Twelfth Circuit Judge Charles Sniffin listens to arguments Jan. 24 from Anthony Manganiello III, attorney for Richard and Marjorie Motzer. At the hearing, the city moved to dismiss the June 2018 case. The Motzers live on 56th Street, where their residence is bordered by short-term rental properties. They sued with a writ of mandamus that asks the court to order the city and its police department to enforce its noise ordinance. The judge took the attorneys’ arguments under advisement, saying he’d rule in a couple of days. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
The cheers for Ed Chiles filled Anna Maria City Hall Jan. 24.
Those gathered in the chambers at city hall were brimming with excitement as Anna Maria resident and businessman Ed Chiles was named the city’s 2018 Citizen of the Year.
The chamber seats were filled when Vice Mayor Brian Seymour presented the award Jan. 24 to Chiles. Mayor Dan Murphy was on vacation.
Chiles was chosen for the honor by a committee of three — Mary Louise Seine, Pat Copeland and Margaret Jenkins — for his willingness to help others and his involvement in the city.
Chiles teared up during his acceptance.
“I’m tickled pink to have this,” he said. “I have the privilege of never remembering not being in Anna Maria. I came here in utero first, when my mom was pregnant.… When I grew up, we were in Lakeland, and when it was time to pick a place to live, I got lucky enough to get in the restaurant business here and raise a family here.”
Chiles is the son of late Gov. Lawton Chiles, who also served as a U.S. senator, and the late Florida first lady Rhea Chiles, who led the creation of the Florida House on Capitol Hill, the only “state embassy” in Washington, D.C.
After graduating from the University of Florida, Ed Chiles began his career as a restaurateur on Anna Maria Island, where his family vacationed his entire life.
Chiles owns three restaurants, including the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub on Longboat Key and the Beach House Restaurant in Bradenton Beach.
Nominees for the award included the mayor’s wife, Barbara Murphy, as well as Cindy Richmond and John Chambers, according to Seymour.
He’s a stand-up guy, with the highest integrity — a family man.
That’s how fellow officers and chiefs regard retired Holmes Beach Police Sgt. Vern McGowin, who is about to live his dream of motoring across the country, visiting his children and grandchildren in North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon.
He’s our choice for Islander of the Year for all the mileage he gave above and beyond the job to Holmes Beach and its residents and visitors.
McGowin retired from the Holmes Beach Police Department Jan. 1.
Former HBPD Chief Jay Romine, who hired McGowin 21 years ago, and others who’ve crossed his path, agree. McGowin’s retirement is well deserved.
“He’s just a steady, calm influence,” said Romine, who retired from the HBPD in 2013 and now serves as the director of the Manatee Technical College’s Law Enforcement Academy in Bradenton, which certifies police officers for active duty.
“There’s no one with any higher ethical standards than Vern,” Romine added.
McGowin grew up in Florida, attended the law enforcement academy in St. Petersburg and, after graduating, moved to Alabama, where he served as a police corporal for the city of Laverne. His next step on his career path was Palmetto.
Bradenton Beach Police Sgt. Lenard Diaz worked with McGowin when they served as patrol officers on the Palmetto police force in the late 1980s-’90s.
Diaz said McGowin is an easygoing guy, always relaxed, a good family man, who always talks about his family. He’s well mannered and reliable.
“You could always count on Vern to show up at your calls,” Diaz added.
Romine hired McGowin from Palmetto and his career flourished at HBPD.
“I had more jobs,” McGowin said of his ride at HBPD. He was a marine unit and patrol officer for years.
As a beat cop, he saw his share of domestic violence, death and accidents.
But in 2013, HBPD Bill Tokajer promoted him to sergeant and, according to McGowin, the best part of his career began.
His “most enjoyable times” included years as the department’s Anna Maria Elementary School resource officer and, later, overseeing the position at the school. He enjoyed the “kinder aspects” of policing and spearheaded HBPD’s National Night Out, Neighborhood Watch and other outreach programs.
McGowin’s heart belongs to his wife, three kids, four grandchildren and Josh Fleischer’s little girl, who, he said, believes McGowin is her grandfather. The feeling is mutual, McGowin said.
