Tag Archives: Community

Plaintiff pleas for continuance fail, BB Sunshine trial begins

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Defendants, left, and plaintiffs, right, are seated July 15 for a civil trial in a lawsuit filed in August 2017 by Bradenton Beach ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and the city, alleging Sunshine Law violations by former board members John Metz, Reed Mapes, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent, Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes
Defendants, left, and plaintiffs, right, are seated July 15 for a civil trial in a lawsuit filed in August 2017 by Bradenton Beach ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and the city, alleging Sunshine Law violations by former board members John Metz, Reed Mapes, Patty Shay, Bill Vincent, Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Bradenton Beach was rejected on its request for more “sunshine.”

The trial began the morning of July 15.

An emergency hearing and deposition took place July 11, days before the nonjury trial began for Bradenton Beach and ex-Mayor Jack Clarke versus six former board members who they allege violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

A judge denied the city’s motion to file a second amended complaint and continue the trial date, made by Robert Watrous, attorney for the city and Clarke, in an emergency pretrial hearing.

However, the judge allowed the plaintiffs time to again depose defendant John Metz July 12.

The hearing

The lawsuit, filed in August 2017 by Clarke and joined by the city, alleges Sunshine Law violations by former P&Z board members Metz, Reed Mapes, Patty Shay, and Bill Vincent, and Scenic Waves Partnership Committee members Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent, all of whom were members of the now-defunct grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach.

Clarke and the city allege the six defendants violated Sunshine Law by discussing city matters at CNOBB meetings and through emails, texts and phone calls.

Clarke was absolved by the city of paying any legal fees for the case.

As of July 12, the defendants and 10 witnesses had been deposed in the civil suit.

A motion to amend the initial complaint to include further evidence obtained July 3 by the city and for a 45-day continuance before beginning the trial was denied by 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas.

During the July 11 hearing for the plaintiffs’ motion, Watrous argued that he and paralegal Michael Barfield had heard and read references to a July 14, 2017, CNOBB steering committee meeting during discovery, but had not been provided with a recording of the meeting.

Watrous said attorney Jim Dye, who was representing Mapes, Martin, Shay and the Vincents before they went pro se earlier this year, said July 11 he’d mailed Watrous and Metz’s attorney Thomas Shults CDs Dec. 22, 2018, with recordings of the July 14, 2017, meeting. Watrous claimed July 11 he did not receive the recording until July 3 — the day after Metz’s deposition — when Shults provided it as part of the exhibits for trial.

According to Watrous, upon listening to the July 14, 2017, meeting, he heard Mapes discussing a pending matter before the P&Z Board regarding the Bridge Tender Inn and Dockside Bar in Bradenton Beach.

Shults argued against the motions.

Shults said Watrous was sent the materials from Dye at the same time he received the CD. So Watrous also should have received the recording.

Additionally, he said Watrous likely would have continued to contact him to obtain the recording had he not received it.

Watrous argued that if he’d had the recording, he would not have had to twice ask for it from Shults, who Watrous said replied, “None,” in an email, both times he inquired.

“If I’d had this tape, it would’ve been a huge, additional lynchpin of my case,” Watrous said. “On my proposed amended complaint, in bold letters, I would’ve been saying, ‘Based upon the July 14 meeting, Mr. Mapes violated the Sunshine Law and made reference to the Bridge Tender Inn, when that had been at the prior P&Z hearing.’ I would’ve had a smoking gun.”

Nicholas denied the motion for a continuance and the motion to amend, but allowed the plaintiffs to again depose Metz the next day.

He said the scope of the deposition must be “limited to the tape and the meeting surrounding July 14, 2017.”

Another Metz deposition

Three days before trial, Metz again was deposed, this time by city attorney Ricinda Perry.

At the onset, there was a dispute about the scope of Perry’s questions for Metz, which resulted in a stalemate — the judge could not be reached for clarification — and a limited deposition.

