Tag Archives: News

Charges dropped in alleged condo fraud

The 12th Circuit State Attorney Office has abandoned fraud charges against a former president and treasurer of a three-unit condo association in Bradenton Beach.

Formal charges were filed in May against Alyson and Javier Colosia for allegedly defrauding the Gulf Reach Condominium Association of more than $50,000 between 2009-15 after an investigation by Bradenton Beach police.

The condo association swore in a new board in August 2015 and, in 2016, the new president turned over to BBPD an audit and other records, allegedly consisting of unauthorized ATM cash transfers, failure to pay association dues and unauthorized rentals.

BBPD Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz said Aug. 30 not all of the victim’s claims were true.

Assistant State Attorney Andrew Van Sickle filed the state’s decision not to prosecute Aug. 21 because further investigation determined the Colosias were able to refute some of the allegations, according to a state attorney’s interdepartmental memo.

The Colosias produced documents to support paying association costs, such as insurance, painting and lawn maintenance, as well as tendering $11,000 on the turnover, the memo states.

With the disclosure, the state determined it could not prove the fraud charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

— Kathy Prucnell

HBPD arrests man in theft case

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A man who lived with a woman in Holmes Beach was arrested on a warrant for the theft and pawn of her laptop and stereo.

David Vickers, 31, formerly of Apollo Beach, was arrested Aug. 30 on a warrant for grand theft, dealing in stolen property and defrauding a pawn broker, according to Holmes Beach police and court records.

Vickers was served with the warrant in the Manatee County jail, where he’d been held since his Aug. 24 arrest for driving in Holmes Beach on a revoked driver’s license.

The Holmes Beach woman reported the stolen stereo and laptop on Aug. 26 to the HBPD.

According to the report, she confronted Vickers after noticing the items missing and finding a water bottle with a pawn shop logo in her car. The report states Vickers admitted to the theft and pawn of the missing items.

HBPD Detective Sgt. Brian Hall confirmed the stereo and laptop were pawned and put a hold on the items.

Vickers’ court arraignment is set at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 29, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Bradenton man arrested for DUI

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Holmes Beach police arrested a Bradenton man for driving under the influence — at more than twice the legal alcohol limit.

William Doubet II, 33, was stopped at 4:42 a.m. Aug. 19 after HBPD Officer Alan Bores observed his red Chevy without tail lights turn east onto Manatee Avenue at Gulf Drive, according to the police report.

The report states the motorist was coming from a friend’s house and had forgotten to turn on his vehicle lights. He told police he had consumed “two or three beers.”

Bores also reported finding a cold, sweaty can of beer in the vehicle.

Doubet II performed poorly on field-sobriety tests and was transported to the Manatee County jail, where he provided breath samples measuring 0.211 and 0.207 blood-alcohol content. The legal BAC is 0.08.

The state filed a formal DUI charge Aug. 25.

He was booked at the jail and released on a $500 pending an 8:25 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20, arraignment at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Holmes Beach arrests Lakewood Ranch man for DUI

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Stephen McNeill, 24, of Lakewood Ranch, was arrested for driving under the influence.

Holmes Beach Police Officer Alan Bores stopped McNeill after observing his vehicle traveling 58 mph in a 35-mph zone.

Bores had followed the black Toyota eastbound at 1:34 a.m. Aug. 17 in the 700 block of Manatee Avenue and noted the motorist’s slow reaction to police emergency lights and the horn and knocks on the window.

McNeill told police he was in Bradenton for one or two drinks and was going the wrong way home.

McNeill provided breath samples measuring 0.135 and 0.149 blood-alcohol content. The legal BAC is 0.08.

He was booked at the jail and released on a $500 pending an 8:25 a.m. Monday, Sept. 18, arraignment at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Holy waterspout!

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Tjet Martin captures a waterspout on the Gulf of Mexico Aug. 24 with her camera from the deck at the home she shares with Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon in the 300 block of Gulf Drive. She said the first one was pretty scary looking, and then a second one formed close to the first. There also was one offshore of Coquina Beach. “It was all very exciting,” Martin said, but it wasn’t threatening. The storm was headed west into the Gulf.

Tjet Martin captures a waterspout on the Gulf of Mexico Aug. 24 with her camera from the deck at the home she shares with Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon in the 300 block of Gulf Drive. She said the first one was pretty scary looking, and then a second one formed close to the first. There also was one offshore of Coquina Beach. “It was all very exciting,” Martin said, but it wasn’t threatening. The storm was headed west into the Gulf.

