Tag Archives: Feature

Illuminating Florida’s ‘flagship’ Sunshine Skyway Bridge

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An image taken from a Florida Department of Transportation video shows “elegant” lighting on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, part of a $15 million project to outfit the bridge profile and underside columns with color changeable, high-efficiency LED fixtures. The DOT expects to complete the project this fall. The Skyway, visible from Anna Maria Island, is Florida’s “flagship bridge,” according to the DOT. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOT

When the sun sets west of Anna Maria Island, “sunset” lights will shine to the east on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The state transportation department is outfitting Florida’s flagship bridge — visible from many locations on AMI’s north end and bayfront vistas — with 1,824 LED fixtures.

The bridge across Tampa Bay on Interstate 275 has long been outfitted with lights shining upward on the yellow cables, but the new fixtures are high-efficiency and color changeable and they will light the underside of the bridge and pilings.

In addition to “sunset” colors, the lights will change to “new year,” “verdant green,” “waves,” “gateway” “patriotic,” “purple majestic” and “elegant.”

An example of “verdant green” LED lighting on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay on Interstate 275. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOT

The DOT is installing the fixtures — varying between 48 and 205 watts — on the bridge profile and underside columns.

The lighted section of the bridge will include the slopes and main span for a total of 8,860 feet — or 1.7 miles.

Profile lights along the main span and high-level approaches are being mounted on brackets.

As for the columns, they will be illuminated by floodlighting fixtures mounted to the underside of the deck and box girders, washing along the height of each column and fading near the waterline, according to DOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson.

An example of how “Patriotic” lighting will look on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Islander Photo: Courtesy DOT

“The Skyway is the gateway to Tampa Bay and the flagship bridge of Florida,” read an outline for the project provided Aug. 1 by Carson. “The Skyway lighting project is a unique enhancement, unlike any other in the world. The project will stand for the Tampa Bay region as an inspiration for residents and all who visit.”

Many newer bridges in the state feature aesthetic lighting, including the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the Fuller Warren Bridge and Main Street bridges in Jacksonville, Hathaway Bridge in Panama City, 17th Street Bridge in Miami, five bridges crossing the Hillsborough River in Tampa and the John Ringling Causeway Bridge in Sarasota.

The Skyway Bridge lighting promises aesthetic value, but also will add safety and security to the underside of the bridge, which is dark now, according to Carson’s outline.

Tolls collected on the Skyway paid for the project, expected to cost about $15 million.

The DOT says the project will be completed this fall.

 

Anna Maria faces ADA compliance issue on new pier

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An archival photograph, circa 1924, of the Anna Maria City Pier shows railings, which former Anna Maria City Commissioner Gene Aubry says should be installed on the new pier. Islander File Photo

Former Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry protested at city hall, and then made a complaint in July based on what he said is a deficient design for the new Anna Maria City Pier.

Aubry, who also is an architect, filed a U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act complaint based on the design and plans for the new Anna Maria City Pier walkway and T-end that lack handrails.

The ADA was put into law in 1990 to alleviate discrimination based on disability. The purpose of the act is to give people with disabilities equal rights and opportunities in public life, including, jobs, schools, transportation and any public or private places open to the general public.

The ADA includes building code requirements, which Aubry said the city will not meet if it constructs the new pier as planned.

Aubry filed his complaint July 15 with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., writing the city is discriminating against the disabled by refusing to install a handrail along the pier walkway.

“It’s not safe walking on a pier over water without a railing, especially if you’re blind,” Aubry said July 31 in an interview with The Islander.

Aubry points to photos of the pier dating back to 1924 that depict a handrail. The pier was originally built in 1911 to promote tourism to the city.

He says that if the city wants to replicate the original pier — and provide safety for people who want to enjoy the amenities — it should have a handrail.

He initially presented his concern about the lack of handrails on the pier in January to the city commission and mayor. But, he said, city officials did not give him a response.

At the time, Commissioner Brian Seymour told The Islander the city officials heard Aubry’s concern, but most of the public was against a railing.

Mayor Dan Murphy told The Islander Aug. 1 that the city has followed government guidelines for construction, including ADA regulations.

The pier also is a boat landing, permitting boats to dock and tie-off. And, according to ADA regulations, boat landings do not require handrails, according to Murphy.

Aubry told The Islander he would not consider other action until after the ADA processed his complaint.

As of Aug. 2, The Islander was unable to reach the DOJ with regard to Aubry’s ADA complaint.