Perry asked Metz, who did not attend the July 14, 2017, meeting, but had recently listened to the recording, if he heard Mapes refer to a land swap that occurred in 2001 between the city and the Bridge Tender Inn.

Metz said that he did recall Mapes mentioned the land swap and a “P&Z thing.”

During the deposition, Barfield played portions of recordings from the CNOBB meeting, in which Mapes could be heard discussing the land swap, but the discussion was terminated.

At the time of the CNOBB meeting, the P&Z had continued a June 21, 2017, public hearing for expansion of the Bridge Tender Inn.

The quasi-judicial hearing was continued until the applicant could provide more information about the proposed development.

In such hearings, the board sits as the judge, and can only hear evidence presented as part of the hearing, either testimony or as exhibits.

On July 21, Metz filed a records request with the city for information about the restaurant, including the land swap.

Perry closed the deposition, reserving the right to reopen the deposition if the judge agreed to widen the scope of questioning.

Anna Maria City Pier goes ‘dark for storm,’ lease negotiations launch

When a theater is closed, actors and directors call it “dark.”

Heavy rain bands passing over Anna Maria Island from Tropical Storm Barry, which was churning in the northern Gulf of Mexico the week of July 8, caused the Anna Maria City Pier to go “dark.”

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said the weather can be an issue in construction projects, though, he said the pier is on track for on-time completion.

Murphy said, weather permitting, work on the electrical wiring would begin the week of July 15.

The rain did not dampen lease negotiations for the pier.

Murphy said he received the information requested from each city commissioner as to the preferred terms for a new lease for the pier restaurant and bait shop. He then spoke with each commissioner about their ideas and concerns.

Mario Schoenfelder holds the lease to manage and operate the pier, including the restaurant, until December 2020.

Murphy, in a July 12 email to The Islander, the said the potential contract terms were sent to Schoenfelder, including nine possible options.

Those options include choices on premises, parking, use, the term of the lease, maintenance, insurance and taxes, the type of lease and the potential base rent — plus a 3% per year increase/decrease based on pier revenues.

The city’s proposed hours of operation for both the restaurant and bait shop would be 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. seven days a week, with breakfast, lunch and dinner served, unless otherwise specified by the landlord.

The draft contract also states the tenant would pay the expense of any buildout required for occupancy and must enter a contract with the landlord’s approved contractor.

The city proposed a build timeline of 90 days after the landlord delivers the space to the tenant.

Murphy said by outlining the negotiation terms, the process would go faster.

The new pier, estimated cost to $5.9 million, including demolition and construction expenses, replaces the 1911-built wooden pier, which underwent many renovations, but was destroyed in September 2017 by Hurricane Irma.

The original pier supported tourism to Anna Maria — with steamships and ferries arriving from Tampa with day visitors.

No-swim advisory posted for Palma Sola Bay

The Florida Department of Health issued a no-swim advisory for a Palma Sola Bay beach after tests July 8 and July 10 confirmed bacteria in the water exceeded safe swimming guidelines.

Every two weeks, the department tests water off statewide beaches — including those on Palma Sola Bay and Anna Maria Island — for enterococci bacteria.

The impacted Palma Sola beach is about 1,000 feet west of 81st Street on the south side of the causeway.

The bacteria can cause gastrointestinal issues, including vomiting and diarrhea, according to Tom Larkin, director of Manatee County Environmental Health.

Until the advisory is lifted, Larkin said people should look to other beaches if they want to swim and never swim in coastal waters with open cuts or wounds. If a cut occurs in the water, he recommends prompt and proper wound care.

Larkin said he hoped to retest the Palma Sola site the week of July 15, “after the rains let up,” and would resume routine testing the week of July 22.

The DOH website at www.floridahealth.gov states the no-swim advisory was issued due to tests measuring 70.05 or greater of enterococci in 100 milliliters of water.

Specifically, according to Larkin, samples taken July 8 at Palma Sola showed 24,196 colony-forming units of in 100 milliliters of water. Two days later, he said the enterococci level fell to 422 colony-forming units but remained above the safe swimming guidelines of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The DOH typically takes a second sample within 24 hours after a first test shows the guidelines were exceeded, he said.

