Tag Archives: Politics

HB mayor confers new ‘official’ plans to charter committee

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Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth, left, addresses the charter review commissioners. Nancy Deal, Sean Murphy, Ed Upshaw, Claudia Carlson and David Zaccagnino Jan. 31 during a CRC meeting from the dais at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach charter review commissioners are evaluating the charter official’s positions as they relate to the current form of government.

Charter officials include the city clerk, treasurer, city attorney and human resources officer.

At a Jan. 31 CRC meeting, Mayor Judy Titsworth spoke to the board about job descriptions in the charter and said she is seeking a director of development services — a new position for a new city department — to assume some duties the charter prescribes to the building official.

The charter states the building and public works departments are under the direction of the building official.

“That is virtually impossible today,” according to Titsworth.

She said the task of a building official is to implement Florida building codes and serve as building code administrator, which does not necessarily qualify the official to direct community development, or short-term and long-range plans for roads, mobility and related policies, as is currently called for in the charter.

“We’ve gotten so many complaints from the lack of responsiveness in that department, when you can’t expect a building official to carry that weight,” she said.

She said a new director of development services would oversee the existing departments, including recruitment, employment and evaluation of the planning, zoning, code compliance and public works departments, as well as supervise staff, including the building official, code compliance supervisor and public works department.

“There is real value in these being managed by a qualified director that is a leader, who has vision for the future, with sustainability, clean air and perils of flood,” Titsworth said.

She said there is $92,000 in the 2018-19 budget to pay a supervisor, including the salary for a plans examiner who resigned shortly after she took office and has not been replaced, and funds budgeted for a new permit technician position she chose not to fill.

The position is being advertised.

Titsworth added that while there has been significant discussion about changing the city form of government to include a city manager, no one has addressed the need for development services.

CRC member Nancy Deal asked Titsworth if other cities have such a department, to which the mayor replied, “Yes, most cities do. No matter their size.”

Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach do not have development services departments or heads.

Regarding changes to the existing charter positions, Titsworth said the descriptions, which were expanded in 2014, should be trimmed down.

She said there is too much language that does not belong in the charter and could be constraining for the positions.

City treasurer Lori Hill also told the committee the charter job descriptions are too detailed, which could be problematic.

“It ties our hands,” she said.

Additionally, Titsworth said the human resource analyst should be removed from the charter, as it is not a vital component of the government.

CRC member David Zaccagnino said he appreciates the mayor’s comments, but is looking forward to hearing from staff, because he “wants to make sure this is simple, but that it also has power.”

Charter changes approved by the supermajority of the committee are submitted to the city commission as an ordinance, and the commission votes to provide the ordinance for a citywide vote on the November ballot.

City attorney Patricia Petruff said she would prepare and review the ordinance for the ballot with the Manatee County Supervision of Elections.

The CRC will meet at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, for a teleconference with Florida League of Cities representative, Lynn Tipton.

Holmes Beach mayor pushes for improvements

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Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer and Mayor Judy Titsworth review a document Jan. 14 in Titsworth’s office at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

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.”

License-plate reader contracts clarified, approved in Holmes Beach

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Thomas Thanus, acting city attorney in Holmes Beach, reviews contracts Jan. 8 for a license-plate reader system during a city commission meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photo: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

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.

BB sunshine lawsuit defendants depose ex-mayor, city clerk

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Jack Clarke, complainant in a lawsuit and former mayor of Bradenton Beach, awaits his deposition Jan. 7 at Vincent M. Lucente & Associates, a court reporting office in Bradenton.
Tjet Martin, left, a defendant in the Bradenton Beach sunshine lawsuit, is seated Jan. 7 with her partner and former Mayor Bill Shearon, and the five other defendants, Bill Vincent, Reed Mapes, Patty Shay, Rose Vincent and John Metz, prior to a scheduled deposition at the court reporter’s office in Bradenton.
Attorney Thomas Shults, counsel for Bradenton Beach sunshine lawsuit defendant John Metz, prepares Jan. 7 to depose ex-Mayor Jack Clarke, a plaintiff in the suit.
Bradenton Beach city clerk Terri Sanclemente waits with attorney Robert Watrous before her Jan. 9 deposition in the Bradenton Beach versus six citizens lawsuit.