39 Years Ago: Killing spree at Kingfish

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Emergency personnel respond Aug. 1, 1980, in Holmes Beach, where four people were fatally shot and one person was injured. The case remains unsolved. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
“I saw a car and boat trailer jackknifed near a power pole,” reporter June Alder wrote about her arrival to the scene of a quadruple murder Aug. 1, 1980, on Manatee Avenue at East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach. The vehicle and boat belonged to Dr. Juan Dumois, 47, of Tampa. He and his sons Eric Dumois, 13, and Mark Dumois, 9, were murdered that day, as was islander Robert Matzke, 60. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
Emergency personnel attend to a victim of a shooting Aug. 1, 1980, in Holmes Beach at the Kingfish Boat Ramp and at the Foodway grocery store, now the Publix Super Market. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
A Fiat that had been driven by Robert Matzke crashed into another vehicle at Foodway. Bystanders thought an accident had occurred, but Matzke, an Air Force veteran, had unknowingly confronted a killer and was fatally shot. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
Emergency personnel place a man on a stretcher near the Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach Aug. 1, 1980. The killings at Kingfish remain unsolved. The Manatee County Crime Stoppers takes tips at 866-634-TIPS. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
Cold case evidence Holmes Beach Detective Sgt. Brian Hall holds an evidence bag July 11 containing a 22-caliber bullet gathered Aug. 1, 1980, and still in storage at the HBPD. The bullet is evidence from the shooting at the Foodway grocery store, now the Publix Super Market, 3900 E. Bay Drive. Retired Lt. Col. Robert Matzke was working in his yard near the Kingfish Boat Ramp Aug. 1, 1980, and followed a bicyclist to Foodway, where Matzke was shot and killed by the bicyclist-turned-gunman. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
HBPD Detective Sgt. Brian Hall handles a plastic bag July 11 containing items found in the left rear seat of a station wagon driven Aug. 1, 1980, by Juan Dumois. A man killed Dumois and his two sons in the vehicle. Dumois’ brother-in-law, Raymond Barrows, seated in the front seat, survived the shooting, but died two years later. The evidence is kept in bins at the police department, 5801 Marina Drive.

For an island reporter, the story unfolded, but the mystery remained

 

Editor’s note: The Islander first published the following report in 1999. June Alder then worked as a copy editor for The Islander and also wrote a history column. The Islander edited this report for style, length and historical perspective.

 

 

By June Alder

From The Islander archive

You know how it is in the dog days of August. Not much to do. Putter around the yard in the morning. Have a nap after lunch. Watch the sunset after supper. Watch re-runs on TV with the air conditioner humming.

No, nothing much happens on the island in the summertime. It’s murder for a newspaper reporter trying to make a decent story out of notes from a boring city meeting.

But it wasn’t that way Aug. 1, 1980.

As I recall that Friday, I was the only reporter in The Islander newspaper office when someone yelled at me to pick up my phone. It was my mother calling.

“Oh, hi Mom, what’s up?” I said, or something like that. She rarely called me at the office, so I figured she had some little problem, like when we could meet for lunch.

But her voice was odd, whispery but urgent.

“I’m down here at Foodway (now the Publix Super Market). There’s been an accident or something — a man’s been hurt.”

There was a hubbub in the background.

I could barely hear her.

“What did you say? An accident? In the grocery store?”

She seemed impatient, and I got the idea whatever had happened, it was something serious.

“No, in the parking lot. I was at the checkout counter. A woman burst in, yelling to call the police, get a doctor.” She paused. “I can see a lot of folks running around outside. You’d better get down here, June!”

I grabbed my camera and jumped in my car. Traffic on Gulf Drive was light going south. It took me less than five minutes to round the bend at the Manatee Public Beach. That’s when I saw a bunch of people milling around just east of the stoplight toward Kingfish Boat Ramp.

I wondered if I should drive on to the grocery, but then I saw a car and boat trailer jackknifed near a power pole. There had been an accident and, from the looks of things, it was a bad one. I parked my car on the side of the road and raced over to a scene of chaos.

I didn’t ask any questions, just began taking photographs.

There seemed to be bodies all over the place. Sheets had been draped over two figures being lifted onto stretchers. They appeared to be children. I couldn’t tell if they were dead or alive.

A few feet away from the car, medics were bent over a man on the ground. One emergency technician was holding an oxygen mask to the man’s mouth. Another was wiping the blood from the patient’s forehead. A third was massaging his chest.