A year ago in July, tests from the same beach showed 988 colony forming units growing together in 100 milliliters of water and a second test found 75 colony-forming units in the same amount of water.

Larkin said July 12 he suspects the high bacteria counts this July are due to heavy rainfall amounts.

“We know untreated stormwater runoff can negatively impact the bacteria counts… when rains sweep across lawns and streets and into the bay,” he said.

Another reason for high bacteria levels can be sewage spills.

As far as recent sewage discharges into the bay, Larkin said he’s not heard of any from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Manatee County Utilities Department or the city of Bradenton.

When high levels of enterococci are discovered, Larkin said his department contacts the state EPA to check a 1-mile radius for sewage outflows.

According to DEP spokeswoman Shannon Herbon, the last sewage spill into Palma Sola Bay occurred Feb. 23, 2018. Between December 2017 and February 2018, more than 6 million gallons of raw sewage found its way into the bay due to contractors rupturing sewer lines.

Regardless of the reason for high bacteria, according to Larkin, beachgoers should heed the sign on the south side of the Manatee Avenue west of 81st

Street and stay out of the water in Palma Sola Bay until testing meets EPA guidelines.

Bradenton Beach CRA approves pier makeover, white paint

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Emily Anne Smith, during a meeting July 10, discusses with the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency a plan to paint the structure of the Historic Bridge Street Pier white. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

A tentative deal to paint the Historic Bridge Street Pier white has been struck.

The Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency voted 6-0 July 10 to approve a $10,900 contract with Largo-based L&T Brothers to paint the pier white, except for the decking, top rail and roof. The project is based on designer Emily Anne Smith’s proposal for a white pier with a red roof.

Commissioner Randy White, also a CRA member, was absent with excuse.

Mayor John Chappie’s motion established public works manager Tom Woodard as the contact for L&T, as well as specified that approval is dependent on PPG Industries providing paint for the job at the same price it proposed earlier this year. The paint cost is included in the contract with L&T.

L&T president Mike Lowe, who presented the contract to CRA members at the meeting, said paint prices fluctuate and PPG might not be able to match the price it previously quoted the city.

Lowe added that L&T would need two days without rain to prep the pier, as well as 12-16 dry days to complete the job.

He recommended waiting until after the rainy summer season and suggested painting the pier in October or November.

CRA members agreed to a 30-day timeline for L&T beginning Oct. 15.

The city will pay L&T a $1,090 down payment, or 10% of the contract cost, before paying $2,180 for every completed fifth of the job until reaching 80% completion. The last 10% of the contract cost will be held as a retainer for completion.

The CRA was formed to promote restoration, growth and tourism in the district — bordered by Cortez Road, Sarasota Bay, Fifth Street South and the Gulf of Mexico — using incremental tax revenue from Manatee County after the area was declared blighted in 1992.

The agency consists of the mayor, four city commissioners and two appointed members, currently restaurant owner Ed Chiles and resident David Bell.

The CRA hired Smith in 2018 to produce an aesthetic vision for the district, which prompted the push for a paint job.

Chiles motioned to stop the paint job, citing Woodard’s concerns with maintenance costs, but withdrew the motion after city attorney Ricinda Perry said the CRA already voted twice to paint the pier white and proceed with the bidding process. She said the CRA could stop the process only if there was a valid legal reason.

Perry called the project a “test case” for the efficacy of painting high-traffic public structures that are subject to harsh conditions, such as salt spray and Florida sunlight.

CRA members also discussed installing starboard as a cutting board for gutting fish along the top rail of the pier after it is painted.

Other projects

CRA members have approved four other vision projects put forth by Smith, including constructing a gazebo outside the Bridge Street post office, replacing the trolley stop outside city hall, installing a flag tower at the pier and building a “Welcome Sunset Tower” alongside Gulf Drive.

Perry, previously directed to prepare bidding documents for the projects, said she still needed direction to move forward.