Unfortunately, a health struggle precipitated his retirement. McGowin said he was diagnosed with melanoma and the cancer spread to his lymph nodes.
“I am cancer-free now,” he said, adding that he went through several surgeries and chemotherapy.
Today, he’s preparing to hit the road and travel to see his children and grandchildren.
About his police career, McGowin said, “The only regret I have is the time I missed with my family.”
During his time at HBPD, McGowin served as the marine patrol officer, senior officer on the dive team, field-training officer and firearms instructor.
He was chosen Officer of the Year in 2001 and 2004 by HBPD. He attended the Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration of President Donald Trump, as part of the law enforcement patrol on the inauguration parade.
After spending two decades at the HBPD, McGowin said he misses the people, workers and city of Holmes Beach, where he “thoroughly enjoyed working.”
From everyone at The Islander: We thank you for your service, Vern, and wish you a grand adventure and fantastic times spent with family. — Bonner Joy
Piling by piling, construction of the new Anna Maria City Pier is about to get underway.
Clearwater-based contractor i+iconSOUTHEAST began mobilizing Jan. 18 with the installation of a construction trailer in a fenced-off area of the pier parking lot.
Workers were planning to arrive Jan. 21, followed by a barge carrying equipment and materials — weather permitting, according to Anna Maria Commission Chair Brian Seymour.
The Historic Anna Maria City Pier was damaged by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, and the city soon after deemed the structure destroyed.
Largo-based contractor Speeler and Associates was hired to demolish the damaged pier in June 2018 and, by October 2018, that work was complete.
Icon plans to start driving pilings — 12-inch spun concrete posts for the walkway and 14-inch concrete pilings for the T-end of the pier — into the bay floor Jan. 23.
“I am very excited to see the hard work of the city staff, mayor and city commission since the hurricane in 2017 finally come to fruition with the official beginning of construction next week on out new city pier,” Seymour said in an interview Jan. 18.
After pilings are driven into the bay floor, wood bents will be installed to bear the load of the ipe wood decking.
Construction on the pier walkway and T-end must be finished by Aug. 26, or Icon will pay a $975 daily penalty for each subsequent day of work.
Mayor Dan Murphy was on vacation as the work got underway.
The city plans to issue a request for bids for the construction of the restaurant and bait shop at the T-end of the pier after August.
Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth has found her groove.
She said it took about two weeks from being sworn in Nov. 29, 2018, to set plans into motion to tighten up city functions and improve communication between city employees and elected or appointed officials.
Titsworth also said she is implementing deadlines for staff to complete projects to improve workflow for faster results.
She served as chair for five of her six years as a commissioner before being elected mayor.
As a commissioner, Titsworth was a legislator for the commission. Now she is an administrator — carrying out the commission’s wishes. She does not vote on city commission matters but works closely with each department as the city executive.
“One vow that I’ve made is to make sure that everybody knows everything about what’s going on in the city,” Titsworth said Jan. 14. “Now I can act on the issues that weren’t being taken care of. Now I can make those necessary changes.”
In the clerk’s office
Titsworth said the clerk’s office is working on a contract for an improved website that complies with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act. City clerk Stacey Johnston has narrowed the prospects to a few companies.
“It has to be ADA compliant now, but we’ve been wanting a new website forever,” Titsworth said. “So she already had the process going.
But this time she has been given a deadline.”
Titsworth said the clerk’s office also is working with code enforcement on business tax receipts and how they tie in with issuing vacation rental certifications.
The VRC renewal process is underway, so code enforcement is inspecting properties, based on the business tax receipts, for compliance.
Additionally, Titsworth said the clerk’s office is looking at a new program so people can access records online.
“She’s going down her list and checking all the boxes,” Johnston said of the mayor. “She’s staying on task and keeping us on task. It’s a good atmosphere to be around and I think everyone is feeling that.”
In code enforcement
Titsworth said the department experiencing the biggest change is code enforcement. Officer James “JT” Thomas was promoted to department supervisor, allowing for more independence in his role.
“He’s got 30 years of code enforcement under his belt,” she said. “It was time.”
