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Speeder, 2nd-DUI offender sentenced to probation

A 36-year-old man pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and was sentenced to 12 months probation and completion of an advanced DUI course.

Chandler Variot of Bradenton was sentenced Feb. 6 by 12th Circuit Judge Mark Singer.

Holmes Beach police arrested Variot in September 2016 after an officer stopped his vehicle traveling 70 mph between the 700 block of Manatee Avenue and the Anna Maria Island Bridge — an area recently changed to a 25-mph zone.

The state filed an elevated DUI charge due to a prior conviction and 0.15 or higher blood-alcohol content. The legal limit is 0.08. Variot was convicted of DUI in September 2004 in Sarasota County, according to court records.

As part of the 2016 case, the judge suspended Variot’s driver’s license for a year and ordered 50 hours of public service. Singer also ordered his vehicle impounded for 10 days and an ignition device installed for one year.

Variot’s speeding citation was combined and adjudicated with the DUI.

Holmes Beach mayor advocates city manager government

One mayor of three on Anna Maria Island is putting out a call for better city management.

Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson is ready to turn over the heavy lifting that goes with running a city with a $12 million-plus budget to a professional.

According to Johnson, development in Manatee County leaves Anna Maria Island as “the only beach in town.” He cites pressure on the beaches from developments at Lakewood Ranch and other proposed developments near Cortez Road and 75th Street.

For this, and other reasons, he believes Holmes Beach needs an experienced municipal administrator and, he says, he is not the man for the job.

With less than two years remaining on his second term, Johnson wants to see the city operating efficiently and smarter before he steps away and the time is short to accomplish his goal.

He proposes the creation of an ad hoc committee to examine the viability of moving to a council-manager form of government.

The city operates under a commission-mayor form of government. The five-member commission is legislative. It establishes policies and adopts ordinances, while the mayor, serving as administrator, carries out the codes and ordinances, and manages staff and budgets.

But Johnson, in his second term as mayor, wants commissioners to appoint a committee to examine long-range solutions for Holmes Beach, including the viability of moving to a council-manager form of government.

“When you go from a couple of hundred rental units to a thousand in a few years, and along with all of the building activities that are going on, just that whole wholesale shift in demographics makes a big change in the things you have to worry about in the city,” Johnson said.

Johnson said a committee working openly could best determine long-range solutions for the city.

“The volume and density of what this office is required to deal with is huge,” he said. “It still kind of has the same size that it’s had for a long time.”

Johnson proposed the idea during a Jan. 24 commission work session and he heard some criticism.

Commissioner Chair Judy Titsworth said the formation of another committee would burden city staff with more work.

“I think a mayor for the size of our city is still right,” she said.

But Johnson disagreed.

“I think you guys are missing the boat and the city will be worse off,” he said. “You can’t get cooperation with a novice sitting in here like me.”

Looking around at other beachside communities, Johnson said Holmes Beach is one of the “last hangers-on to this mode of running a municipal community.”

“There are more of them than not,” Johnson said.

Of the 37 beach communities with populations similar to Holmes Beach, 11 have a council-mayor form of government, according to Johnson’s noted.

“Everybody else has council-manager,” he said. “The 11 that have council-mayor are all small communities, except for Holmes Beach. Holmes Beach is the only one that has a big community.”

Included in the 11 are the cities of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

“Three of those 11 are on this bloody island,” he said, adding the creation of an ad hoc committee “needs to be seriously addressed.”

“We’ll have those discussions, maybe even as early as March,” Johnson said. “To me, it’s a matter of where do you prioritize things. At some point and time, this should be a priority, so all I can do is keep working in that direction. And there’s a lot of people that say I like what you have and what you do.”

In order to accomplish the switch from commission-mayor to a city manager government, the electorate will have to approve a change to the charter.

And the next election is in November.

Island officials last discussed in earnest — and rejected — consolidation and a study by the three cities for employment of a city manager in 2005-06.

