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Date of Issue: May 26, 2010

County commissioner defends vote

Attorney Stavros Tingirides still hopes that his client Cafe on the Beach LLC has a chance at retaining the Holmes Beach concession.

Indeed, at the county commission’s 9 a.m. Tuesday, May, 25 meeting at the County Administration Center in downtown Bradenton, there is that possibility. County attorney Tedd Williams said in a letter to county officials a motion for reconsideration would not be out of order.

But he said the county attorney’s office does not recommend the county commissioners adopt a motion to reconsider the contract for United Parks Service to begin operating the concession at Manatee Public Beach beginning July 21. Williams said such a motion on what is now a binding contract could expose the county to a suit based on many legal theories.

Still, Tingirides, for one, is holding out hope. He said he has yet another reason to believe Manatee County has issues with Dee Schaefer, owner of P.S. Beach Associates.

Schaefer runs the gift shop at Cafe on the Beach and is the owner of P.S. Beach Associates, which started operating the concession at Cafe on the Beach in 1992.

Tingirides read an e-mail from County Commissioner Gwendolyn Brown to an unknown constituent from her hotmail account that defended her vote to offer United Parks Service a contract.

In her e-mail, Brown states a concern that the county was unaware that P.S. Beach Associates subcontracted the restaurant concession to Cafe on the Beach and that Dee Schaefer was to be paid $650,000 for the subcontract, including $250,000 at a later date.

Tingirides said the e-mail confirms at least some of the commissioners have not been informed of the facts regarding the relationship between P.S. Beach and Cafe on the Beach.

“At least some of the commissioners are under the false impression that Dee would get paid a $250,000 fee if the contract was awarded to Cafe on the Beach,” Tingirides said in an e-mail.

“This is simply not true,” Tingrides said, adding that county officials apparently have “an underlying issue with Dee’s prior subcontract of the food service portion of the concession.” Despite the fact that Dee is loved by many of the citizens, he said, and despite the fact that the county approved the subcontract to new operators of the restaurant back in 2003, and despite the fact that the county has “substantially benefited from the subcontract for the last seven years — no payment issues and no complaints — it is now obvious that certain people in the current county administration have issues with Dee and my client is being punished as a result of those issues.”

Brown said in her e-mail she had planned to rescind her vote, but she had concerns with the contract that was signed with Cafe on the Beach.

Brown said the issue had become hyper-emotional. “This issue was not about Dee but what was the best deal for the County as a whole,” she wrote, adding that she had planned to rescind her vote but that “unfortunately a contract has been signed. To do so now would violate the contract.”

Tingirides said this also is not true.

“The RFP clearly contemplates that the contract would have to be approved by the commissioners,” Tingirides said. “Regardless of whether or not a contract was signed, my client’s position is that the commissioner’s approval is not ‘final’ until the time for a motion for reconsideration has passed or until it cannot be reversed. My understanding of the applicable rules is that the vote can be reconsidered at the next regular meeting.”

Gene Schaefer of P.S. Beach Associates said in an e-mail that Brown was using the same argument county administrator Ed Hunzeker used last year in recommending against a renewal of a Cafe on the Beach five-year contract. “It was presented as a great surprise to the county when indeed it was a subcontract negotiated with the county’s total cooperation and understanding of the terms,” Schaefer wrote.

Schaefer said that after PSB lost money for many reasons, including terrible beach weather, red tide and two beach renourishments, the food service and gift shop became too much for the company to handle. So PSB sought out subcontractor, Cafe on the Beach, with Tommy Vayias and Ioannis Menihtas as managers.

He said PSB did charge the new Cafe on the Beach operators a fee for the privilege of taking over a high-volume business.

“The story changed when we requested the last five-year extension to our contract,” Schaefer wrote. “All of a sudden the county needed and wanted significantly more rent. We understood and asked to negotiate a higher rent as we had done in the past. No chance. The county administrators wanted more bidders to compete. … But bells and whistle carried the day and the three county employees on the selection committee ignored the guaranteed bid and recommended a Tampa-based firm (UPS)…with little concession food service experience.”