Close by lay a deeply tanned man in red-and-white striped trunks. He was barely breathing. His bare chest was streaked with blood trickling from his nose and mouth. A tube had been stuck in his right arm. I could tell by the look on the face of a woman in a nurse’s uniform holding his head that he was close to death.

I moved in a bit closer with my camera. Through the viewfinder, I could see a small hole — about the size of a dime — in the man’s forehead.

My heart froze. The man had been shot in the head.

By now, another reporter from my newspaper had arrived, as well as reporters and photographers from the daily papers.

And there must have been 40 people scurrying around. I’ll never forget the faces of the bystanders as the word got around of the nature of the tragedy. They had the look of people confronting a situation too horrible to comprehend. The car had gone out of control because the driver had a bullet in his head. Everyone in the car had been shot.

I glanced across the street toward the Foodway. An ambulance was pulling out of the lot. I hurried over. I learned from a cop that a man had been shot there, too.

By now, like everyone else, I was beginning to realize the enormity of the crime that had shattered the pleasant afternoon.

The headlines in the newspapers the next day shocked islanders out of their summer lethargy.

In the weeks and months to come, the story unfolded, but the mystery remained.

 

The killing at Kingfish

Early Aug. 1, 1980, Juan Dumois, a 47-year-old Tampa physician, his sons Eric, 13, and Mark, 9, and their uncle, Raymond Barrows, visiting from Miami, left Kingfish Boat Ramp for a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the last day of the family’s vacation in Holmes Beach.

Returning about 5 p.m., looking forward to getting home to supper, they loaded their boat onto a trailer and hitched it up to their station wagon. Dumois and Barrows got into the front seat, and the boys took seats in the back. Just as Dumois was about to drive off, a dark-haired man in his middle 30s, wearing a white tennis outfit and pushing a bike, stuck his head in the car window.

He had sprained his ankle, he told Dumois and would appreciate a lift.

Sure, no problem, Dumois said.

The man hoisted his bike into the boat and got into the back with the boys.

Dumois waited for a gap in the heavy traffic, then pulled away. The station wagon had gone only a few yards toward the intersection of Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive when the man pulled a gun. He held the muzzle against the back of Dumois’ head and pulled the trigger.

Dumois slumped over, mortally wounded. Three more shots rang out in quick succession. The gunman had pumped the second bullet into Barrow’s head and the third and fourth into the heads of the boys.

The man reached over Dumois and turned off the ignition, steering the car to the side of the road. When it stopped, he jumped out, pulled his bike out of the boat and rode off toward Foodway.

But there was a witness.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Matzke, working in the yard of his condominium unit in Westbay Cove North, had observed the man’s exit from the accident site. Suspicious, he pursued him to the Foodway store in his sports car. There, while still in his car, he argued briefly with the bicyclist. Again, a shot rang out, and Matzke became the hitchhiker’s fifth victim.

Shoppers watched unknowingly as the gunman got into a waiting car, which disappeared into traffic. None of the onlookers had witnessed the killing. They thought Matzke had crashed his car.

All the police had to go on was what Raymond Barrows was able to tell them. He had recovered but died of a heart attack a couple of years later.

The investigation, involving the sheriff’s office and federal agents, as well as the Holmes Beach police, dragged on for months. Dumois’ car was examined for fingerprints. Four artist’s concepts of the killer were circulated and a reward was offered.

More than 100 suspects were questioned, but no solid evidence pointing to the killer was found and no plausible motive for the slayings identified.

Was the killer a madman?

Someone with a grudge against the physician?

Was he a contract killer?

Were the murders mob- or mafia-related?

Though police found nothing to connect Dumois with the underworld, the massacre had all the earmarks of a hit job.

The weapon was a 22-caliber pistol, the type of gun often used in professional killings. The killer was an expert with a gun. He did not fire wildly. He shot to kill.

The crime was well planned. The gunman was seen loitering in the boat ramp parking lot. He had marked his victims. He knew Dumois was a doctor, as he feigned an injury.

He chose a crowded area for the shootings, where he could melt into the crowd. True, it was risky business to execute his mission in a moving car, but he knew it would be going slowly, approaching the intersection only a short distance away from the boat ramp.

He had a confederate waiting in a getaway car at a spot where they could easily join the traffic going north or south.

Police were criticized for immediately directing traffic off the island and failing to cordon off the crime scene quickly. But they didn’t know at first that it was a murder case.

 

Perfect crime?

The Kingfish killings appear to have been the perfect crime — one that will never be solved.

Investigators say that in such crimes, the only chance for a solution is when someone talks — someone to whom the killer bragged or who was involved somehow in the crime.