Commissioners were scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

HB Mayor Plans

Bird runs new Skyway

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Islander cartoonist Joe Bird, who currently resides in New Orleans, is shown on the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge after running a race to commemorate the bridge opening in April 1987. Construction of the Skyway began in 1984 and ended in February 1987. Islander Courtesy Photo

BB truck driver strikes off-duty beach tractor driver at 7-Eleven

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Mark Taylor, right, who drives the beach cleanup tractor on Anna Maria Island, is shown in December with Manatee County Parks and Recreation colleagues Cindy Turner, Mark Parsley and Carmine Demilio. Taylor was hospitalized at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton Jan. 30-Feb. 2 after being struck by a pickup truck at a Bradenton 7-Eleven store. Islander File Photo
Barbara Holtan, 55

Mark Taylor drives a tractor for Manatee County on Anna Maria Island, cleaning up the beaches.

At home and rehabilitating from a Jan. 30 crash, Taylor recounted Feb. 9 how a typical morning at the 59th Street 7-Eleven in Bradenton turned traumatic.

“It was still dark outside. I was just going to pop a movie into the box and go get me a tea,” he said. Then a woman in a truck drove into him.

Taylor was pinned to a Red Box vending machine until the woman put her 2002 Chevrolet Silverado in reverse.

“I remember screaming and beating,” he said, adding the woman kept her foot on the accelerator for what seemed like minutes.

“When she finally let up and pulled into the parking lot, she scratched the county truck,” Taylor said.

The Silverado also hit a car in the 7-Eleven lot, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. No injuries were reported to the vehicle occupants.

An ambulance transported Taylor to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton and a Tampa General Hospital trauma surgeon was called to Blake to operate on his leg, ripped open to the bone, he said.

At 9:21 a.m., the FHP arrested Barbara Holtan, 55, of Bradenton Beach, for driving under the influence/causing serious bodily injury to another and possessing drugs and paraphernalia.

A FHP trooper reported Holtan “visibly swaying and failing to maintain her balance” but no odor of alcohol. A field sobriety test was discontinued due to the concern Holtan would fall, the report stated.

Holtan told the trooper she commonly takes insulin and opiates, morphine, dilaudid and oxycodone. On an inventory of Holtan’s vehicle, a muscle relaxant and a broken pen casing containing white powder were found, according to the FHP report.

Holtan was transported for diabetic issues to Blake Medical Center, where she agreed to provide a urine sample, the report stated. From Blake, FHP transported Holtan to the Manatee County jail.

At her first court appearance, a 12th Circuit judge found probable cause for the charges and set $2,250 bond and approved a pretrial service supervised release. Holtan was released Jan. 31 pending a 9 a.m. Friday, March 3, arraignment.

Taylor was released from the hospital Feb. 2 with instructions for exercise but to “take it slow,” which he says is difficult.

Taylor said, “With spring break coming up, I really want to get back to work.”

He expects his stitches to be removed in two weeks and, in three-four weeks, he’ll be “back in the saddle” on the beach tractor, cleaning trash and litter from the beachfront.

“Wave to me when you see me,” he added.

Charter captain assists in sea turtle rescue, rehab, release

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Mote Marine Laboratory representatives assist Holmes Beach charter Capt. David White, left, in the October 2016 rescue of Sea Salt, a loggerhead sea turtle, brought to the Coquina South Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach by White.
Sea Salt, a rescued and rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle, is released Feb. 3 into the Gulf of Mexico on the beach at Lido Key in Sarasota County. Islander Photos: Courtesy David White

Capt. David White of Cortez had seen sea turtles in the water before.

“I see a lot of them out there, but this sea turtle was acting funny — he was bobbing up and down and obviously having buoyancy issues. So I called Mote to see what I should do,” said White, owner and captain of Anna Maria Fishing Charters, based in Holmes Beach.

White pulled the 220-pound male loggerhead sea turtle aboard his boat Oct. 30, 2016, while fishing a mile offshore of Holmes Beach.

The sea turtle — later named Sea Salt — was released into the Gulf of Mexico Feb. 3 on the beach at Lido Key in Sarasota County.