Also, Robin Evangalisto, a dispatcher for the police department, is transferring to code enforcement to handle administrative duties, including software tasks and minutes for hearings, in conjunction with the clerk’s office. She also is training to be a code enforcement officer.
The mayor said the department recently purchased software to identify illegal rental advertising.
Titsworth also said the city will hire a fourth code enforcement officer and move the department into offices in the public works building, behind city hall and adjacent to city field.
“As soon as this mayor came in she realized we have a lot of dimensions to code enforcement,” Thomas said. “We try to be proactive and we are creating avenues to get customer service done even faster.”
In the building department
Titsworth said contracted city planner Bill Brisson is now the zoning administrator and questions regarding zoning or the land development code go to Brisson for a response, so building official Jim McGuinness can focus on enforcing the Florida Building Code.
“Right now we’re funneling all those things to (Brisson) and he’s responding quickly,” Titsworth said.
An issue the building department is dealing with is below base flood elevation remodels being “phased” on consecutive permits, which does not result in a finished project until the phases are completed. Phasing is prohibited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as it is a way property owners sidestep FEMA’s 50 percent rule on improvements.
“We’re getting a good handle on FEMA,” she said.
Titsworth said the building department will digitize old building plan microfilms and either purchase or rent a scanner, already budgeted, so plan reviews can be completed electronically.
The city also is considering a proposal for a contractor licensing board similar to those in Anna Maria and Manatee County.
In public works, human resources
“Public works director Dave Benton is really doing a great job,” Titsworth said. “He’s pretty quick to respond with whatever I need.”
Benton is overseeing the installation of outlets on new poles along Marina Drive for holiday lights.
Titsworth said Mary Buonagura, the city’s human resources analyst, is working on special projects, including plans for Grassy Point Preserve, monitoring the upcoming legislative session and writing a request for proposals to update the comprehensive plan.
In the police department
Titsworth said the police department is working on a proposal for keyless access to city buildings, “so we could lockdown at the press of a button.”
She said she is working with Police Chief Bill Tokajer on job descriptions and an updated emergency operations plan.
“We have a great working relationship,” Titsworth said of the HBPD.
“Judy is doing a very good job,” Tokajer said. “She’s willing to learn what it is that each of the departments do and what our needs are, and that’s important.”
Titsworth said she is happy with the direction she is taking the city.
“It’s going really well because we’ve got an amazing staff,” Titsworth said. “Some changes were made, but our staff is great — they are hard workers, they know their stuff and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Business-owner Joe Varner is spreading the good word about paradise on Anna Maria Island.
“This unnecessary, elongated, negative perception of red tide has got to stop,” Varner told The Islander Jan. 14. “When does this stop?”
Varner owns Anna Maria Vacations, 3018 Ave. C, Holmes Beach, where he manages 250 vacation homes. He’s ready and willing to spread the word that things are back to normal on Anna Maria Island.
“Things are just fine here,” Varner said on a sunny day from his Holmes Beach office Jan. 14.
“I’ve got 38 full-time employees. I’m trying to keep everybody here employed. Go listen to the people on the phone out there talking to people calling in. They don’t understand red tide. Not at all.”
“Every 10-15 years it seems we get a good punch in the gut with red tide. But things are just fine here. That’s what we need to say now.
That’s the message we have to get out. I’m very vested in this island, as are many others. We have to make people understand it’s fine to come to Anna Maria Island.”
In August 2018, red tide hit the island.
In the six months that followed, there were periods when red tide blooms were intense, periods when it diminished and times when it all but disappeared. And, during that time, there was widespread coverage of red tide — some from professional news outlets and a lot circulated on social media.
Now, Varner said, “people all over think we have piles of dead fish everywhere. Social media is not helping.”
Yet the water is aqua and the beaches are pristine.
Seasonal visitors are returning to Anna Maria Island and the beaches were busy with vacationers over the Christmas and New Years holidays.
But Varner says his bookings remain below last year’s levels. His spring and summer reservations are down from a year ago and he puts the blame for the false impression of red tide across the states and Europe on the internet and cable and network TV.