She said building official Steve Gilbert reviewed plans for the post office gazebo and told her the CRA needed to survey the property, as well as produce engineering plans for the flagpole foundation — which is to be relocated during the project — to move forward with permitting.

Smith said she was almost finished coordinating with Charles Sego, of Anna Maria-based Sego & Sego Structural Engineering & Interiors, for the engineering plans.

City engineer Lynn Burnett estimated the survey would cost $5,000 and the engineering plans around $2,500. She suggested Woodard handle the survey process.

CRA members voted 6-0 on Chiles’ motion to direct Woodard to complete the survey of the post office property while Smith finishes coordinating with Sego.

Perry said the new trolley stop at city hall is complicated because it requires approval from the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County Area Transit.

Smith said MCAT was enthusiastic about the project, but she had not communicated with the DOT or DEP about permitting.

Burnett estimated a permit from each department would cost $6,500, bringing the total permitting cost to $13,000.

CRA members voted 6-0 on a Chiles motion to direct Burnett and city staff to contact the DOT and DEP about permits for the trolley stop, while Smith coordinates with Sego for a cost estimate for the job and meets with Gilbert to review engineering plans.

Perry said the only problem with the flag tower is whether the pier foundation can handle the weight of the structure. She said Smith and Gilbert should meet and confirm the structural soundness before she moves forward with the procurement process.

Lastly, Perry said there are permit issues for 
the “Welcome Sunset Tower” with both the DOT and DEP. She recommended the CRA put the project on hold.

CRA members agreed to table the project without a motion and vote.

Bradenton man arrested for pot gets probation

More than 20 grams turns a misdemeanor marijuana offense into a felony.

Jose Eduardo Barajas, 19, pleaded no contest June 4 to possessing 24 grams of cannabis, drug paraphernalia and driving without a license in connection with an arrest in Bradenton Beach.

Judge Gilbert A. Smith Jr. withheld adjudication on the felony cannabis charge and ordered a six-month community control with a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew followed by 18 months probation, 50 hours of public service and a drug evaluation.

Bradenton Beach police stopped Barajas for speeding Feb. 28 in the 700 block of Gulf Drive South after he sped around the roundabout at Gulf Drive South and Bridge Street in a Mazda SUV.

Police found the marijuana, plastic bags and a digital scale, as well as a loaded handgun in a search of Barajas’ vehicle. Barajas said the gun belonged to a friend who’d left it in the vehicle.

Smith found Barajas guilty on the misdemeanor counts of possessing paraphernalia and no driver’s license, sentenced him to credit for time served and ordered him to forfeit a firearm.

The judge also assessed Barajas $728 in costs and fines.

Anna Maria prototype for plank fencing approved

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Approved July 11 by Anna Maria commissioners, the prototype fence, including engraved planks salvaged from the demolished city pier, will be built at City Pier Park at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard. Islander Photo: Cory Cole

Old engraved pier planks will soon border Anna Maria’s City Pier Park.

Anna Maria commissioners met July 11 for a special meeting to consider a prototype fence built using the engraved planks removed from the city pier after it was deemed destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

The engraved planks were sold and installed as part of the City Pier Centennial in 2010-11 in a partnership by the City Pier Restaurant and The Islander newspaper.

Commissioner Doug Copeland made the motion to approve construction of the fence at City Pier Park across from the city pier at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard, and Commissioner Dale Woodland seconded the motion.

The vote to approve was 4-0, with Commissioner Carol Carter absent with excuse.

“I’d like to get these planks out and back in the public eye as soon as possible,” Commission Chair Brian Seymour said.

Anna Maria’s public works department built the prototype the week of July 1 and now will continue the construction around the perimeter of the park.

Mayor Dan Murphy estimated the cost at $2,000, excluding labor.