Bradenton Beach approves citizen ballot initiatives

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Attorney Bob Hendrickson, left, Reed Mapes and Bill Vincent discuss options Aug. 29 before a special commission meeting called to finalize the citizens initiative for the Nov. 7 ballot. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The petitions have been signed, sealed and delivered, with just enough time to get three Bradenton Beach citizen’s initiatives on the November ballot.

The grassroots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach prepared three ballot initiatives and collected petition signatures from more than 100 Bradenton Beach voters — fulfilling the requirement for signatures from at least 10 percent of voters in the previous election — to have the initiatives added to the Nov. 7 municipal ballot.

At an Aug. 28 meeting, city commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the petitions, allowing the initiatives to be placed on the ballot.

Mayor Bill Shearon voted “nay,” citing a last-minute exhibit from city attorney Ricinda Perry. Shearon, who has low vision, could not read the submission, which detailed insufficiencies with the petitions.

CNOBB members were seeking three charter amendments — removal of the city four-ward representative system so all commissioners represent the city at-large, amending residency requirements for elected officials from 24 months to the state-approved 12-month minimum, and a measure to prohibit changes to the city charter by resolution. If approved by electors, this action would require a citizen vote to amend the charter.

CNOBB member Reed Mapes delivered the petitions to city clerk Terri Sanclemente Aug. 9, who submitted them Aug. 14 for verification of voter signatures to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections.

However, along with the petitions, Sanclemente submitted a memo drafted by herself and Perry, citing “insufficiencies” in the petitions.

At an Aug. 17 commission meeting, Perry said it takes the city about a month to draft an ordinance, which would be required to amend the charter, and there is not enough time to get it on the November ballot. She suggested appointing a charter review committee to give people the opportunity to change the charter.

City commissioners directed Perry to draft a resolution to initiate a new charter review committee.

Additionally, the commission directed Sanclemente to continue to processing the initiative to amend the city charter by referendum, with an understanding that the questions likely would not be on the ballot.

In an Aug. 22 email to Sanclemente, attorney Bob Hendrickson with Harrison & Kirkland, P.A. of Bradenton, representing CNOBB, wrote that the initiatives can be placed on the ballot by ordinance or petition, according to state statutes.

“Frankly, a little common sense would make the distinction between an ordinance and a petition very clear,” Hendrickson wrote. “Why would the Legislature allow electors of a municipality to petition for changes to the city charter and allow the city council to veto the petition by refusing to adopt an ordinance?”

He closed the letter saying the city is obligated to place the initiatives on the ballot. And, if it does not, he has been directed to pursue the matter with the circuit court.

At an Aug. 28 meeting, city commissioners voted to direct Sanclemente to deliver the petitions to the SOE with a cover sheet from Perry stating her legal objections to the initiatives.

In response to the commission decision, Mapes said, “I think it’s wonderful. We won. We’ve shown we can come in here with citizen’s signatures and make a change.”

Cortez residents pool resources, resist DOT megabridge

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Paradise Bay mobile home park residents Tom Coulson, left, Jean Coulson, Bill Booher and Sheila Gilstrap preview the DOT’s options for the Cortez Bridge at an Aug. 26 meeting at Fishermen’s Hall, 4511 124th St. W., Cortez, called by Cortez opponents of a megabridge to discuss strategies for lobbying the DOT. Islander Photo: Terry O’Connor

With one last chance remaining to impress upon the Florida Department of Transportation their preference for retaining the low-rise Cortez Bridge, a two-hour strategy session Aug. 26 brought roughly 50 people together to discuss how best to get their message across.

If you go
Who: Anyone interested in the repair or replacement of the Cortez Bridge.
What: Florida Department of Transportation public hearing on Cortez Bridge.
When: 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31.
Where: Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.
Why: Last hearing before the DOT chooses to repair or replace the bridge that opened in 1957.
Information: cortezbridge.com.

The meeting was preparation for a DOT public hearing at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton.

Detailed DOT bridge drawings were displayed on tables along with news coverage giving attendees background on the bridge issue.

Whether it will make a difference is debatable, according to some who braved a downpour to attend the gathering at Fishermen’s Hall in Cortez.