Varner says his bookings have seen a “measurable drop-off” because the news cycle hasn’t changed.
“People still don’t believe things are back to normal at the island. They are calling every day asking questions about red tide,” he said.
Varner said some people have rebooked properties and were happy to find Anna Maria Island back to normal.
“Those who are coming are having a great time. It’s beautiful here, the beach is beautiful, they’re enjoying themselves,” he said.
Tourist season is settling in on Anna Maria Island, with the snowbirds returning and short-term vacationers filling accommodations.
“It’s gorgeous over here on the beach this morning,” Katy Demick told The Islander Jan 18. “Simply beautiful.”
Demick, assistant general manager for Anna Maria Island Resorts, including Tortuga, Tradewinds, Tropic Isle and Seaside resorts in Bradenton Beach, said vacation bookings are improving.
And callers are no longer asking about red tide, Demick said.
“We have definitely picked up,” she observed.
In Anna Maria, Lindsey Leech at the Duncan Real Estate and Vacation Rentals office on Pine Avenue, said, “We’re not getting many calls about red tide anymore. We had a fair amount of earlier cancellations but they all seemed to be medical- or health-related. It’s aging issues, not red tide.”
Leech said March bookings are looking good, and the company is continuing to run last-minute specials to fill vacancies.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report for Jan. 16 bore out what islanders already knew. No red tide was found in Manatee County in samples from five areas, including Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach, the north tip of Anna Maria at Bean Point and Palma Sola Bay.
The beach will have to endure another hurricane season, but the Gulf of Mexico shoreline on Anna Maria Island will be renourished in 2019.
Hurricane and storm season runs May 1-Nov. 31.
Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department, said in an interview Jan. 8 that two renourishment projects, spanning 5.4 miles of beachfront south from 79th Street in Holmes Beach to Longboat Pass, are in the works for 2019.
Beginning in November 2019, the first project will bring sand to the shoreline from 79th Street to Fifth Street South in Bradenton Beach.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay for 54 percent of the project, with supplemental and emergency funding appropriated from the U.S. Congress to counteract erosion caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, according to Hunsicker.
The state and Manatee County will split the remaining costs of island renourishment at 23 percent each.
Hunsicker said he expects the project to total $16 million.
“As a result of Hurricane Irma, we have a full year-and-a-half to two-year head start on addressing what would have otherwise been the erosion due to this last storm,” Hunsicker said. “If we had a completely healthy beach and observed these erosional losses, and then started the process today, it would take us at least another year-and-a-half to get to where we are right now.”
The cost of the second project will be split between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Manatee County and the state of Florida, with FEMA covering 75 percent and the state and county sharing the remainder.
The project will span the shore from Fifth Street South to Longboat Pass and cost about $4 million, according to Hunsicker.
“We hope to piggyback on the contractor that the army engineers will be using, so instead of stopping at Bradenton Beach and packing up and leaving, they can stay right with it and keep on going under a separate and independent contract to do the Coquina Beach segment, and thereby save substantially in local and state dollars,” Hunsicker said.
Mobilization costs for large beach renourishment projects can range from $4 million-$6 million before the first shovel is turned, according to Hunsicker.
In total, the projects would replace more than 700,000 cubic yards of sand lost to erosion and cost around $20 million. Hunsicker expects the work to last three-four months.
The sand will be dredged from a sandbar offshore of the northern end of Anna Maria Island and pumped in pipes to the renourishment area.
Hunsicker said a dump truck can load up to 10 cubic yards of sand at once, and to meet the project requirements would require 70,000 truckloads — an effort that would cost significantly more than dredging and pumping the sand.
A couple of recent storms have furthered the erosion caused by Irma.
Bradenton Beach resident David Herrmann said erosion is apparent north of the groins at Cortez Beach and is within 10 feet of a multiuse path that stretches from Cortez Beach to Coquina Beach.
“I’ve seen this beach come and go for 30 years and this is probably about the worst I have ever seen it,” Herrmann said in an interview Jan. 8.
While he isn’t concerned the erosion will impact his property, he is worried for the multiuse path and utility poles west of Gulf Drive.