West coast wedding

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Drs. Lexa Murphy and Alex Pratt marry June 15 on Orcas Island, Washington. The bride is the daughter of Susan Timmins and Sean Murphy and she grew up on Anna Maria Island, attending Anna Maria Elementary. The groom is the son of Melissa and Dick Pratt and was born and raised in Seattle. The newlyweds live in Seattle, where she works as a clinical pediatric psychologist and he is an internal medicine physician. Their siblings — Ben Murphy and Catherine Pratt — were the officiants for the ceremony. Islander Courtesy Photos
Drs. Lexa Murphy, formerly of Anna Maria Island, and Alex Pratt, of Seattle, marry June 15 on Orcas Island, Washington.

Skate park plans presented in Holmes Beach

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A rendering shows an updated skate park for the recreational complex adjacent to Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photos: Courtesy Holmes Beach
A proposed skate bowl as part of a new skate park at city field did not receive city funding, but could be added to the plan if the city raises $100,000.

A new skate park is ramping up Holmes Beach.

And could include an expansion if the city can raise the funds.

In February, the city commission approved an amended contract with American Ramp Co. to replace the skate park in the recreational complex at city field, adjacent to city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

At a July 9 meeting, city engineer Lynn Burnett and ARC’s lead designer, Tito Porrata, presented conceptual renderings for the park.

Burnett said construction documents should be ready for the next city commission meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Porrata said the concept for the design is a “beginner-intermediate, very user-friendly street course,” including rails, steps, pyramids and pipes as props for skaters.

He said there will be a buffer about 16 feet from Marina Drive for the park, which will be about 5,000 square feet.

“All the basics, within a modest size,” Porrata said.

He said ARC recently built a similar skate park in Gulfport and received positive reviews.

“It’s just a really positive enhancement for the community,” Porrata said. “So we expect this kind of facility to get the same response.”

Porrata also provided renderings of a Y-shaped skate bowl — similar to an above-ground swimming pool, about four feet deep, custom-built, but about three times the size of an average swimming pool at 800 square feet. It also would be reinforced with steel.

The commission previously approved the skate park, not to exceed $150,000, with an option to include the skate bowl if $100,000 could be raised from grants or donations before constructions commences.

Porrata said the bowl would complete the park. He said it would draw more advanced skaters, and that might keep the younger skaters on good behavior.

“It would make your job easier,” he said to Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

Commissioner Rick Hurst asked Tokajer if he had any possible donors.

“I have reached out to multiple different areas for donations,” Tokajer said. “So, hopefully, somebody will pony-up.”

In February, Burnett said the city had about six months to raise grant money for the skate bowl, which would add about four weeks to the project, which is expected to be completed in March 2020.

Depositions conclude in Bradenton Beach Sunshine suit

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Attorney Tom Shults, left, and client John Metz, former Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board member and defendant in a lawsuit filed by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and the city against six former board members, prepare for a July 2 deposition at Vincent M. Lucentes & Associates Court Reporters in Bradenton. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The discovery has ended.

John Metz, former Bradenton Beach Planning and Zoning Board member, was deposed July 2 in a lawsuit filed in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former city board members alleging violations of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

Metz, the only defendant with an attorney, was the last of nearly 20 depositions taken since the suit’s inception.

The lawsuit alleges violations of state statutes governing open meetings and public records laws by former board members Metz, Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, and Bill and wife Rose Vincent, who were then members of the now-defunct grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach.

When the lawsuit was initiated, city attorney Ricinda Perry claimed recordings of CNOBB meetings indicated the defendants discussed matters that could come before them as board members.

Discussions allegedly were held July 25, 2017, at a CNOBB steering committee meeting, about a citizen-initiated referendum to prohibit parking garages in the city charter.

The city claims parking garages were a reasonably foreseeable topic of discussion for the P&Z board and, at a June 20 pretrial hearing, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs’ summary judgment on the matter.

However, Metz claimed July 2 that the Sunshine Law is a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

The Sunshine Law states that members of the same government agency cannot discuss matters that might come before them outside of public meetings. This includes emails, text messages and phone calls.

When asked by the city’s attorney, Robert Watrous, if he believes the Sunshine Law is unconstitutional, Metz responded, “Yes.”

