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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Commission nixes public vote on city manager issue

The Holmes Beach City Commission has refused to let the voting public decide the issue of whether or not a city manager is needed in Holmes Beach.

At the May 11 meeting, Commissioner Don Maloney's motion that the issue be placed on the Aug. 31 ballot to let the voters decide failed for lack of a second.

Commissioners Pat Morton, Sandy Haas-Martens, Roger Lutz and Rich Bohnenberger had all previously stated separately they didn't think the city needed a manager (The Islander, May 5).

Maloney said he wasn't asking for commission approval to change the city charter, just to let "citizens have the opportunity they deserve to express their view" on the issue. "Don't deny the voters their right to use the same thing that put you all up here," he asked.

Maloney's plea fell on deaf ears.

Members of the public at the meeting, however, supported Maloney.

Former Manatee County Attorney and current city resident Chip Rice argued that "to put this on the ballot is not difficult and it's only fair."

Don Knode, a member of the charter review committee of 2001-02, said that it was interesting to note that in the past, all four commissioners now against the issue, at one time or another had been in favor of the measure.

Lutz corrected Knode, stating that he had only been in favor of a tri-city government for the three Island cities.

Whatever, noted Don Schroder, who was chairman of the ill-fated charter review committee that had all its 30-plus recommendations rejected by the then-commission.

Asking city residents to vote on a city manager "was our most important recommendation," claimed Schroder, and not allowing them to vote on the issue is a "gross misjudgment of your positions."

After the meeting, Maloney said he "couldn't believe" that commissioners wouldn't even "give the voters their say. That's how they themselves got elected."

He also congratulated Bradenton Beach for sending the same city manager issue to its voters to decide in the Aug. 31 primary election.

Coastal setback
Commissioners deferred further action until May 25 on the second reading of an amendment to change the construction setback along the coastline from the mean high water line to the erosion control line as established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Resident Joan Perry raised several objections to the proposed amendment, noting the city doesn't have an overlay map showing where the ECL runs along the coast.

In some instances, she indicated, the ECL might allow construction closer to the water than intended.

Lutz suggested the matter be put off until the commission can view a map of where the ECL is located.

Shubin appeal
Attorney John Shubin withdrew his appeal of a variance issued to Frank Davis by the board of adjustment, noting the matter would be sent to the circuit court for a decision.

In other business, the commission approved the Sarasota firm of Adley, Brisson and Engman to update the city's land development code for the $60,600 low bid price the company submitted.

Mayor Carol Whitmore reported that the contract to repair the seawall along Marina Drive at the proposed Tidemark project near the Wachovia Bank is under review by the city attorney and should be put out for bid in the very near future.

Work session
Commissioners discussed the draft "savings clause" ordinance with planner Bill Brisson, who wrote the draft after it was approved by the planning commission.

Brisson said he was able to identify only 12 lots in the city that would be affected by the ordinance.

A maximum of 31 residences could be built on those 12 lots, Brisson claimed, including one triplex and three fourplexes. He said he reviewed more than 1,500 lots in the city.

A property owner with a house straddling two non-conforming lots could still tear down the structure and build two units, one on each lot, but setback requirements must still be met under the ordinance. The only reason for a variance would be if the minimum square footage requirement could not be met, he said.

Brisson said he and the planning commission agree the ordinance is consistent with the city's comprehensive plan.

Lutz said he had several concerns with the draft, and will discuss those further when the ordinance is presented for a first reading.

The savings clause ordinance is designed to allow owners of nonconforming lots to be able to build what was allowed in 1989 when the land development code was changed. No savings clause was introduced at that time, although the city continued to issue building permits for nonconforming lots with less than the required width.

In other business, several members of the public pleaded with the city not to remove invasive and non-native trees such as Australian pines when requested by residents. Maloney, however, said his investigation has determined that it's a state law enacted in 1997 to remove such vegetation from city rights of way and public property.

Whitmore said it's city policy to remove those trees when requested, or when it's a safety concern.

Resident John Molyneau asked that the city review the policy and preserve such trees when possible. A number of people have written the city complaining about the loss of the Australian pines. "A lot of people are concerned," he said.

Citizens Committee formed
Holmes Beach Commissioner Don Maloney has formed the Citizens Committee for the Best Municipal Government and plans to continue the fight to allow city voters to decide on whether or not they want a city manager form of government.

Maloney's motion to the commission May 11 to place that question before city voters on the Aug. 31 election failed for lack of a second, but Maloney said he's undeterred.

"We are not going to quit," he claimed.

Maloney said that while he might not agree with the other commissioners' opinions on a city manager, not allowing the issue to be settled by the voters is "taking away the right of the people to make a decision" about their government.

Among options under consideration by the committee is seeking commission candidates to run in the November election who favor placing the measure before the voters. The committee is also looking to have a straw vote taken among voters at Holmes Beach precincts Aug. 31, asking them if they would approve having the electorate decide the issue.

"We're not asking for a charter change, we're only asking if the voters should be given the right to vote on the issue," he said.

Because Manatee County is not a chartered county, a petition to the county election office signed by registered voters of Holmes Beach asking for the question to be on the ballot would not be honored without county commission approval, Maloney noted. His committee has no plans at this time to take the issue to the county commission.

The Islander is conducting its own straw vote among Holmes Beach voters. If you are a registered Holmes Beach voter, please e-mail your ballot response to The Islander at Please, vote only once.

"Should the voters of Holmes Beach be allowed to vote in the Aug. 31 election on whether or not they want a city manager form of government?"
Yes or no: