton Beach lacks a quorum of elected officials who can vote on the topic.

                The city must appoint a new Ward 3 commissioner, for which a search is under way, before a quorum will be restored. Mayor John Shaugnessy and Commissioner Gay Breuler are residents of Sandpiper Resort and have recused themselves from voting.

        If Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach fail to reach an agreement in the conflict resolution process, a special magistrate could resolve the dispute.

        During the discussions prior to the Holmes Beach commissioners’ vote on the settlement, Douglas LeFevre, president of Sandpiper Resort board of directors, went to the podium.

        Just prior to the commission vote, Zaccagnino asked LaFevre whether the Sandpiper would agree to the Holmes Beach settlement proposal, asking,“Are we 80 percent there?”

        LaFevre responded, “No.”

        “My concern is whether Sandpiper will quitclaim it back,” Zaccagnino said.

Citizen solutions flow at HB meeting

        Holmes Beach commissioners heard a multitude of suggestions Dec. 13 from residents and business people regarding complaints related to the city’s short-term rental policies and duplex construction.

        Attended by more than 100 residents, about 20 property managers, real estate professionals and others spoke before a packed chamber in what Holmes Beach Commission Chair David Zaccagnino introduced as “not a gripe,” but rather “a brainstorming session.”

        The discussion came at the beginning of the evening in response to residents who had waited more than two hours at the previous city commission meeting to voice their concerns.

        First at the podium, Holmes Beach resident and Island Real Estate vice president Larry Chatt said he was committed to staying proactive as one of “five of the seven largest property managers on the Island.” He said the group had been meeting over the past five weeks, and each manager had agreed to support the following “best practices” and changes:

        • Encourage rear-door trash service and a central recycling center.

        • Request that Waste Management provide units with four or more bedrooms with two or more trash cans.

        • Require at check-in that rental agents or owners hand a note to guests stating that “the goodwill of our neighbors is important,” underage drinking is not tolerated, parking shall not occur other than as permitted and excessive noise is not allowed, especially after 10 p.m.

        • Require at check-in that agents confirm with guests the number in the party and how many vehicles will be parked at the accommodation.

        • Recommend all rental agents give police dispatch a list of properties under their commission so that in the event of an incident, the agent can be contacted and immediately call the guest. Chatt suggested that agents/owners should be required to provide this information on obtaining a business license.

        • Recommend absentee owners meet their neighbors and introduce their renters.

        “I live in Holmes Beach. The last thing I want to do is walk down the street and have people think I don’t care about the Island,” Chatt said.

        Ron Travis of Remax Alliance Group and a Holmes Beach resident said, “There’re no teeth in best practices.” He suggested warnings for first offenses, followed by $250 fines for second offenses to each property owner, real estate agent and tenant.

        Jeff Gerry, owner and manager of White Sands and Tropical Breeze, suggested that the city’s “first line of defense” against overcrowded rental houses should be regulating overnight parking or establishing “tow zones.”

        “As a property manager, we have to police our own property,” Gerry added.

Land-use issues

        Residents also pointed out land-use issues at the meeting.

        “If it’s not residential, it’s commercial, and there are different regulations,” said David Teitelbaum, motel owner, in reference to different code requirements for residential and commercial accommodations.

        “Anna Maria Island has a wonderful mix of residents,” he said, but, if laws are broken, evictions can be enforced. Teitelbaum suggested a rental agreement written in conformance with state, federal and local laws in which “people will get evicted” if certain violations occur.

        Holmes Beach resident Jayne Christensen said “the root of problem lies” from the fact new duplexes are built on a single lot and slab, but are sold to two unrelated owners.

        “We run the risk of losing our residential neighborhoods,” said Sue Normand, business owner and chair of the Holmes Beach Planning Commission. She favored forming a committee to identify the applicable codes and recommend enforcement measures with “teeth.”

        Other suggestions from residents at the work session included:

        • More ticket-writing for nuisance complaints, and police calls to property owners as well as rental agents.

        • Creating revenue sources in addition to the business tax receipts to cover the cost of stepped up fire inspections, police calls and code enforcement.

        • Reviewing setback, parking, building code restrictions and corresponding enforcement measures to resolve the problem of stagnant “construction zones.”

        • Forming ad hoc committees to research problems and solutions and otherwise assist city officials.

        • Determining the cause of problems and addressing them directly.

Mullet run takes off

Mullet season has begun and fishers are casting nets in hopes of bringing in plentiful loads of the fish — a bounty for Christmas.

Karen Bell of A.P. Bell Fish Co. said that interest in mullet is especially great this season because of last year’s low yield.

“We have buyers from Italy, France, Taiwan, Egypt and elsewhere. Some buyers are flying in, and that’s a clear indication that interest is peaked,” Bell said.

Many have speculated on what caused the low number of fish last season; weather, migration and location of predators are possible reasons. There are many variables involved, the principal one always being weather patterns.

“Last season was also odd in that it ran through February, where it typically runs from early mid-December to early January. It never really picked up though, despite the length,” Bell said.

It looks like the hopes of fishers and buyers will be rewarded this year. Bell said there have been some good runs recently, and many report the great numbers of mullet, as well as mullet boats, in bay and Gulf of Mexico waters.

