Almost two weeks after the Jan. 24 firing of an Anna Maria city employee, the reason behind the decision remained unclear.
When asked about Angela Albrecht’s firing, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy referred The Islander to labor attorney Brian Koji, although Koji did not comment before the press deadline and did not respond to two calls Jan. 31 and four calls Feb. 1.
But, unlike other city employees who were fired or left city jobs, Albrecht is not going quietly.
She’s speaking out against the city.
Albrecht has said she believes she was fired from her job as code enforcement administrative assistant due to rising tensions between her, city clerk Leanne Addy and the mayor.
“It seems to me that I was fired after I let the city clerk, Leanne Addy, and the mayor know the issues that were happening in the building department — illegal issues — and parking issues,” Albrecht told The Islander in an interview Jan. 29.
Albrecht was hired in January 2016 as a part-time parking officer for code enforcement. She was offered a full-time position as an administrative assistant for code enforcement and the building department in October 2016, and she accepted.
Albrecht said tensions began when she confronted Addy about alleged illegal activity in parking enforcement.
“We had parking officers that wrote lots of parking tickets without state certification, which probably means that most of their citations are invalid,” Albrecht alleged. “They wanted me to continue training these people, and continue participating in what, I felt, was illegal activity.”
Florida law states parking officers must either be sworn law enforcement officers or complete a training program approved by the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to become certified.
When asked if there were parking officers assessing citations without certification, Murphy said in an interview Feb. 1, “I don’t know if that’s true, but not to my knowledge.… I don’t even know if they need to be certified. I’m not familiar with the law there. I’m not an attorney.”
Pamela Gibbs, the building, code and parking enforcement manager who resigned in February 2018, corroborated Albrecht’s allegation.
“They did have people that hadn’t gone through the class that’s required by the state of Florida,” Gibbs said in an interview Jan. 31. “There were ones there that weren’t licensed parking officers.”
Gibbs said while she was manager, uncertified parking officers were hired, but she pushed for them to become certified before assessing any citations.
“I don’t know when it began off the top of my head,” Gibbs said. “I do know that I had hired people that were to do parking enforcement that were not licensed to do it yet, and I would say ‘Hey, we’ve got to get these people licensed in order to do this.’ But, according to what I was told, the mayor was like, ‘Well, I’m the mayor and we’ll do it my way. We need to get them out there and we need to get things done.’”
A records request was made Feb. 1 by The Islander for the personnel files of parking officers, as well as the dates they became certified, but the records were not provided before press deadline Feb. 4.
Albrecht also alleged that in February 2018, Addy forced her to close fence permits that lacked inspections. Albrecht said she wanted the building official or licensed personnel to inspect the fences, but Addy told her to file the permits without inspections.
Albrecht said tensions rose further when, after closing a few permits, she refused to file the remainder and met with David Greenbaum, the building official at the time, to explain her refusal. Greenbaum resigned in July 2018, but Albrecht said he reacted by telling her he would find someone else to complete the permits.
“I like to do everything by the books, and, of course, everybody bends the rules once in a while,” she said. “But complete ignorance? It’s awful.”
The Islander submitted a records request Jan. 30 for the fence permits Albrecht closed in February 2018 — one of four separate records requests by the newspaper to investigate Albrecht’s allegations. Addy responded in a Jan. 31 email that a payment of $275 would be required before she would process any of the requests.
As of the press deadline, none of the requested records were provided and The Islander was unable to review the certifications.
The Islander questioned why the record requests were combined, when each was for ordinary, different and specific records that should not require a lengthy search, but there was no response from the city.
Albrecht said another issue that may have led to her getting fired was a dispute with Addy over the way her Florida Retirement System information was handled.
She alleges that when her residence changed from Longboat Key to Bradenton in August 2018, she emailed Addy with her address change, but saw no changes in the subsequent weeks.
When she asked again, she was told she was “unprofessional” for questioning Addy, according to Albrecht.
“She said it was unprofessional that I would even ask that,” Albrecht said. “I said, ‘It’s unprofessional to have my address changed?’ I told her, ‘I could file a complaint because if I lost money for all the returned mail to FRS that’s sitting there, that could be a problem for you.’”
Albrecht said Addy told her she called FRS and changed the address, but when Albrecht inquired at FRS, she learned her address had not been changed and there had been no record of a call from Addy.
Albrecht said she filed a formal complaint on the issue to FRS.