But that hasn’t happened.

Perhaps the killer, well paid for his afternoon’s work, is living on his earnings on the French Riviera or in South America.

Or, he may have met a violent death, too.

Will we ever know his identity or the reason for the massacre on that bloody Friday?

Holmes Beach sets maximum millage for 2019-20 budget

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Holmes Beach commissioners listen July 23 as city treasurer Lori Hill presents the maximum 2019-20 fiscal year millage rate during a meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach is a step closer to finalizing its 2019-20 budget.

Commissioners voted 4-0 at their meeting July 23 to authorize Mayor Judy Titsworth to sign and submit DR-420 and DR-420 MMP forms to Manatee County — the forms required by the state to assess the city’s tax base.

Titsworth and Commissioner Rick Hurst were absent with excuse.

According to city treasurer Lori Hill, the mayor proposed establishing a maximum millage rate of 2.25 mills for the 2019-20 fiscal year, the same percentage as 2018-19.

Hill, who compiled the budget, said the rate would give the city “time to receive missing revenue from the state and county and evaluate any possible changes until the September public hearings.”

She said the mayor intends to use the rollback rate, the millage needed to collect the same tax as the current year from property owners, of 2.1062 mills, “if revenue comes in as intended and no additional costs or projects arise.”

The 2.1062 rollback rate would be 6% lower than the 2.25 proposed millage rate.

State law defines a tax increase as anything over the rollback rate.

Millage is $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At 2.25 mills, the ad valorem tax on a property valued at $500,000 would be $1,125. At 2.1062 mills, the property would be taxed $1,053.10.

Other taxing authorities on the county property tax bill include the Manatee County School District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Manatee County Mosquito Control and the West Coast Inland Navigation District.

West Manatee Fire Rescue has assessments on the tax bill, not ad valorem tax.

Other sources of city revenue include Swiftmud, WCIND, the county distributed fifth cent gas tax, and the state distributed second, fourth and ninth cent gas taxes, as well as the 1/2 cent discretionary tax.

Hill said approval and submission of the DR-420 and DR-420 MMP is the first step in the budget process, which will conclude with an ordinance requiring two public hearings and two votes for adoption before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The commission reached a consensus that the first reading and public hearing will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11.

The final reading and public hearing for the new budget will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, during a regular city commission meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Anna Maria strikes deal for construction of pier buildings

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Brad and Dawn Huthviance of Trinity, Florida, told The Islander July 27 they “love AMI” on a visit to the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

A deal is in place for the construction of a restaurant and bait shop on the T-end of the new Anna Maria City Pier.

City commissioners voted 5-0 July 25 to approve a $967,000 contract with Mason Martin of Holmes Beach for the construction of the T-end buildings. Commissioners previously chose the contractor’s $1,041,101 bid for the job over three more expensive bids.

Mason Martin is a Holmes Beach-based contractor owned by Frank Agnelli and Jake Martin. Each of the partners has built and remodeled island homes for more than 10 years.

The contract gives Mason Martin 200 days to complete work on the buildings, setting Feb. 10, 2020, as the deadline for completion. The deal allows the contractor to apply to the city commission to extend the deadline as needed, through change orders.

Mason Martin is permitted to work on the pier 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

The city will pay the contractor 20% of the contract cost upon mobilization of equipment and materials, 25% more when Mason Martin frame out the pier buildings, another 25% after the exterior is enclosed, 20% when power is hooked up and the final 10% upon substantial completion.

Mayor Dan Murphy said the final contract is $74,000 less than the contractor’s original bid due in part to $18,500 in savings gained from changing the siding on the bait shop and restaurant from kebony to hardie-board. Hardie-board is a fiber-cement product that is fireproof and resistant to insects and vermin.

Murphy attributed a savings on mobilization costs to Agnelli, who suggested employing the i+iconSOUTHEAST barge — already on the job — to transport materials to the site.

I+iconSOUTHEAST is set to complete work constructing the pier walkway and T-end by September, giving Mason Martin a month of overlap on its job. The contractor is planning to begin work on the pier buildings as soon as possible.

“We have a good agreement here,” Murphy said.

Meanwhile, Miller Electric, a subcontractor, is installing electric service to the pier. Wiring is the last step in completing the understructure of the pier, before i+iconSOUTHEAST installs decking on the walkway and the T-end.