So what is it that makes local mullet such a highly sought after fish, and why is Cortez the place to go to, often from across the globe for the catch?

“The fish are plentiful, healthy and delicious, and the size and color of the mullet in many places, North Carolina and Louisiana for example, do not compare with that of the mullet found here,” Bell said.

There is another, perhaps greater culinary appeal to the mullet than its meat though — and that is mullet roe.

At present, Bell is paying $1.40-$1.50 per pound for female mullet, and $0.15 per pound for males. The value of the female’s eggs, the roe, is what causes such a disparity in price.

“Mullet roe is a form of caviar,” Bell said.

The roe, also known as bottarga, is sun-dried and pressed into hard sheets, ideal for grating over salads or slicing onto crackers. The technique is practiced throughout the world, and is a process familiar to folks in Cortez.

“The old Southerners have done it for a long time, just as they do in Europe and Asia,” said Bell.

However, no one in the Cortez area was trained to press the roe, so it was necessary to send it to Asia in order to have the process done.

That is, until now.

Seth Cripe, a former Island resident — he grew up here and first had his interest in culinary endeavors sparked when he began working at the Beach Bistro as a teen — and winemaker who is co-owner of LLV Vineyards, is the first to be trained to prepare bottarga locally.

So the effort to market mullet roe as a delicacy has become stronger on a local basis.

“Bottarga has been very popular among Cortezians since far back, but many Americans have otherwise not been aware of what it is, how good it is, and how good it is for you,” said Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, Beachhouse and Mar Vista restaurants.

There’s never a guarantee that mullet season will be a success. One can only watch as the fishers do their work. Bell feels confident either way, though.

“It’s great to know that Cortez — this tiny, little fishing village — is making its mark on the world with the quality and flavor of its mullet and roe,” she said.

Island road advisories

The Florida Department of Transportation announced it has begun repairs to the Longboat Key Pass Bridge on State Road 789 from north of Northshore Road on Longboat Key to south Coquina Park in Bradenton Beach.

Work this week will include repairs under the bridge with no impact to traffic, the DOT said. Plans call for repairs and painting, as well as sidewalk reconstruction.

During the repair period, motorists will encounter a 35-mph speed limit, but the bridge will not be closed to motorists and the draw will remain in operation for boaters.

Quinn Construction Inc. is the contractor for the $1.1 million project, which is expected to finish in the spring.

DOT work will continue on Manatee Avenue on Perico Island between Perico Harbor Marina and Bristol Bay Drive.

Construction of a new sidewalk in Holmes Beach on East Bay Drive/State Road 789 from the Manatee Avenue intersection south to Gulf Drive and from 31st Street to Manatee Avenue is continuing. A flagging operation will be in place if any lane closures are necessary, the DOT said.

This project should be completed in January, according to the DOT.

All DOT construction will be suspended from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2 and Jan. 13 through Jan. 17.

For additional information on DOT projects, contact public information officer Trudy Gerena at 813-299-3579 or visit www.mySR789.com.

Tourism continues upward trend

While October is considered a transition month in the Island tourism industry, it’s difficult to make that assertion when recent tourism figures show visitor arrivals in the Bradenton area for October 2011 were up 12 percent from the same month last year.

Research Data Services Inc., the Tampa company that compiles tourism data for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, reported the October figures at the Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s Dec. 12 meeting in Holmes Beach.

RDS said 32,600 people visited the BACVB area in October 2011 compared with 29,100 for October 2010.

October’s tourism increase put year-to-date arrivals at 422,600, a 10.9 percent rise from the 381,230 recorded through the first 10 months of last year.

RDS also presented its quarterly tourism report to the TDC and said the total economic impact of tourism to the BACVB area through the first nine months of 2011 was $431.6 million, up 7 percent from the $403.3 million impact reported through September 2010.

The top five attributes given by October visitors for their area stay were, in order, beautiful beaches; clear, blue water; sunning on the beach; good food and restaurants; and a clean, unspoiled environment. Other top attributes included value for money, safe destination and family-friendly, reasonably priced accommodations.

Resort tax collections also rise

As tourism increased 12 percent in October, collections of the tourist development tax — also known as the resort tax and bed tax — also rose, and at a higher percentage than tourism.

The Manatee County resort tax collection office reported collections of $337,969 in October 2011, a 17.7 percent gain from the $287,636 taken in for October 2010.

For November 2011, the increase in collections was even greater, climbing 27 percent compared with November 2010.

The office reported November 2011 collections at $385,177 compared with $306,567 for November 2010.

The tourist development tax is the 5 percent charged on all rental accommodations of six months or less in Manatee County.

Revenue from the tax is used for the BACVB budget, including beach renourishment projects and other tourist-related activities.

Sue Sinquefield of the resort tax office said better collection methods and streamlined efforts to locate and receive past-due or unpaid resort tax payments have contributed to the surge in collections.

The office collected slightly more than $7 million in tourist taxes for fiscal year 2010-11, a record year for collections.

And bed tax collections are a good indication of tourism, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said.

Although RDS did not have November’s visitor report, with resort tax collections up 27 percent, that’s a “fairly good indication” of a tourism increase for November, Brockman said.