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Date of Issue: November 15, 2007

Lawyer clarifies phone call on bridge issue

A Holmes Beach lawyer who contacted Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford to offer his services for any legal team that would deal with the Florida Department of Transportation related to the Anna Maria Island Bridge closure issue said there was a slight misunderstanding between himself and the mayor.

Tom Sinai, a former Washington, D.C., lawyer with Technology Law Group LLC, said he called the mayor about the bridge closure because he had some “ideas” on how to get effective action out of the DOT.

Sinai said he offered to join any legal team “pro bono” (without charge), but because the DOT appears to have satisfied many concerns about the bridge closure, he saw no reason to contact other elected officials.

But Barford had concerns after Sinai’s call. She sent an e-mail to county commissioners and other elected officials involved with the bridge closure issue clarifying her discussions with Sinai.

Barford’s letter of Nov. 6 said, “It has come to my attention that a person by the name of Tom Sinai may be calling you and using my name as an introduction. Please be advised that he does not have permission to use my name.

“You certainly can respond to his call, which

is in regard to the Anna Maria Island Bridge closing,” she concluded.

Barford said that when Sinai called her several weeks ago to present his ideas, “I told him I was just one person and he needed to talk to other elected officials. I told him I really wasn’t interested.” She added that she was “very pleased with the new developments about the bridge project, but anyone can make a presentation.”

While that might have been the end of the matter, Barford said she sent the letter because she wanted to ensure that Sinai didn’t contact other elected officials involved in the bridge issue and misrepresent her.

Sinai said it was all a misunderstanding and he’s not pursuing his “ideas” with any elected officials because everyone involved appears pleased with the DOT’s response to the crisis.

At-large County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she hasn’t been contacted by Sinai, and she has no interest in pursuing any legal action against the DOT over its failure to inform elected officials of its plans to close the bridge for 75 days beginning in April. The DOT has made amends for its shortcomings on that issue, she said, and is bending over backwards to accommodate Islanders and county residents to limit the inconvenience and length of time the bridge will be closed.

“I’m satisfied at this point,” she said. Any legal action against the DOT would only delay construction of a new bridge, and that’s not worth the trouble.

“There’s a spirit of cooperation now,” she said.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger also said there’s no reason to pursue any litigation.

“It sounds to me like he’s a little behind the curve. I think we’re on the right track and I don’t see any point in making waves and delaying a replacement bridge in the future.”

County Commissioner Joe McClash, while noting that Sinai had not contacted him, said he was “not totally satisfied” with the DOT’s efforts to date to resolve the crisis. He contends that the reasons DOT has given for not working 24/7 to complete work while the bridge is closed are “excuses.”