“I think it’s good people are getting together to talk about it,” said Sheila Gilstrap, who once served as a tender on the Cortez Bridge. “But I don’t think our input will matter. I think the decision has been made.”

Linda Molto, board member of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, urged those in attendance to keep fighting.

“We didn’t think we were going to win last time,” Molto said, referring to a successful effort to block a DOT megabridge proposal in 1993.

Strategies discussed Aug. 26 included working to block the DOT on permitting, safety and environmental fronts.

The DOT is leaning toward the largest of its three options for repairing or replacing the bridge, but spokesman Zachary Burch emphasized it has not yet decided to build a $72 million, 65-foot vertical-clearance fixed bridge.

A new bridge would have a service life of 75 years, the DOT projects. The engineering and design phase is budgeted at $7.2 million with $21.3 million to secure rights of way, Burch said.

Molto said many Cortez residents consider the current bridge an iconic representative of the “low-rise” fishing village it serves.

She strongly favors repair, she said, as do most Cortezians.

A DOT study indicated the bridge can be repaired for $4.5 million but it will need to be redone after 10 years and will be “substandard” throughout the rest of its life.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Carol Soustek said if DOT insists on building a new bridge, she would prefer a replica of the current span

“I cannot envision the DOT’s high bridge because of the approaches,” Soustek said.

The east approach for a 65-foot span would result in the ramp to the bridge towering over the village near the waterway, according to DOT projections.

The Thursday, Aug. 31, hearing will be the last before the DOT chooses to repair or replace the bridge that opened in 1957. The DOT has conducted more than a dozen public meetings on the bridge.

Public comment will be accepted at the hearing and online at cortezbridge.com through Sept. 12, according to Burch. The DOT will submit its final decision for federal government approval roughly one month later, Burch said.

Bridge inspections between 2008 and 2012 determined the two-lane Cortez Bridge is structurally obsolete although it remains functionally sound. The bridge is 11 years past its projected 50-year service life. It was built at the same time as the Gulf Drive-Longboat Pass and Manatee Avenue-Anna Maria Island bridges.

The DOT began planning the Cortez Bridge repair or replacement options in 2013.

Draft project reports are available at the Island Branch Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, and Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, or online at cortezbridge.com.


Cortez Bridge options at a glance

Repair 1957-built bridge, $4.5 million estimated cost, 10-year life span.

Advantages: Lowest initial cost. No harm to environment. No boat-height limitations. No rights-of-way or easement purchases. Preferred by community.

Disadvantages: Must be redone every 10 years. Bridge too narrow with no shoulders and substandard curbs, vulnerable to ship impact and storm surge. Bridge openings delay water and road traffic. Would close nine weeks during construction sending detours via Anna Maria Island or Ringling bridges.

Build 65-foot vertical-clearance fixed bridge, $72 million cost, 75-year lifespan.

Advantages: No operating costs or boat-height restrictions, no bridge-opening delays, stormwater runoff treated, wider sidewalk, increased resistance to storm surge and ship impact. Favored by the DOT.

Disadvantages: Greater toll on environment, least popular with Cortez residents and business owners who say its large footprint will make it harder to reach homes and businesses. Steeper grade. Construction will harm seagrass. Requires right-of-way and easement purchases.

Build 35-foot vertical-clearance drawbridge, $105 million, 75 years.

Advantages: No boat-height restrictions, reduced delays for openings, stormwater runoff treated, wider sidewalk, increased resistance to storm surge and ship impact.

Disadvantages: Most costly option, higher maintenance and bridge tender costs, openings delay water and road traffic. Steeper grade. Construction will harm seagrass. Requires right-of-way and easement purchases.

Eliminated options: A rehabilitation expected to last 25 years and a 21- and 45-foot vertical clearance drawbridge.