The defendants say the lawsuit is political and was filed in bad faith.

A plaintiff says he sued because the former Bradenton Beach board members broke the law.

A lawsuit filed in August 2017 by ex-Mayor Jack Clarke and joined by the city against six former city board members alleges violations of Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws.

And the case is heating up.

Clarke was deposed Jan. 7 by Jim Dye, attorney for defendant Reed Mapes, and Thomas Shults, defendant John Metz’s attorney.

City clerk Terri Sanclemente was deposed Jan. 9 by Dye and Shults.

The city’s attorney for the suit, Robert Watrous, and paralegal Michael Barfield also attended the depositions, which totaled nearly 10 hours, adding to the city’s legal fees, which now exceed $110,000.

Clarke apparently paid no legal fees and has no financial liability in the lawsuit based on an agreement signed by the city with Watrous.

The suit alleges violations of chapters 119 and 286 of the Florida Statutes by former board members Mapes, Metz, Tjet Martin, Patty Shay, and Bill and wife Rose Vincent, who were then members of the grass-roots group known as Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach.

Bill Vincent founded CNOBB as “an all-volunteer organization that advocates for and enhances the quality of life in Bradenton Beach,” according to the now-defunct group’s mission statement.

But Clarke and the city disagree with CNOBB’s mission, claiming the board members violated Sunshine Laws by discussing city matters at meetings and through emails and text messages, in their efforts to overstep the city and amend the charter through citizen initiatives, bypassing the city’s charter review mechanism.

Clarke’s deposition began with Shults asking Clarke if he understands what it means to act in “bad faith,” to which Clarke responded, “That’s not in my lexicon.”

Clarke, Metz and the city have a history of political and legal disputes, including a lawsuit filed by Metz seeking to have Clarke’s name removed from the ballot for the May 19, 2015, mayoral recall vote.

Metz alleged Clarke failed to comply with the state’s “resign-to-run” law. However, the judge was not prepared to rule on the merits of the lawsuit without further study of the authorities, so Metz voluntarily dismissed the case, according to Metz.

During the Jan. 7 deposition, Shults determined that Clarke had not attended any planning and zoning board meetings in 2017, meetings where he claims parking garages were discussed.

However, Clarke claims the former board members violated Sunshine Laws during a CNOBB meeting when they allegedly discussed proposing a charter amendment that would prevent future multilevel parking structures in the city’s community redevelopment district.

Through discovery, Shults determined that Clarke had extensive communications with a reporter for The Sun newspaper, who followed CNOBB’s actions once the group formed and also had attended P&Z board meetings.

Additionally, one of the exhibits presented by Shults was an Aug. 1, 2017, email from reporter Joe Hendricks to Barfield stating CNOBB had committed a possible Sunshine Law violation.

Barfield is known locally for his involvement in a lawsuit that resulted in a commissioner recall in 2010 in Anna Maria and other Sunshine lawsuits in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

In the email, Hendricks sent a link to an article he wrote regarding the possible violation and a recording of a July 25, 2017, CNOBB meeting when the alleged parking garage discussion took place.

The city voted to join Clarke in the lawsuit a week later, Aug. 7, 2017.

During Sanclemente’s Jan. 9 deposition, Shults inquired about who prepared her affidavit for the lawsuit.

She answered that she did not write or index the affidavit, but she signed the document that was emailed to her. She said she does not remember who wrote it.

As city clerk, Sanclemente is the keeper of the city’s public records.

Shults asked Sanclemente how the city disposes of public records — both hard copies and electronic.

She said hard copies of public records that are more than two years old are reviewed, and the police department takes unimportant documents to Tampa to be burned.

She said that as far as she knows, electronic records never have been purged, but she is working on a “disbursement list” of records for an IT company to remove from the city server.

She said the building department has a similar process, but requires state paperwork detailing the list.

Additionally, Shults asked how text messages to and from city officials are handled as public record. Sanclemente said staff and city officials are instructed not to text on city cellphones but, if they do, they have been told to save the exchange as an email and preserve the record by sending it to her.

Shults asked if she received many emailed text message records from staff and officials, to which Sanclemente replied, “No.”

At the end of the deposition, Shults made a records request to Sanclemente through Watrous, for a copy of the building department’s state form for document destruction and her disbursement list of removed emails.