The new pier — estimated to total $5.9 million for demolition and construction — replaces the historic Anna Maria City Pier, which was built in 1911, although there were numerous remodels before it was deemed destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Treehouse owners push case back to circuit court

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Beachgoer Mary Ellen Tacy, of Holmes Beach, pauses before sunset to talk about the plight of the treehouse, behind her on the beach near 29th Street in Holmes Beach. Tacy said people didn’t like the way the treehouse came about in 2011, but now seem OK with it. “What harm is it doing?” she asked. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

One treehouse case is branching off from the federal to the county courthouse.

A month after the city of Holmes Beach removed the case to the U.S. District Court-Middle District of Florida in Tampa, the treehouse owners dropped their federal claims and are poised to push the case back to the 12th Circuit Court at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

Owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, represented by Sarasota attorney David Levin, of Icard Merrill, filed a new pleading July 16, followed by an “unopposed” motion — having consulted with the city’s representatives for the case, the law firm of Trask Daigneault of Clearwater, who agreed to remand the case to state court the next day.

The case was one of two treehouse cases in federal court as of July 26. Two similar cases are pending in the 12th Circuit.

Tran and Hazen live and operate four short-term rental units at 103 29th St., where they built the beachfront structure in an Australian pine tree without city or state permits.

In the latest federal complaint — leading to the move back to state court — the owners are continuing to challenge a city setback as preempted by state law, but “deleted all allegations and references to the U.S. Constitution, leaving only allegations pertaining to state law claims,” according to the owners’ motion to remand.

Attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask Daigneault said he would not oppose the move back to state court.

“The case was removed based on federal questions. Now it’s purely a matter of state law. There’s no sense in being obstinate,” Daigneault said July 25.

The treehouse litigation, dating back to 2013, centers on the structure’s location within the city setback for the state erosion-control line. The line was established to divide public and private property based on the high-mean tide line.

A permanent high-tide line was established by the state in 1992 prior to a beach renourishment project.

The owners claim the setback is an unconstitutional property rights taking. The city contends the issue was already decided and cannot be relitigated based on a legal doctrine known as the finality of judgments or res judicata.

In state court earlier this year, 12th Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas ruled he would hear the state constitutional challenge — the to-be remanded case — before a city-initiated case to enforce 2013 and 2016 code board and magistrate decisions calling for the structure’s removal and fines.

The dispute began in 2011 after an anonymous complaint alerted the city to construction on the beach. The city referred the complaint to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which came back to the city for a letter of no objection.

In July 2013, the code board ordered Tran and Hazen to remove the structure, a decision that was revisited by a special magistrate who, in 2016, fined the owners $50 a day dating to July 2015 — now at more than $73,250.

Judge Janette Dunnigan, now retired, upheld the code enforcement decisions against constitutional challenge.

She ruled against the owners’ arguments on the unconstitutionality of the city setback and reprimanded city officials for giving bad advice — although there were no building plans or applications — before Tran and Hazen built the treehouse without permits.

The owners opened another front in state court in 2013, petitioning for a citywide vote to grandfather the treehouse, which was lost on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January 2018, the high court declined to review a circuit court decision based on a state statute that prohibits referenda and initiatives relating to development orders.

In addition to the pending constitutional and city code enforcement cases, ongoing treehouse litigation as of July 26 involves two cases opened by the owners — without an attorney — in 2018.

In a state court case, an amended verified complaint alleges negligence and violation of rights and seeks injunctive relief and unspecified money damages against the city and DEP.

In that case, Judge Charles Sniffin is expected to hear city and DEP motions to dismiss Sept. 10 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

On the owners’ third amended complaint, alleging similar claims against the city in federal court, a city motion is pending. That motion claims the latest pleading tries to advance claims that were or could have been litigated in previous cases and, “in the interest of finality,” asks for dismissal with prejudice.

U.S. District Judge James Moody is expected to rule on that motion without a hearing.

Tran told The Islander in a July 26 email she plans to continue her fight to protect her treehouse and property rights and will continue challenging what she calls the city’s unreasonable fines.

She also promised, “More soon.”

Judge rules for Bradenton Beach in Sunshine lawsuit

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Judge Edward Nicholas gives his ruling in the city versus citizens lawsuit. Islander Photo: 
ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

The trial is done and the city prevailed.

The July 15-19 trial for the case pitting the city of Bradenton Beach and ex-Mayor Jack Clarke against six former volunteer city board members, alleging violation of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law, ended July 19 with Judge Edward Nicholas ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.