Anna Maria Island’s sea turtle season peaks, hatches abound

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Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring section 6 coordinator Annie Camp, left, explains a nest excavation to Joe DeKemper of Dubois, Indiana, while volunteer Maria Yatros excavates a hatched loggerhead sea turtle nest Aug. 24 on the beach near 28th Street in Holmes Beach. The nest contained 95 hatched and three unhatched eggs. AMITW excavates and collects data 72 hours after a nest hatches. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Holes and hatchlings don’t mix A hole in the sand left unfilled Aug. 22 became a trap for two hatchlings on the beach in Holmes Beach. Upon discovery, the hatchlings were rescued and released to the Gulf of Mexico. Holes on the beach can be deadly for hatchlings making their way to the water and should be filled in at the end of the day, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox. Islander Photo: Courtesy AMITW
Code enforcement and turtle watch test new tools Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau, left, tests a spectrometer Aug. 25, as AMITW executive director Suzi Fox looks through a “turtle eye” card. Both tools are used by turtle watch and code enforcement on Anna Maria Island to ensure beachfront lighting is compliant with sea turtle regulations. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Sea turtle season has peaked on Anna Maria Island.

As of Aug. 27, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 272 hatched nests on the island. Nesting has slowed to a trickle.

Turtle watch warns: ‘TVs could harm hatchlings’
As of Aug. 27, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 54 disorientations, which can occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration. During an Aug. 24 lighting inspection, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox and Bradenton Beach code enforcement officer Gail Garneau observed light shining onto the beach, where large television screens were thought to be the cause. If you live on the beach and your TV is on after dark, “please, close your blinds,” Fox said. The TV glow is visible to the turtles and it could be “deadly for hatchlings.”

However, close to 180 marked nests are yet to hatch and an unknown number of unmarked nests may hold “surprise hatches,” according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch executive director Suzi Fox.

Sea turtle season runs May through October, with occasional late nests hatching after season ends. Nests must incubate 45-70 days.

During season, AMITW volunteers walk the beach each morning at sunrise looking for nests laid at night. When found, the nests are staked and marked for monitoring and protection.

Sometimes rain or other factors can lead to a missed nest, which is not discovered until after it hatches.

“People think that just because the nests on the beach by their homes have hatched, it’s OK to leave lights on at night again,” Fox said Aug. 23. “The thing is, there could still be surprise nests out there, waiting to hatch.”

During nesting season, exterior lights visible from the shoreline must be low and shielded with fixtures containing Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved bulbs. Interior lights visible from the shoreline should be turned off or blocked by blinds or curtains after dark.

After hatching, the turtles are drawn by their instincts to the Gulf of Mexico by the reflection of light on the water’s surface.

Disorientations occur when lights visible from the shoreline attract turtles away from the water, making them vulnerable to predators, exhaustion or dehydration.

A hatched nest is indicated by an indentation in the ground surrounded by tiny tracks, usually leading to the water. However, if the tracks indicate the hatchlings went the wrong way, AMITW classifies this as a disorientation and investigates what might have caused it.

Fox works with code enforcement in Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach to ensure lights are compliant and to notice people when their lights are out of compliance, so the problem can be corrected.

“Code officers in all three cities have their work cut out for them this year, but have jumped on board to help,” Fox said.

She recently noted that lights at beachfront properties have led to some disorientations, but code enforcement has been quick to remedy the issues within 24 hours.

Additionally, AMITW has been handing out “turtle eye” cards that contain a filter, allowing a person to view light sources visible to sea turtles.

Fox said the cards are available to people at no cost at the three island city halls and she plans to order 2,000 more viewers to distribute next year.

“These cards are great because they let people see what the turtle sees,” Fox said. “That way they know if a light needs to be changed to one that’s compliant.”

Fox said in addition to keeping lights compliant, people need to fill any holes dug on the beach by dusk.

While craters on the beach can be a problem for nesting turtles, they pose a bigger threat to hatchlings, which are small enough to become trapped.

Fox said she has been working with resorts and vacation property managers to ensure they educate guests about turtle-friendly lighting and beach practices.

Mark Davis, owner of the Harrington House Bed & Breakfast Inn in Holmes Beach, said Aug. 23 that he does his best to keep guests informed.

“We like to make it interesting for our guests,” Davis said. “We provide turtle watch handouts for them and keep up on the information ourselves, so we can talk with them about what’s happening with the turtles.”

Fox said it’s a “team effort,” and so far she is pleased with peoples’ efforts to keep the beach turtle-friendly this season.really good stuff happening for turtles on our beaches.”

Information about turtle-friendly lighting can be found on the FWC website at myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/sea-turtles/lighting/.

To report a disoriented hatchling, or a sick, injured or dead sea turtle, contact Fox at suzilfox@gmail.com or 941-778-5638.