Back in October, White contacted Mote Marine Laboratory and spoke with Gretchen Lovewell, Mote’s stranding investigations program manager.

“I didn’t want to do put the sea turtle in my boat without asking permission,” White said. “But when I called, they said it was OK to put him in the boat and meet them. So I hauled him aboard.”

Lovewell instructed White to bring the turtle to meet representatives of Mote at the Coquina South Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach.

From there, Mote representatives took Sea Salt to the Sarasota facility for rehabilitation.

According to White, specialists at Mote determined Sea Salt had traveled through a high concentration of red tide, which entered the animal’s bloodstream.

The rescue provided Mote with a rare opportunity to observe a male sea turtle, since males spend their entire lives in the ocean.

White said Mote could tell Sea Salt is a male turtle because of the large tail.

“Mote was amazing — they kept me informed of what was happening with Sea Salt the whole time,” he said.

White said Lovewell called to let him know Mote had outfitted Sea Salt with a tracking device and had planned the release.

White and fiance Heather Booth attended the release Feb. 3. He said about 27 Mote representatives also gathered on the beach for the release — a chance to see the outcome of their efforts.

“When they first released him, he swam straight out to a shoal about 20 feet offshore, went the length of it and came back to shore. So they had to take him farther out,” White said. “Once he made it, he took off like a bat out of hell.”

As a native islander and fishing captain, White said he was curious to see which direction the turtle would go after it was released.

“Sea Salt went north, back towards the direction where I rescued him,” White said. “The tracking device is really noticeable. So if I’m out on the water and see a turtle with a device on its shell, my guess will be it’s my buddy Sea Salt.”

Driving donations for dogs

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Moonracer No Kill Animal Rescue is selling 150 tickets in a raffle for a 1985 Mercedes 280SL, donated by Rhonda Poklemba. The drawing will be Tuesday, April 25, and $100 tickets are available for purchase at moonraceranimalrescue.com. Moonracer was founded by Islander office manager Lisa Williams to rescue and find forever homes for dogs and cats in Manatee County. For more information, call 941-896-6701. Islander Courtesy Photos

Lisa Williams, left, and auto donor Rhonda Poklemba.

Anna Maria chair suggests planning for city manager

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Anna Maria Commission Chair Doug Copeland, left, tells Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy, right, the city should consider a city manager in its 10-year plan. Commissioners Dale Woodland and Nancy Yetter are seated between Copeland and Murphy. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

At the Anna Maria City Commission meeting Feb. 9, Chair Doug Copeland suggested the city consider adding the hiring of a city manager to its 10-year plan.

“I don’t know how much this commission or our residents appreciate how much is involved in your job,” Copeland told Mayor Dan Murphy.

Copeland said a city manager could bring Anna Maria a level of continuity that mayors with two-year terms could not. At some point in the next 10 years, “we’re going to need a city manager,” he said.

Murphy said he expected to bring a cost breakdown of 10-year plan projects to the commission in March.

Murphy began in January to collect suggestions from commissioners about what should be included in a 10-year plan, which he says the city needs to fulfill its comprehensive plan.

Along with discussing the possibility of a city manager, commissioners also heard the first reading of an ordinance extending the city’s formula business moratorium another six months, while decisions are made on regulating formula establishments — chain stores — in order to preserve the city’s old Florida ambience.

There was no discussion on the ordinance, which continues an emergency moratorium that has been in place since July 2016.

The final hearing and vote for the ordinance will be heard at the Feb. 23 commission meeting.

The city also turned down a requested amendment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding an interlocal agreement it has with Manatee County.

The amendment would have obligated the city to “affirmatively further fair housing,” something city attorney Becky Vose said would take control out of the hands of the city and would require any amendments to the agreement to first be reviewed by HUD.

Instead, the interlocal agreement that was signed in July 2016, without the recommended changes, will remain in place.

In other business, Murphy announced he interviewed five candidates for the position of city planner following the Jan. 23 resignation of Bruce McLaughlin.