“The last two years have been difficult. I appreciate that,” Nicholas, of the 12th Judicial Circuit, said July 19 upon issuing his ruling. “And I’m hoping that, to some extent, the conclusion of this trial may help close the wound that has been so open and so raw, out in Bradenton Beach for so long.”

The suit, filed in August 2017 by Clarke and joined by the city, alleged Sunshine Law violations by former P&Z board members Reed Mapes, John Metz, 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.

‘This is not a close call. Even after being advised not to continue to do so, even after not getting any clarity via the Florida Ethics Commission letter, the defendants continued to meet, continued to discuss at length, issues.’
— Judge Edward Nicholas

All but Metz represented themselves as pro se defendants.

The city, represented by attorney Robert Watrous, alleged the board members violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law by discussing city matters at CNOBB meetings and through emails, texts and phone calls.

Opening statements

Watrous presented the judge with a timeline of events, including several CNOBB meetings that were not noticed or recorded, as well as transcripts and recordings of meetings that included discussions of land-use matters that he claimed either did or were likely to come before the defendants as board members.

He said the defendants were warned by city attorney Ricinda Perry, who had listened to recordings on the CNOBB website and determined the group’s discussions were placing the city at risk for a Sunshine Law violation, which could lead to a lawsuit against the city by outside interests.

That outsider turned out to be ex-Mayor Jack Clarke.

Additionally, Nichols noted that Bill Vincent, P&Z board member/CNOBB founder, sent letters to the Florida Attorney General’s Office and the Florida Commission on Ethics near the time Perry’s warnings were issued in late July 2017, asking for guidance on potential Sunshine Law issues and responses to his inquiries indicated he should consult with the city or county attorney.

He did not.

Shults argued that any discussions relating to city business were halted at CNOBB meetings when CNOBB/board members started veering into matters that could have come before them at city meetings, including discussions on a future parking garage.

Furthermore, Shults said mentions of a parking garage were made during CNOBB’s deliberation of possible charter amendment initiatives for the November 2017 ballot, which were being sought by the defendants as individuals through a process outlined by state statute, not the city process.

He said no one had applied to build a parking garage in the city, and such a structure was not permitted by the city’s comprehensive plan, so an application for a parking garage was not likely to come before the defendants as P&Z members.

He also said the defendants’ right to free speech was protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Defendant, witness testimony

Bradenton Beach city planner Alan Garrett testified July 16 that the comprehensive plan did not prohibit parking garages in all areas of the city during the time Mapes brought the matter up at a CNOBB meeting. So, it was reasonably foreseeable to have come before the P&Z as an application, and the city’s comp plan would not necessarily need amending to accommodate a parking garage.

In April 2017, the P&Z reviewed an amended plan for the city’s community redevelopment district, which included a parking garage as a possible project. Even though the proposed parking facility died for lack of support, it remained a possibility for the CRA district in the future.

Additionally, when Watrous cross-examined Bill Vincent July 18, he asked Vincent if changes to the city’s comp plan go through the P&Z for review, to which Vincent responded, “Correct.”

Watrous asked Vincent if a charter amendment was passed prohibiting parking garages in the city, would the city have had to amend the comp plan to support the change to the charter, to which Vincent responded, “Probably, I guess.”

During Metz’s cross-examination, also July 18, Watrous asked him if he took the oath of office to be on the P&Z, to which Metz responded, “Yes.”

Watrous asked Metz if he understood that by taking that oath, he was putting himself in “a subject category different than the rest of the populous to some extent, correct?” to which Metz replied, “In an extremely limited sense.”

Watrous asked if one of those limitations was that Metz’s oath was to uphold the U.S. and state constitutions, to which Metz responded, “Yes.”

Watrous asked Metz if he was aware that the Sunshine Law is contained within the state constitution, to which Metz replied, “Yes.”

During his July 18 cross-examination of Mapes, Watrous asked why the defendants didn’t approach the city or county attorney for guidance after being warned their actions could be in violation of the Sunshine Law.

Mapes responded, “We were developing our initiatives to paragraph 166.031 of the Florida statutes, which had absolutely nothing to do with the city.”

Judgment

During the four-day trial, Nicholas heard testimony from defendants and witnesses, listened to recordings of CNOBB meetings and reviewed depositions.

Nicholas recounted the timeline of events leading up to the lawsuit, including CNOBB meetings and P&Z board meetings that included discussions of parking garages.

He read portions of the Sunshine Law from the Florida Constitution.

“… at which public business of a body is to be transacted or discussed,” he read, adding, “The court emphasizes ‘discussed.’”