Albrecht also alleged her federal withholding status was altered unknowingly in January and, when she asked Addy about the change, she was told it was a computer error. In response, Albrecht said she contacted QuickBooks support to report the error.
“I sent (Addy) an email Jan. 23 saying I contacted QuickBooks, and if it was a mistake it isn’t a big deal, just fix it, and here’s how you fix it,” she said. “In the meeting Jan. 24, the day after I notified the auditors about the transparency issue, (Addy and Commissioner Brian Seymour) brought me in, and the reason they gave for firing me was ‘We tried to work with you for six months. It’s not working. We’ll have to part ways.’”
That meeting between Albrecht and Addy was attended by Seymour, as vice mayor, in the absence of the mayor, who was on vacation.
Addy made no comment before The Islander’s press deadline and did not respond to a call and voicemail left Feb. 1.
A request to review Albrecht’s personnel file in person was denied by the city, and administrative assistant Stephanie Janney said the request would instead have to be made by email.
An email request Jan. 25 was acknowledged by email Jan. 26, without providing a time frame to fulfill the record request. There also was no response to a followup email Jan. 28.
“I think what you’ve got here are a bunch of allegations from a disgruntled employee that are ridiculous,” Murphy said. “If she’s planning on suing or whatever, I would be happy when it comes our day in court to tell the truth.”
There’s more to come on issues, complaints and record requests next week in the Feb. 13 edition.
Tests are done and it’s time for driving real pilings for the Anna Maria City Pier.
Workers from i+iconSOUTHEAST completed driving test pilings in Tampa Bay Feb. 1 and began driving real pilings Feb. 2, according to Mayor Dan Murphy.
“They’ll probably have five or six pilings done by the end of today,” Murphy said Feb. 2 by phone.
According to pilebuck.com, contractors drive test pilings to get a feel for how much force must be used to penetrate the sediment below, how fast piles can be driven and how much pressure to use while pile jetting.
Water-jetting creates a hole by forcing water under the piling, displacing the sediment below.
Murphy said Icon would be using a mixture of drill and jet driving to install the piles. While jetting is faster and more cost effective, driving piles can result in more stability.
“It the weather is smooth, the bay isn’t choppy and they don’t run into any technical complications, it looks like they’ll be able to drive about seven pilings a day,” Murphy said.
More than 200 pilings will be used for the new pier, according to Murphy.
The city’s $3,332,837 contract with Icon requires the contractor, with good weather, to complete the construction of the pier walkway and T-end by Aug. 26, or pay a $975 penalty for each subsequent workday.
— Ryan Paice
Lifeguards are better able to scan for trouble from a high perch.
Eleven new tower structures are planned to house the marine rescue personnel, replacing eight outdated, worn lifeguard towers — seven in Bradenton Beach and one in Holmes Beach.
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners is expected to review the contractor’s plans at an upcoming meeting.
Towers will be added at Cortez Beach at the base of the three groins, the pier-like erosion-control structures that jut into the Gulf of Mexico, and old towers will be replaced.
The county’s 2018-19 budget includes $350,000 to add three towers and $750,000 to replace eight towers — six portable towers between Cortez and Coquina beaches, as well as the two permanent towers at Coquina Beach and the Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.
“The current lifeguard stands have baked in the sun near abrasive sand and surf for 20-plus years,” said Joe Westerman, chief of the Manatee County Marine Rescue, who heads the division, including 16 lifeguards and other safety personnel.
According to the county website, the towers, built in the mid-1990s, do not meet Florida wind codes.
The lifeguard tower improvements are among numerous public safety, parks and transportation projects to be paid by the half-cent sales tax hike approved by voters in November 2016.
The voters doubled the county’s portion of the sales tax from a half-cent to 1 percent, resulting in a 7 percent sales tax in Manatee County.
Jan Brewer, the county’s financial management director, reported $17,438,433 and $25,225,133 collected from the additional tax in fiscal years 2017-18, respectively. The first fiscal year comprised nine months while the second year covered 12 months of collection.
Municipalities collect an additional $5 million-6 million share annually, she said.
The county estimated the tax would bring in about $30 million annually, with 15 percent allocated for public safety, 71 percent for transportation and 14 percent for parks.
In 2018, about 2.9 million people visited the beaches and the beach patrol responding to 3,617 medical emergencies, 18,551 beach incidents and 77 water rescues, according to Nick Azzara, Manatee County public information officer.
