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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.

Tourist tax collections cool in May, summer hits peak

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People relax in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. Tourist tax collections for Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach accounted for 42.75% of total collections in Manatee County in May, the most recent numbers available. Islander Photo: Sandy Ambrogi

Totals rose over May 2018, but short-term rentals on Anna Maria Island weren’t as busy in May as during the spring break months of March and April.

Tourist tax collections for Manatee County were up for May 2019 over May 2018, according to the collection report released July 3 from the Manatee County Tax Collector.

Short-term rentals — those rented less than six months — generated $1,093,869.51 in May, up $147,645.80 over the May 2018 total of $946,223.71.

Holmes Beach led the island collections with $243,588.25 gross, accounting for 22.27% of tourist tax dollars collected in the county.

Anna Maria rentals generated $142,709.93, 13.05% of county collections.

Bradenton Beach short-term rentals generated 7.43% of the county collections for a total of $81,295.56.

A look at the tax collections in island cities from 2016-19 shows the city of Anna Maria increasing its tourist tax dollar contributions. Totals rose from $123,988.43 in 2016 to $129,095.37 in 2017 and $139,636.01 in 2018.

Bradenton Beach, the island city with the lowest tourist tax collection, topped out with $88,974.75 in 2017, then slid back to $79,584.21 in 2018. Bradenton Beach generated $73,749.69 in 2016.

Holmes Beach had its highest collection of tourist tax dollars in May 2016 at $244,402.58.

The city has failed to reach that May mark again, generating $195,997.20 in 2017 and $188,877.52 in 2018.

With the number of lodging rooms increasing, competition for customers continues to grow.

Walter Klages, of Research Data Services of Tampa, said the number of rooms in Manatee County increased 8.3% from 8,402 to 9,097 rooms between April 2018 and April 2019.

Meanwhile, stricter rental regulations and code enforcement rules continue to evolve.

And, tourists continue to travel to the shores of Manatee County, resulting in millions of dollars for the tax coffers.

The money is collected by the state and gets funded back. State law requires resort tax funds to be used for tourist-related projects.

The money funds the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Bradenton Area Convention Center, as well as ongoing tourism-related entities such as Realize Bradenton, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and projects such as beach renourishment.

Tourist tax collections are reported in arrears, and May numbers were released July 3. June’s numbers will be released Aug. 1.

The county tourist tax rate is 5%. The tax, also known as the bed tax or resort tax, is collected on overnight rentals of less than six months.

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.

Bortie Too nests again

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A screenshot taken July 14 shows Bortie Too, a female loggerhead, returning to shore overnight July 13 to nest on the beach near 66th Street, behind the Mainsail Beach Inn in Holmes Beach. The sea turtle has been wearing a satellite tracking device since June 21, when it was tagged by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and the Sea Turtle Conservancy as part of the Tour de Turtles marathon for research, after nesting on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach. To track Bortie Too, visit conserveturtles.org/trackingmap/?id=226

A screenshot taken July 14 shows Bortie Too, a female loggerhead, returning to shore overnight July 13 to nest on the beach near 66th Street, behind the Mainsail Beach Inn in Holmes Beach. The sea turtle has been wearing a satellite tracking device since June 21, when it was tagged by Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and the Sea Turtle Conservancy as part of the Tour de Turtles marathon for research, after nesting on Cortez Beach in Bradenton Beach.

To track Bortie Too, visit conserveturtles.org/trackingmap/?id=226

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.

MCSO arrests woman for Anna Maria gold theft

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Amanda Miller, 39

A Manatee County sheriff’s deputy arrested a former Anna Maria woman for dealing in gold and silver coins allegedly stolen from her landlord.

Amanda Miller, 39, was arrested July 12 on a warrant for two counts of dealing in stolen property.

The felony counts are punishable by up to 15 years in prison and $10,000.

Laurie Higgins reported a theft June 7 of gold coins valued at more than $100,000 from her home on Magnolia Avenue. She said she noticed the coins were missing April 22 but was gathering documents before filing a report.

According to Higgins’ post, Miller, who also is known as Amanda Culpepper, rented an apartment at her home and failed to pay rent, telling Higgins she was broke and widowed.

Higgins told her Facebook followers that she waited for months while investigators built a case against Miller, a former tenant. Higgins said Miller filed restraining orders against her, attempting to keep her from her home.

Higgins also reported a theft and intruders at her home in January, saying she saw six males run out her back door and down the stairs as she was returning home with Miller.

Higgins reported $50 stolen, adding Jan. 10 that she was still taking inventory.

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.