“Clearly public business was discussed at many, and virtually all of the CNOBB meetings,” Nicholas said. “This is not a close call. Even after being advised not to continue to do so, even after not getting any clarity via the Florida Ethics Commission letter, the defendants continued to meet, continued to discuss at length, issues that not only have come before the planning and zoning board and Scenic Waves committee, but that were obviously certain to continue to come before planning and zoning and Scenic Waves.”

He said case law has determined that “when in doubt, the members of any board, agency, authority or commission, should follow the open meetings policy of the state.”

“Well, there was a doubt here,” he said.

He said the defendants continued to ignore warnings and concerns regarding compliance with the Sunshine Law in their “eagerness to attempt to thwart the possibility of a potential parking garage.”

He said the defendants’ use of a state statute to defend their ballot initiative process “seemed contrived and unpersuasive.”

“I find that the defendants’ efforts to characterize these meetings as ballot initiatives does not ameliorate the need that meetings of this nature, wherein planning and zoning members debate planning and zoning issues, need to be held in compliance with the Sunshine Law,” he said.

He said judgment is in favor of the city and found all defendants violated the Sunshine Law. He also said there will be post-trial proceedings to determine potential sanctions, including division of court costs and legal fees.

“Government in the sunshine is why we’re here — it’s as simple as that, and as important as that,” Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie said July 19. “It’s the foundation of what good government is built on. Openness, transparency and accountability. Anything less is not acceptable.”

He added, “Now is the time to heal.”

“You never know what to expect,” Mapes said following the ruling. “Nor do you know what to expect in the way of what comes next.”

Hatchling sea turtles 
take to the Gulf

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AMITW volunteers Karen Anderson, left, and Cindy Richmond excavate a loggerhead sea turtle nest July 17 on the beach near Bayfront Park in Anna Maria. Islander Photos: AMITW
Turtle watch volunteers counts eggs July 17 during a nest excavation in Anna Maria. The nest contained 124 hatched eggs, five unhatched eggs and one live hatchling, which was released to the Gulf of Mexico.
A loggerhead hatchling that remained in a nest on the Bayfront in Anna Maria, despite the other hatchlings making their way to the water, is released July 17.

Sea turtle nesting is slowing and hatchlings are emerging on Anna Maria Island.

Loggerhead hatchlings are emerging daily from nests in the sand on island beaches, then making the crawl to begin their lives in the sea.

As of July 19, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring reported 38 hatched nests with about 2,441 hatchlings making their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

An estimated one in 1,000-10,000 will survive to maturity, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

A nest contains about 100 eggs, which incubate 45-70 days.

Turtle watch volunteers began walking the beach each morning just after sunrise when nesting season started May 1 to search for tracks left during the night by nesting female sea turtles, and now the focus turns to signs hatchlings have left their nests.

AMITW executive director Suzi Fox said July 17 that recent overnight rains had washed away tracks, making it difficult for volunteers to tell if hatchlings disoriented or safely made it to the water.

However, she said she had not received any reports of hatchlings in the dunes or other upland areas.

“It’s a good sign we haven’t gotten any calls about dead hatchlings,” Fox said. “Even though we have not been able to see the tiny tracks because of overnight rain, it appears they are making it to the water.”

Fox added that higher tides and standing water from rain washed over some nests closer to the waterline, but those could still hatch.

Per Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission instruction, when a nest is hatched, AMITW volunteers wait 72 hours to excavate the nest and determine how many eggs hatched, didn’t hatch, or if live hatchlings remain in the nest.

During an excavation, volunteers dig about 18-24 inches into a hatched nest with gloved hands and count the hatched, unhatched or pipped — partially developed — eggs and also dead or live hatchlings.

“Collecting the data is really what it’s all about for us,” Fox said. “This is where we get to look for trends.”

Fox said a trend that she has noticed from excavations is very few live hatchlings remaining in nests.

“This is really good because it means they are developing well in their nests and getting out to the water,” she said.

Excavations usually take place around sunrise or sunset, when the risk of dehydration or predation is lower for hatchlings.

Fox said turtle watch posts information about upcoming excavations to the group’s Facebook page.

“We really want our residents and visitors alike to come out and see the work we do to protect and document the cycle of life happening with the turtles out here on our beaches,” Fox said. “It really is a beautiful thing.”

HBPD budgeting for vehicles, personnel, safety gear

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Holmes Beach Police Officer Christine LaBranche works on the beach. Islander Photo: Courtesy HBPD

Island life is not just a day at the beach for the Holmes Beach Police Department.