He also requested a copy of the employee handbook outlining department and employee responsibilities, a document Sanclemente referred to in stating the duties of deputy clerks.

Additionally, Dye requested a copy of a meeting notice, as it would appear on the door of city hall.

A hearing for a motion of partial summary judgment for legal fees is planned for Jan. 31 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W. Bradenton.

Mediation for the parties with attorney Jack Hawkins is scheduled for Feb. 25 at the law offices of Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano, 1023 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

At a case management conference Dec. 3, Judge Lon Arend of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court ordered a nonjury trial the week of March 18.

Clams for Bradenton Beach living shoreline near delivery

Clams destined for Bradenton Beach’s living shoreline are being bagged for delivery on Pine Island.
City engineer Lynn Burnett told Community Redevelopment Agency members Jan. 9 that Carter Davis of Farm Raised Clams of Southwest Florida in James City on the south end of Pine Island is packaging 200,000 top-neck clams for the city.
She expects the shellfish to be seeded near the Historic Bridge Street Pier in late January or mid-February.
The process includes collecting broken shells, which will be placed with the clams to stave off predators, according to Burnett.

The next step in building the living shoreline will be to transport the clams from James City to Bradenton Beach. Delivery will be on a refrigerated truck provided by CRA member Ed Chiles.

The CRA also determined that local fishers will be hired to place the shellfish in the water at the pier.

CRA commissioners voted in December 2018 to purchase the clams for $32,000, with an additional $8,000 in funds to cover placement and permitting.

Chiles, who attended the meeting by speakerphone, said he is happy with the project.

The city purchased clams too mature to be consumed, but with thick enough shells to prevent predation, and the clams will have the ability to effectively reproduce.

Chiles noted, the James City clams are ideal for a restoration project because of their survivability.

“I can’t wait for those clams to be in the water,” he said.

Judge sets treehouse case for conference

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Treehouse owner Richard Hazen watches the Jan. 8 court proceedings as wife Lynn Tran talks to their attorney, David Levin of Icard Merrill of Sarasota at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

“It goes on and on and on.”

That was Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth’s reaction as she stepped out of the Jan. 8 court hearing on the treehouse that ended with another court date set for March 5.

This time the treehouse came before 12th Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas in a case filed by the city to enforce a May 2016 magistrate decision requiring the structure’s removal and $50 daily fines against owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran that have accumulated to more than $65,000.

Two motions were heard by Nicholas — Holmes Beach’s motion to default the treehouse owners for failing to initially answer the city petition and the owners’ motion to abate the enforcement case.

Jim Dye of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, attorney for the city, recounted the past five years of treehouse litigation for Nicholas, contending most issues have been decided.

Dye asked the judge to “leap over discovery,” enter an order of default and go to a hearing.

But the treehouse owners’ attorney disagreed.

“Quite frankly, we haven’t had our day in court,” attorney David Levin told the judge.

Levin, of Icard Merrill of Sarasota, contended the court hadn’t ruled directly on the constitutionality of a 50-foot setback, the basis for the city’s objection to the structure. He urged Nicholas to postpone the hearing until a separate case seeking a declaratory judgment on the validity of the setback is decided.

The dispute between the owners and city is entering its eighth year.

An anonymous tip alerted the city in 2011 about the construction of the two-story structure in a towering Australian tree on the beach.

Tran and Hazen built the structure without city and state permits at their residence at 103 29th St., where they operate Angelinos, a four-unit short-term rental.

Levin told the judge Jan. 7, “My clients actually went to the city of Holmes Beach building department before they commenced their construction. They mentioned they wanted to build a treehouse in a tree in their backyard.”

As it was on private property, Levin said, the building department advised no permits were required …until the construction was almost complete and the city initiated a code enforcement action.

That argument, as well as challenges to the constitutionality of the setback, were lost by the owners in another treehouse case that was litigated to final appeal.

In 2013, the owners challenged the city code board decision, which was upheld in September 2014 in a 28-page opinion by 12th Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan.

Dye tendered the Dunnigan opinion and other prior court decisions to Nicholas in the courtroom.

After hearing arguments by Dye and Levin, Nicholas ruled the city’s default motion “moot,” due to a recently filed response from Levin.

