Chamber, Anna Maria, MCSO probe Bayfest security options

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Deb Wing, president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, discusses complications that arose with security at Bayfest, which was held in October and sponsored by the chamber. Around her, chamber chair Eric Cairns, Anna Maria deputy clerk Debbie Haynes, MCSO Sgt. Russell Schnering, Commissioner Brian Seymour and Mayor Dan Murphy listen. Islander Photo: Bianca Benedí

The Bayfest matter has been resolved, sort of.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said he will inquire with city attorney Becky Vose about whether a permit allowing drinking on Pine Avenue also gives permit-holders exclusive rights to sell alcohol for an event.

At a meeting with representatives from the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce Nov. 9, Commissioner Brian Seymour said he experienced multiple difficulties at his business during Bayfest, a street festival put on by the chamber Oct. 21 on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria.

Seymour said his business, the Anna Maria General Store, has a license to sell alcoholic beverages — beer and wine — but shoppers must consume their purchases elsewhere. His license does not include consumption on his premises.

However, during Bayfest, private security prevented Seymour’s customers from bringing beer or wine purchased at the store onto Pine Avenue, telling them they had to consume the beverages before re-entering Bayfest.

In addition, Seymour said a Bayfest security guard was stationed outside his shop all day, which made him feel targeted.

On Nov. 16, chamber president Deb Wing and chamber board member Eric Cairns met with Seymour, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy and Manatee County Sheriff’s Sgt. Russell Schnering, head of the MCSO-Anna Maria substation, to discuss alcohol consumption and enforcement at Bayfest.

“I’ve always been a fan of Bayfest,” Seymour said at the beginning of the meeting, but he said he thinks MCSO deputies who work in the city “365 days a year” should police the event instead of private security.

Wing said the chamber hired off-duty law enforcement for Bayfest 2016, but that too resulted in complications.

In the permit for the event, the chamber had to guarantee a particular number of security personnel for an event as large as Bayfest. However, off-duty deputies have to volunteer to cover an event and there’s no obligation to sign up, she said.

Wing said in 2016, the chamber only hired enough volunteer deputies to meet the requirement the day before the event, adding that they would have been left with few options if not enough deputies volunteered. She said the chamber chose private security officers to ensure they met the permit requirements.

Schnering said he recognized the staffing problem and would bring the issue to the MCSO.

Seymour said he had an issue with the suggestion that Bayfest should have exclusive rights to sell alcoholic beverages on Pine Avenue.

“Am I just expected to close my business down (for the day)?” he said, pointing out that because the event closed the street to vehicle traffic, limiting customers to festivalgoers, and appeared to discourage people from purchasing alcohol from him, sales at his store were down.

Wing said the chamber took steps to control the sale of alcohol because it took on the liability of allowing attendees to drink on Pine Avenue, which is otherwise unlawful.

In addition, she said, the event issued wristbands for attendees over 21 indicating they could drink alcohol. If six-packs or coolers were purchased elsewhere, she said, the chamber couldn’t guarantee that only people with wristbands were consuming alcohol.

“It’s my job to know my liability,” Wing said. “I don’t know yours and I don’t need to. We told people to drink (in your store) but it was in the syntax. We were saying you can’t drink it (at Bayfest).”

By limiting alcohol to drinks poured from Bayfest bartenders in Bayfest cups, she said, the chamber could control how much alcohol was consumed, cut people off who consumed too much and avoid underage drinking.

In addition, she pointed out, Bayfest is a fundraiser for scholarships. In 17 years, she said the event has given scholarships to 35 students. The beer revenue makes up a significant amount of Bayfest’s income, she said.

“It’s something we should all get behind. When someone else is selling it, it gets in the way, we have less money to give to the students,” she said.

Wing, Seymour and Cairns agreed the argument could have been avoided with a pre- and post-event meeting. However, Seymour disputed whether

Bayfest has exclusive rights to sell alcohol during the event.

Schnering said in site plans for the event, the General Store was included as part of Pine Avenue and therefore would have been considered part of the event. If off-duty deputies had been employed, he said, they wouldn’t have recognized alcohol from Seymour’s shop on the street as a problem.

“I heard through the grapevine he was being prevented from selling alcohol, I said ‘that’s ridiculous’ … but I understand both sides,” Schnering said.

Mayor Dan Murphy said, in his opinion, it was one of the best Bayfests held in years.

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