The candidates include Misty Servia, whose resume was submitted by M.T. Causley, the planning firm that subcontracts the planner position; Bill Brisson, who serves as a consulting planner for Holmes Beach; Robin Meyer, whose experience includes working for Longboat Key and Manatee County; Craig Hullinger, a partner at the Sarasota firm of Ruyle Hullinger and Associates; and Anna Maria resident Bill Hatch, who is a real estate portfolio manager for Verizon.

Murphy said he expects to bring a final recommendation to the commission at its meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at city hall, 10005 Gulf Drive.

In the meantime, Bradenton Beach planner and former Anna Maria planner Alan Garrett is loaning his services to the city, four days a week, addressing the city’s needs.

“We are fortunate that we had someone who knew our codes who could step in,” Copeland said.

Slow down and enjoy the scenery, says Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

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A 25-mph speed limit sign is posted Jan. 27 entering Holmes Beach on Manatee Avenue from the Anna Maria Island Bridge. Islander Photos: Jennifer Sheppard
HBPD is monitoring Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach after a speed-limit reduction was initiated by the Florida Department of Transportation.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer talks at a news conference Feb. 1 about the reduced 25-mph speed limit in Holmes Beach on Manatee Avenue at the Anna Maria Island Bridge.

A reduced 25-mph speed limit for drivers heading west into Holmes Beach by way of Manatee Avenue/State Road 64, starting at the Anna Maria Island Bridge, was posted Jan. 30 by the Florida Department of Transportation.

At the same time, the speed limit for drivers on the bridge connecting Holmes Beach to Perico Island was reduced from 45 to 35 mph.

Tokajer said Jan. 31 the sudden speed reduction at the city limit was causing a “firestorm.”

Later in the week, the state posted reduced speed signs for eastbound motorists on Manatee Avenue at 25 mph. Tokajer said that was expected.

New signs, some with temporary orange flags, were positioned by the DOT, said Tokajer, who has advocated for a citywide speed limit of 25 mph.

Tokajer positioned digital radar signs alongside Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach to draw motorists’ attention to the reduced speed limits. The reduced speed might add an extra 28 seconds for motorists entering the city, Tokajer said, but during the busy season, motorists won’t be able to drive up to the speed limit, anyway.

“We have a lot of people coming in,” Tokajer said at a news conference Feb. 1 near the bridge. “We have bicyclists that use this roadway. We have a lot of motorists. We have trolleys. There’s buses.”

Different factors went into reducing the speed limit, Tokajer said, including a DOT traffic analysis for Manatee Avenue at the entrance to the city.

According to Robin Stublen, communications specialist for District 1 of the DOT, Tokajer suggested reducing the speed limit in Holmes Beach.

“After looking at the number of pedestrians, bicyclist and beachgoers, we agreed to lower the speed limits based on our engineering judgment,” Stublen wrote in an email Feb. 2 to The Islander.

Florida statute allows municipalities to set the speed limit on residential roads to a maximum of 20-25 mph after an investigation determines it’s reasonable. A 2015 bicycle fatality near the bridge also was a factor, Tokajer said.

Commissioner Jean Peelen, in a Feb. 3 email to Tokajer and the commission, said the reduced speed limit was “sprung on the residents.”

“There was no public notice, no input,” Peelen wrote.

A Jan. 24 DOT notice, including the traffic analysis, to County Commissioner Betsy Benac, was copied to Tokajer and received Feb. 6

The HBPD is working this month to educate motorists about the reduced speed limits, Tokajer said.

“It’s good for the citizens and it’s good for the community, and it’s definitely a lot safer,” Tokajer said. “Slow down and enjoy the scenery. You’re in paradise. There’s no reason to rush.”

Anna Maria authorizes study on special tax assessment

Anna Maria commissioners authorized a contract Jan. 26 for an engineering and consulting firm to study development of an occupancy-based tax assessment.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy has advocated the fee, which would be based on the number of people living in a household, as a solution to recoup the city’s tourism and vacation rental-related costs.