“If we have another storm like we just had, it’s going to cut back even more, and the path will collapse. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “It’s a concern that will become a problem if we get two more storms like those that came through a couple weeks ago. If we get a hurricane, it’s gone.”
Hunsicker said beaches on the Gulf lose 10 feet in depth and width every year due to “an aggressive wave climate that actually has the effect of pulling the sand off the beach, like grabbing a bedspread off of your bed and pulling it onto the floor.”
To counteract the erosion, renourishment projects replace the lost sand so that the Gulf doesn’t eat farther into the beach.
“We put that sand out there, fully expecting it to be sacrificed under very heavy storm conditions,” Hunsicker said. “Rather than farther upland.”
Additionally, groins can help preserve and build upon the existing beach, as they trap sand moving down the beach via the drift current by slowing the sand and changing its direction.
“The new groins (in Bradenton Beach) kept the footprint of the sand in place,” Hunsicker said. “We didn’t lose that much sand there around the groin.”
Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie agreed, saying that “in effect, with the recent storms, the groins and the dune system did exactly what they were supposed to do: protect infrastructure.”
Suzi Fox, director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, told The Islander erosion would have no effect on sea turtles or shorebirds while nesting is in its off-season, but would need to revisited when sea turtles begin nesting in May.
“It’s nothing new,” Fox said Jan. 8.
“Historically, that sand comes and goes. We’re a barrier island. That’s just going to happen.”
It’s a tale of a damsel in distress, a hero and a happy ending.
It starts with the McGoey family of New Jersey as they wind up their holiday on Anna Maria Island Jan. 2, piling their belongings into the back of a rental car.
En route to the airport, already in Bradenton near U.S. 41, they noticed the tailgate was open and 12-year-old Addison McGoey’s backpack, containing Rudolph the buffalo, a stuffed animal and her constant companion, was missing.
It was important enough to send the family back to the island on a search.
They circled back, retracing their route to where they began in Anna Maria at Elm Avenue, but they had no luck.
In spite of their efforts, Rudolph and the black backpack were not found.
Enter island trolley driver Patricia Adams. She was driving her route that day when she spotted a black backpack on the side of the street near Ginny’s and Jane E’s Coastal Store and Bakery Cafe.
Adams stopped the trolley and picked up the backpack to put in the lost and found, thinking a rider might claim the item. She also started to do a little investigating.
“I looked up the local Craigslist lost and found and there it was,” she told The Islander. “So, I called the number and made arrangements about sending it back.”
Adams has been driving for Manatee County Area Transit for 12 years, spending the past two years on the trolley loop.
“She is one of our very best drivers,” Kevin Sheerin, MCAT supervisor in the trolley division, said Jan. 10 of Adams.
He said Adams was nominated for state operator of the year in 2018 and would be nominated again.
The McGoey family was thrilled by her extra effort, and the return of the much-loved Rudolph.
Mom Theresa said Addison was facing the probability she would never see Rudolph again. The toy was a gift at age 3, and she towed it everywhere.
“She maintained her composure until we got home to New Jersey. Then I think it hit her she might never get it back. When I got the call from Adams, I sent Addison a text,” McGoey said.
“I’ve never seen so many Os, Ms and Gs,” McGoey said.
“When I picked her up from school, she was all smiles,” she continued.
This was not the first time Rudolph was lost. In 2011, on another vacation, the furry buffalo got lost at the White House during the Easter egg roll on the South Lawn.
“He fell out of my purse,” McGoey said. “We told Addison Rudolph must have had some important business with the president. We found him in the White House lost and found.”
McGoey surmised, maybe he just likes to strike out on adventures of his own.
Rudolph and the backpack arrived by UPS Jan. 12 at the McGoey home in Summit.
“I told my daughter, there are a lot of good people out there,” McGoey said. “This just proves it once again.”
Enthusiasm for the 13th annual Dolphin Dash has Gabriella Gilbert running laps.
The 5K race and 1-mile fun run at Anna Maria Elementary School is Saturday, Jan. 19. Gabriella, a fifth-grader at AME, has been training by running laps around the school basketball court during recess and rising early to exercise at home.