Spoiler poses for Anna Maria commission seat

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Laurie Jo Higgins
Commissioner Carol Carter
Commissioner Doug Copeland
Commissioner Dale Woodland

Commissioners Carol Carter, Doug Copeland and Dale Woodland are hoping to keep their seats in the Nov. 7 election.

All three have submitted qualification papers to seek re-election.

Laurie Jo Higgins, a resident of Anna Maria for nearly 22 years, is looking to be a spoiler.

“I’m very nervous,” admitted Higgins, who has never run for elected office. However, she said, she wanted to break up the “good old boy’s club” of power in the city.

“Complacency has set in,” she said.

Higgins says her motivation to enter politics includes a history of bad interactions with officials.

“I was treated badly by city officials and when I tried to complain I was bullied, threatened and, basically, told you’ll never know when you might need us,” Higgins said.

In addition, she said, she feels the commission doesn’t cater enough to the needs of the elderly and young people on the island.

“All the hype is for vacation rentals,” she said. “There’s a group of old people who are silent. They complain to me, and they don’t really have a voice. A lot of people are very afraid to speak up because of what happened to me. Nobody wants to be harassed.”

Higgins said a dispute arose with Anna Maria officials while her mother was in hospice care at Higgins’ home.

“During my grief period, the bullying sent me over the edge. I’m stronger now,” she said.

As for policies and visions for the city, Higgins said she is “100 percent in favor of more green spaces,” but would prefer to see bicycles on sidewalks instead of bike paths, which she says remain dangerously close to vehicular traffic.

She said the city overstepped its bounds with its vacation rental ordinance. “When you allow a 10-bedroom home to be built, what do you expect?” she said. “If you’re going to give the building permit, that’s what you should expect.”

She also said she has followed the debate between the Center of Anna Maria Island and the city. “I see both sides. …I understand why there can’t be total transparency,” she said.

However, she added, the center board is “more of the same good old boy’s club we’ve always had out here.”

Copeland was the last of the incumbents to declare his candidacy.

“I want to get the City Pier Park done,” Copeland said about his goals for a new term. “I’m not sure we can get the pier completed, but at least we can get that construction going and get the Bert Harris cases completed. Then continue to try to work for the best interests of the citizens.”

Copeland added that he hoped the Florida League of Cities can help the city obtain stronger home rule, adding that he believed settling the Bert Harris complaints could resolve much of the conflict in Anna Maria.

“We’ve weathered the storm,” he said. Up next, he said, is to convince more people to live full-time on the island.

Copeland has served on the city commission since 2014, as has Carter. Woodland has been a commissioner for 14 years.

The election is Nov. 7.

Anna Maria rolls out franchise prohibition, historic preservation ordinances

The ordinance created to place a moratorium on formula business entities enacted in Anna Maria last July has been codified.

City commissioners adopted an ordinance Aug. 24, voting 3-2 to approve a permanent ban on formula retail establishments in the city in order to preserve an “old Florida” feel.

Commissioners Doug Copeland and Brian Seymour voted against the ban.

The ordinance says the purpose of the moratorium is to preserve “a non-commercialized ‘old Florida’ atmosphere where there are virtually no national ‘chain’ type establishments.”

According to the language of the ordinance, formula retail is defined as a business with three or more locations with a similar color scheme, trademark and merchandise.

The Anna Maria-based business Poppo’s Taqueria qualifies as a formula retail business, with three other locations in Manatee County. So does the Donut Experiment, which has expanded from its Anna Maria spot to six locations across the United States.

However, because the businesses originated in Anna Maria and unless the business owners seek more business licenses within the city, they would not be affected by the ordinance.

Anna Maria commissioners enacted an emergency formula retail moratorium last year in response to Holmes Beach’s moratorium, which was enacted as a result of permit applications submitted by chain stores Smoothie King and Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins for storefronts on East Bay Drive.

Anna Maria’s original emergency moratorium was in place for 60 days. Commissioners passed two six-month moratorium extensions in the past year. This ordinance makes the moratorium permanent.

In addition to the formula retail moratorium, commissioners also held a final hearing on an ordinance amending the comprehensive plan.

The ordinance provides for the historic preservation element, amends the coastal and conservation element and adds funding information to the city’s adopted capital improvements program.

The ordinance also sends the city’s comprehensive plan amendments to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for final review and compliance.

The additions won’t be approved until 31 days after the DEO reviews and approves the amendments.