The city previously failed in its attempts to negotiate a greater share of Manatee County tax revenue based on population numbers that would include vacation home residents.

Murphy announced Dec. 8, 2016, that the city would partner with Burton & Associates, a St. Augustine-based planning consulting firm, to initiate a study on the special assessment.

However, before the contract was presented to the commission, Burton & Associates was acquired by consulting firm Stantec, a Canadian-based company with an office in Lakewood Ranch that provides engineering, consulting and design services to public and private clients, including the planning for the Lakewood Ranch development.

Under the contract, which commissioners unanimously approved Jan. 26, Stantec will evaluate the feasibility of a special assessment, including identifying the costs associated with vacation rental visitors, and how an assessment would impact the city budget.

Murphy is preparing cost assessments for short-, medium- and long-term projects in the city’s 10-year plan, which he will provide to Stantec for its study calculations.

The contract calls for Stantec to earn a maximum of $34,838. The project is estimated to require about 200 hours of work and the contract states that it will take 90 days to complete.

City attorney Becky Vose said Jan. 26 that she was not successful in finding an example of a similar special assessment enacted in another municipality.

The closest were groups of vacation rental owners in California cities who requested specific services in exchange for special assessment fees. “There’s nothing quite like this,” Vose said of the mayor’s proposal.

Stantec was authorized to begin the study upon approval of the agreement.

Bradenton Beach accepts $1 marina offer to dock police boat

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The Historic Bridge Street Pier and surrounding anchorage. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Just about any boater would call it a good deal.

Bradenton Beach commissioners have agreed to Bradenton Beach Marina’s $1-per-year lease offer for dock space for the Bradenton Beach Police Department patrol boat.

At its Feb. 2 meeting, the commission voted 4-1 to approve the agreement. Commissioner Ralph Cole cast the dissenting vote.

In a Dec. 16 letter to the commission, Mike Bazzy, owner of Bradenton Beach Marina, 402 Church Ave., offered the city a wet slip at the marina for the police boat.

In his letter, Bazzy said he is aware that Chief Sam Speciale is working to have a lift installed at the pier as a permanent solution, but the marina offered dock space for $1 in the interim.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said Bazzy’s offer is generous, that city attorney had reviewed the lease agreement submitted by Bazzy, Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale is “fine with it,” and BBPD Officer Eric Hill was planning to check out the slip.

Perry said the lease language is “very pro forma,” but in essence the city would be responsible for any damage to the boat while stored at the marina.

Commissioner John Chappie asked if this applied even if an employee of the marina caused the damage.

Perry replied, “Yes,” but it is standard for such an agreement.

Shearon agreed with Perry.

“This would be the beginning of the end,” Cole said. “As soon as you put the boat in the water, it won’t be the same.”

Shearon said the intention was never to leave the boat in the water all the time, just on weekends or at times the BBPD determines quick access would be beneficial, such as during holidays or special events.

Cole said he is concerned with liability and he thinks Perry should talk with Bazzy and see if any changes can be made to the agreement.

Shearon said when Bazzy submitted the agreement, he said the lease could not be changed.

Commissioner Jake Spooner said changing the lease would require the purchase of insurance for the marina only for the police boat, and he did not think Bazzy would do that.

Perry expressed a concern that Bazzy has previously sued the city.

“We know they don’t have a problem with suing the city,” Perry said.

Cole repeated that he thinks accepting the offer is a bad idea and the commission should focus on moving forward with the proposed lift on the pier.

The BBPD patrol boat is maintained on a trailer at the police station while the city is in discussion with the West Coast Inland Navigation District to secure funding for a boatlift at the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

The lift would allow law enforcement to react quickly to complaints or emergencies in the anchorage adjacent to the pier.

Spooner said he doesn’t think it will take long to get the lift on the pier but, in the meantime, this provides the police with quicker access to the anchorage area — where there have been problems in the past.

The motion to approve the lease passed with Cole voting “nay.”

The next commission meeting will be at noon Thursday, Feb. 16, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.