Watrous expanded his question to ask if Metz deemed the law “uniquely unconstitutional to you in this setting,” or, generally unconstitutional.

“To me, it’s based on the situation I’m in, given that the allegations that I understand in this lawsuit charge me with a civil penalty for petitioning the government, which is one of my fundamental rights to do, through the initiative process we were using.”

Metz was referring to the defendants’ claim that mention of the parking garage only was made about a possible charter amendment to prohibit parking garages by CNOBB, but removed from the organization’s list of proposed amendments.

CNOBB used the state referendum process to put three initiatives on the ballot in 2017 — and the electorate approved the charter amendments.

Metz said July 2 that the statute does not require review of petitions by the P&Z board. Therefore, he says, the CNOBB/P&Z members did not violate the law at their July 25 meeting.

“I think it’s extremely vague. It gives you no guidance into what you are supposed to do,” Metz said July 2 of the Sunshine Law. “I think we find ourselves in this quagmire because of that. There is no clear guidance where reasonable people can try to figure out what they can and can’t do. And I believe that it certainly chills free speech and a right to assemble and petition.”

Watrous asked Metz if he is aware that certain constitutional rights can be waived by voluntary agreement, including the oath Metz signed upon joining the P&Z board in 2014, which stipulates he would “support, protect and defend the Constitution and government of the United States and the state of Florida.”

Metz responded, “I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States and I think that’s part of this case.”

Watrous then asked, “And the state of Florida, too, correct?” to which Metz responded, “Yes.”

“I believe in the Florida Constitution there is a right to petition your government,” Metz said. “Certainly, in the First Amendment there is a right to free association and there is a right to free speech. And I think all of those, under the facts of this particular case, are being infringed.”

Discovery ended July 5.

A trial is planned for the week of July 15.

Anna Maria celebrates America

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People enjoy hot dogs, chips and socializing courtesy of the city of Anna Maria July 4 at City Pier Park, at the corner of North Bay Boulevard and Pine Avenue. The city served 1,000 hot dogs at the Celebrate America! picnic. Islander Photo: Cory Cole
Maria Mayor Dan Murphy and Deputy Patrick Manning of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, right, serve hot dogs, snacks and American flags to guests at the July 4 Celebrate America! picnic. Murphy saud ge helped serve 1,000 hot dogs at City Pier Park. Islander Photo: Cory Cole
Natalie Brown, center, of Anna Maria, attended the July 4 parade and then stopped to socialize at Anna Maria’s Celebrate America! in City Pier Park. Islander Photo: Cory Cole
Kadyn Kenney, 11, left, Mark Krumme, Kurt Keeney, Julie Keeney, Linda Krumme and Vivie Kate Keeney, 7, eat hot dogs at City Pier Park July 4. The date also is Vivie Kate Keeney’s birthday.
People gather for hot dogs and chips offered by the city of Anna Maria at its Celebrate America! picnic in City Pier Park July 4. This group includes Meghan Woodland, left, her children Maverick, Jorja, Montana, and Shyanne, along with Commissioner Dale Woodland and wife Jayne.
A shipload of Anna Maria Island Privateers sail past curbside paradegoers and bead-hungry youngsters during the Privateers’ July 4 parade. Islander Photo: Nenita Gollamudi
Fawzy Makar of Bradenton Beach reaches to high- five paradegoers on his ride in the Privateers’ July 4 parade. Islander Photo: Nenita Gollamudi
Anna Maria Island Privateers John “Barbarossa” Swager and wife Cindy “Bubbles” travel in a golf cart in the Privateers’ July 4 parade. Islander Photo: Courtesy Jason Dean
The West Manatee Fire Rescue District joins in the Anna Maria Island Privateers July 4 Parade from Coquina Beach to City Pier Park. Islander Photo: Courtesy Jason Dean
A decorated pick-up truck pulls a boat during the July 4 parade in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy Jason Dean
A Jeep, boat and truck are decorated for the July 4 holiday on Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy Jason Dean