“We have arrested people here for serious, violent crimes,” Police Chief Bill Tokajer said July 16. “Not everyone that comes out here are the guests we want to welcome. And we must make sure we can handle whatever we have to face.”

As the city fine-tunes its proposals for the 2019-20 budget, The Islander discussed police department expenses with Tokajer.

The code department, which the chief oversees, is undergoing some staffing changes and restructuring.

The department is moving into a suite of offices, now under renovation, at the public works building.

The budget includes an increase of about $97,000 to account for an additional code enforcement clerk.

Tokajer said the new clerk’s responsibilities would include logging calls and complaints, filing reports and scheduling.

“We should be hiring the new clerk soon,” Tokajer said July 16. “This will be a good compliment to the way we are working things out now and will be the face of code when people come in to file complaints and concerns.”

The proposed budget also includes about $30,000 for a new code enforcement vehicle and $10,000 for a golf cart.

Tokajer said the vehicles must be outfitted to withstand the elements.

“We need equipment that will last when exposed to sand and saltwater,” he said.

The proposed police budget also includes leasing eight vehicles for $500,000, which, when paid over four years, amounts to $15,625 per vehicle per year. The vehicles total about $60,000 each and are “fully equipped with lights, cameras, gun safes, window and rear cages, sirens and enhanced safety features,” Tokajer said, including “all the necessary technology to support our demands.”

Additionally, $51,000 for 17 new in-car computers and $30,000 for an information technology contractor are included in the proposed budget.

Tokajer said the computers in patrol cars now are 6 years old and, at the time of purchase, were capable of basic functions, such as taking reports.

“Now we are being dispatched by computers,” he said, adding that the in-car computers are used for record-management and the license plate recognition program. They also are GPS-enabled.

“Information technology from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has come a long way over the years,” the chief said.

He said the new computers are “ruggedized,” meaning they can withstand harsher treatment and conditions.

“These ruggedized computers are made for being in a police car,” he said. “These will hold up better in the heat and humidity and can handle being taken in and out of the car.”

Tokajer also budgeted $4,000 for four bulletproof vests and $21,165 for 17 bulletproof helmets.

He said the vests last five years and he has been rotating and renewing vests since 2013.

“They actually have the expiration date printed inside,” he said, adding that sweat and saltwater break down the vests, which become more “wearer-friendly” as technology improves.

The vests are partially funded by a $1,082 grant from the Bulletproof Vest Partnership.

The bulletproof helmets complete the necessary active-shooter equipment for officers.

“Right now, we have shields and active-shooter vests that go over the exterior vests, and firearms necessary to respond to an active shooter, but do not have helmets for officers in these situations,” he said.

Tokajer said demands on the police department continue to grow as more people visit the island.

“I tell people all the time we have 4,000 of the best residents in the world, but 10,000-15,000 on weekends and 30,000-40,000 people on holidays is a lot on this island,” Tokajer said. “It’s not just the little hidden gem this island once was. We must make sure we are equipped to handle whatever comes our way.”

Work on city pier progresses despite rainy weather

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Planks flank park Anna Maria public works employees construct a fence July 19 with engraved planks that formerly made up the walkway at the historic Anna Maria City Pier at City Pier Park, on the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boule- vard. Meanwhile, work continues to build the replacement pier, deemed destroyed in September 2017. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice

Workers are charging up the new Anna Maria City Pier.

And a bit of rain isn’t holding up progress on the pier.

Miller Electric, a subcontractor, began installing electrical wiring along the pier walkway July 17, after waiting out rainy days the week of July 8.

Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy wrote in a July 17 email to The Islander that the wiring work should take about two weeks.

Also, despite the rain delay, Murphy said i+iconSOUTHEAST remained on track to complete the pier walkway and T-end by September. He noted that the contractor had not requested a change order to extend its deadline since the approval of a change order in March.

Installing the electrical wiring is the final step in completing the understructure of the pier.

Next, i+iconSOUTHEAST will install ipe decking for the walkway and top the concrete T-end.

Murphy said he feels good about progress, but is “anxious” for i+iconSOUTHEAST to complete the project.

The mayor said he received several compliments about the pace of progress.

“One said, ‘It’s like seeing an old friend again after a long time,’” Murphy wrote.

“Another said, ‘I feel better just knowing it’s there.’”

The new pier — estimated to cost $5.9 million for demolition and construction — replaces the historic Anna Maria City Pier, which was built in 1911 and underwent numerous remodels before it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.