For more information about the sales tax projects, go online to www.mymanatee.org/halfcent/projects.
Holmes Beach charter review commissioners are evaluating the charter official’s positions as they relate to the current form of government.
Charter officials include the city clerk, treasurer, city attorney and human resources officer.
At a Jan. 31 CRC meeting, Mayor Judy Titsworth spoke to the board about job descriptions in the charter and said she is seeking a director of development services — a new position for a new city department — to assume some duties the charter prescribes to the building official.
The charter states the building and public works departments are under the direction of the building official.
“That is virtually impossible today,” according to Titsworth.
She said the task of a building official is to implement Florida building codes and serve as building code administrator, which does not necessarily qualify the official to direct community development, or short-term and long-range plans for roads, mobility and related policies, as is currently called for in the charter.
“We’ve gotten so many complaints from the lack of responsiveness in that department, when you can’t expect a building official to carry that weight,” she said.
She said a new director of development services would oversee the existing departments, including recruitment, employment and evaluation of the planning, zoning, code compliance and public works departments, as well as supervise staff, including the building official, code compliance supervisor and public works department.
“There is real value in these being managed by a qualified director that is a leader, who has vision for the future, with sustainability, clean air and perils of flood,” Titsworth said.
She said there is $92,000 in the 2018-19 budget to pay a supervisor, including the salary for a plans examiner who resigned shortly after she took office and has not been replaced, and funds budgeted for a new permit technician position she chose not to fill.
The position is being advertised.
Titsworth added that while there has been significant discussion about changing the city form of government to include a city manager, no one has addressed the need for development services.
CRC member Nancy Deal asked Titsworth if other cities have such a department, to which the mayor replied, “Yes, most cities do. No matter their size.”
Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach do not have development services departments or heads.
Regarding changes to the existing charter positions, Titsworth said the descriptions, which were expanded in 2014, should be trimmed down.
She said there is too much language that does not belong in the charter and could be constraining for the positions.
City treasurer Lori Hill also told the committee the charter job descriptions are too detailed, which could be problematic.
“It ties our hands,” she said.
Additionally, Titsworth said the human resource analyst should be removed from the charter, as it is not a vital component of the government.
CRC member David Zaccagnino said he appreciates the mayor’s comments, but is looking forward to hearing from staff, because he “wants to make sure this is simple, but that it also has power.”
Charter changes approved by the supermajority of the committee are submitted to the city commission as an ordinance, and the commission votes to provide the ordinance for a citywide vote on the November ballot.
City attorney Patricia Petruff said she would prepare and review the ordinance for the ballot with the Manatee County Supervision of Elections.
The CRC will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, for a teleconference with Florida League of Cities representative, Lynn Tipton.
A string of vehicle burglaries hit the Runaway Bay condominium complex in Bradenton Beach.
Owners of a 1999 Saturn, 2009 Cadillac, 2013 Lexus and 2013 Ford reported their vehicles were entered by an unknown person or persons while parked outside the condos in the 1800 block of Gulf Drive North Jan. 7-10.
The owners found glove compartments and consoles rummaged through, papers strewn and items stolen, according to Bradenton Beach police reports.
Reported missing from Saturn was a computer keyboard, headset and travel sack valued at $265.
From the Cadillac, car keys and a military pin, having an estimated $60 value, were taken. The Cadillac’s owner told police she heard a bang at 1:30 a.m. Jan. 8 but didn’t investigate until the morning.
A $10 wallet containing credit cards was stolen from the Lexus.
The Ford’s owner reported a missing AAA emergency kit valued at $20.
In each burglary, the vehicle had been unlocked, according to Bradenton Beach Police Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz, who said Feb. 1 that no suspects had been identified in the January string.
Burglars also struck beach parking lots in mid-November 2018.
Six smash-and-grab beach burglaries were reported at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach and Bayfront Park in Longboat Key Nov. 14-19, 2018 — with purses and other valuable left visible in the vehicles.
Diaz said he is pursuing leads in the November burglaries.
Longboat Key Detective Lt. Robert Bourque, also working on the police investigation, said Diaz is closer to cracking the November case.
“The biggest thing is locking your vehicle — it’s pretty simple,” Diaz said.
Also important is not leaving valuables on the seats and floorboards, he added.