Her mom, Lindy Gilbert, president of Lux Carts, at 309 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, said her daughter has participated in the run every year since kindergarten.
“She absolutely loves running and loves the opportunity to give it her best — to give it her all,” Gilbert said in an interview Jan. 10. “It’s really great to see that.”
Competitiveness drives Gabriella to participate, and her zeal drives her mom to run.
“She always wants mommy to run with her, and then she leaves me in the dust,” Gilbert said. “I’m usually bringing up the rear with all my friends.”
Whether finishing first or last, Gilbert said it is impossible not to have a good time at the event.
“I haven’t found another group activity that just makes you feel so good!” she said. “Everybody cheers you on. Everybody comes together. You always seem to perform better than your fears make you think you might. It’s all positive, and I wish everyone on the island could share in the experience because it is wonderful.”
Principal Jackie Featherston said in an interview Jan. 7 that she is excited for the race, and will enjoy it from the sidelines.
“I don’t do the run,” she said. “Mostly I help with the setup and stuff like that. I’ll do whatever needs to be done to keep it running smoothly.”
The event, coordinated by Kelly Gitt and supported by the Bradenton Runners Club, will benefit the AME Parent-Teacher Organization.
Nichole Teich, president of the PTO, said in an interview Jan. 11 the race is the third-biggest annual fundraiser for the organization, behind the fall fest and spring gala.
The race will be Jan. 19, with registration at 7 a.m. in the south parking lot at AME, 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.
The 5K will begin at 8 a.m. and the 1-Mile Fun Run will start at 9 a.m. After the race, awards will be presented and every participant will receive a race swag bag.
“Just come and be there and go for it,” Gilbert said. “It’s all good. Even if you walk or if you get cramps, everybody is cheering you on and rallying around each other. Honestly, I don’t see how anything negative could come from it. Whatever happens, it’s going to end up being positive and as a really great memory for everyone.”
For more information, visit runsignup.com/race/fl/holmesbeach/dolphindash5kand1milefun.
The contracts have been clarified and Holmes Beach is cruising toward a license-plate reader system.
The city commission Jan. 8 authorized Mayor Judy Titsworth to execute an agreement for reader equipment from contractor Vetted Security Solutions of St. Petersburg and a second agreement for software with Vigilant Solutions of Livermore, California.
In November 2018, the commission approved the system, not to exceed $105,240, but questions remained regarding the contracts with the two companies and the cost. So the contracts were reconsidered Jan. 8.
Attorney Thomas Thanus, filling in for city attorney Patricia Petruff, clarified the difference between the Vetted and Vigilant contracts.
He said Vigilant is the software creator and provides support for the system and it works closely with Vetted, which provides hardware and installation.
The city will pay Vetted $105,240 upon completion of the project. There is no payment the first year to Vigilant — it is included in the Vetted fee, according to Thanus.
Upon the second year of operation, the city will pay Vigilant an annual licensing fee of about $2,625 each year, which includes $525 for five cameras.
The attorney said the contract could be terminated at any time and that it is a sole-source contract, piggybacked on the Longboat Key and Manatee County, which operate the same system.
“It’s very important for the police department to be able to communicate and share information with those other law enforcement agencies,” Thanus said.
Commission Chair Jim Kihm realized some attachments were mixed-up in the copy provided to commissioners, so he asked for a clean copy of the updated contracts with clarifications between the responsibilities and costs for both companies.
The mayor and commissioners moved the vote to the end of the meeting to allow time to read the updated contracts.
Thanus said the software fee with Vetted could increase each year, but annually caps at 4 percent.
Commissioner Kim Rash said he’d like Vigilant to provide a five-year spreadsheet detailing what the increases in cost are each year.
“”I’d like to see that so we know what kind of money we are going to be spending,” he said.
Thanus said the annual increase would be about $110 at most and, in a previous conversation, Police Chief Bill Tokajer said he would include the increase in future budget requests.
At the end of the meeting, the updated contract was distributed to the mayor and commissioners, and a vote was taken.
A motion for the mayor to execute the contracts with Vetted and Vigilant passed 4-1, with Rash voting “nay.”
The next city commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, to be followed by a work session.