“You have to think. You’re on an island with vacationers, and burglars are going to find that attractive,” Diaz said.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call Bradenton Beach police at 941-778-4766 or to report anonymous tips, call CrimeStoppers at 1-866-634-TIPS (8477).
Holmes Beach police arrested a Bradenton man for driving under the influence after an officer followed the motorist in a black Chevy Silverado through parts of the city.
Thomas J. Clark, 25, was arrested by HBPD Officer Alexander Hurt Jan. 19.
At about 1:50 a.m., Hurt observed Clark make an illegal U-turn in the 600 block of Manatee Avenue and drive to 41st Street, where he picked up a passenger, according to the police report.
The officer caught up with Clark again on Manatee Avenue and pulled over the Silverado.
There, Clark refused to take the road sobriety test, according to Hurt, who noted the motorist smelled like he had consumed alcohol, appeared sweaty and had dilated eyes.
The officer also reported Clark said he had a few drinks because he was going through a hard time.
Clark was transported to Manatee County jail, where he refused breath tests to measure his blood alcohol.
He posted $120 in bond and was released from jail.
His court arraignment is set for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
More than 68 grams of candy gummies and worms containing THC, the active ingredient found in marijuana — were found in the vehicle of a 47-year-old Bradenton man arrested in Holmes Beach.
Holmes Beach police arrested Michael Burke-Phillips, 47, at 12:25 a.m. Jan. 14 for a fourth or subsequent offense for driving under the influence after he failed to stop at flashing red light at Manatee Avenue and Gulf Drive.
Burke-Phillips was swerving as he drove south on Gulf Drive in a 2006 Lexus before officers pulled him over, according to the HBPD report.
The officer reported the driver had a package of food, which was later determined to be THC candy.
The THC candy, weighing 68.3 grams, was found inside the vehicle during a police search prior to it being towed.
Burke-Phillips performed poorly on the roadside sobriety test and was transported to Manatee County jail, where he gave breath samples measuring 0.184 and 0.186 blood alcohol content, according to the HBPD report.
Burke-Phillips posted $3,000 in bond and was released from jail.
His court arraignment is set for 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
Recreational vehicles parked on Gladiolus Street in Anna Maria are gone, but uncertainty surrounding code enforcement lingers.
Two RVs were parked along the street, with one hooked up to electricity and water outside 250 Gladiolus St. and another parked in the right of way across from 610 Gladiolus St. despite being reported to the city in October 2018. Code prohibits parking RVs or trailers on a right of way between sunset and sunrise.
The owner of the RV at 250 Gladiolus St. said he left it to charge while vacationing in Bonita Springs, according to Angela Albrecht, code enforcement administrative assistant until her discharge Jan. 24.
Code enforcement manager Debbie Haynes had told the owner the RV could remain until Jan. 27, according to Albrecht. An inspection was scheduled Jan. 28 to ensure removal of the RV.
The RV parked across from 610 Gladiolus St. is registered to the owner of a home at 610 Fern St. Haynes wrote in an email Feb. 1 the owner was notified of the violation and told to remove the RV from the right of way by Jan. 27, and the owner complied.
Albrecht told The Islander she was sent to investigate the vehicles in January but was hesitant to issue citations based on her interpretation of the city code.
“The way the code reads, you can have an RV parked there, but it can’t be there past 12 hours and you can’t live in it,” she said Jan. 29. “The problem with proving it is that we don’t work 12-hour shifts. So if I issued them a citation and I have to go to court … I can’t say truthfully that that has actually been there for 12 hours.”
Only sheriff’s deputies patrolling overnight can issue such citations, according to Albrecht.
“Parking isn’t our main objective,” MCSO Sgt. Mike Jones said Jan. 29. “If the road wasn’t blocked, we probably wouldn’t flag it on the spot. If there was a complaint, we would have addressed it.”
Two anonymous complaints were made — an email to code enforcement Oct. 23, 2018, and an email to Mayor Dan Murphy Nov. 4, 2018. However, Jones said the complaints were not reported to him.
“We take anonymous complaints, but they are very low priority,” Murphy said Jan. 31. “If someone doesn’t have the courage to come into city hall or at least use their names, it’s not going to be priority and it’ll probably appear in my email’s spam folder.”
He said it was Albrecht’s responsibility to deal with the RVs.
Murphy also disagreed with Albrecht’s interpretation of the city code.
“Of course they’re allowed to go after it, that’s their job,” he said. “If it’s been there day after day after day, you should probably know that’s a code violation.”