The judge denied the owners’ motion to abate “without prejudice,” meaning the decision could be revisited, and set a 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 5, case management conference to consider discovery and to resolve the owners’ 2013 setback case.

In addition to the city enforcement case and the owners’ petition to declare the setback unconstitutional, the owners filed — without an attorney — to stop the city from destroying the treehouse and halt the accumulation of daily fines.

The owners’ filed for a temporary injunction in mid-December 2018, naming the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as respondents.

As of Jan. 10, the court had no DEP response.

In 2012, the owners sought an after-the-fact permit for the treehouse construction, but the city refused to sign off on a letter of no objection to the DEP and DEP denied a permit in January 2014.

Other litigation included the owners’ bid to put the fate of the treehouse on a citywide ballot.

After losing that case in circuit court, the owners appealed to Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which declined to review their petition.

Numerous other appeals have resulted in courts siding with the city.

The March 5 conference will be at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

FISH hopes to grow fishing festival, improve ‘catch’

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T-shirts at this year’s Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival will feature a design by Rose Lipke, chair of the 37th annual fishing festival in Cortez. The festival will be Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 16-17, between Cortez Road West and the working waterfront on Sarasota Bay. Islander Courtesy Graphic

Commercial fishers battle many odds to bring in a catch.

“Changing Tides” is this year’s theme for the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage Commercial Fishing Festival — the annual fundraiser for the now 229-member group, dedicated to preserving commercial fishing and maritime cultures as well as the coastal environment.

The event is set for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 16-17.

Since August, Cortez fishers have been battling losses due to red tide while their support group has been preparing for the fest.

FISH vice president Jane von Hahmann and artist Rose Lipke, festival chair since 2015, said this year’s fest won’t be that different from last year’s, although FISH will increase its advertising on social media, with paid-Facebook boosts and other tools.

Festival planners hope to improve their catch — proceeds from the event.

The fest will kick off at 10 a.m. Feb. 16 with a “blessing of the fleet” and feature 60 art vendors, 20 food vendors and other exhibits, as well as the annual favorite, Dock Talks, a feature organized by FISH member John Stevely, a former University of Florida Sea Grant scientist.

Lipke said some vendors will be brought closer to the streets than last year but she and her committee still must iron out the details.

In the past, a nonprofit group of Cortez fishers, Fishing for Freedom, sponsored touch tanks and cast net demonstrations, but their 2019 contribution is uncertain, according to FFF president Mark Coarsey.

“The boys are having to fish farther away,” Lipke said about red tide’s effect on local fishers and their catch — including losses from the stone crab season.

“Although the bait is coming inshore now, the mullet fishers are working down south, Everglade City, and trucking it back,” she added.

Coarsey planned to meet with his members in the next week to decide on the group’s participation in the festival.

Entertainment for Feb. 16 includes the Shanty Singers, Doug Demming, Eric von Band and Koko Ray.

The Feb. 17 lineup includes Soupy Davis and his band, Ted Stevens & the Doo Shots, Jason Haram and the Karen and Jimmy Band, as well as the Eric von Band on the Bratton Store porch.

“We definitely don’t want beautiful beach weather,” von Hahmann said, as last year’s dismal turnout was blamed on sunny skies, poor signage and more festivals competing for seasonal traffic, including the Thunder by the Bay Music & Motorcycle Festival in Sarasota.

In 2018, FISH recorded 13,000 attendees, with $54,000 in profits. In 2017, a first-day rainout saw lower attendance at 17,000 — but slightly better profits at $80,000. In 2016, the celebration drew an estimated 18,000-19,000 visitors and raised $118,000 in net proceeds.

With the online applications, food vendors have been encouraged to identify their source of products. For artists, 70 percent of their work must reflect commercial fishing, historic preservation, the Florida coastal ecosystem or traditional crafts.

Festival profits support habitat restoration on the 100-acre FISH Preserve bordering Sarasota Bay, as well as the group’s historic buildings and educational and environmental pursuits.

For more information about the fest or vendor applications, go to: www.cortez-fish.org/fishing-festival.

Holmes Beach fights suit filed over treehouse fate, fines

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Owners of the treehouse built in an Australian pine on their beachfront at 103 29th St. in Holmes Beach have been fighting city hall for eight years to retain the structure. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

A new chapter has opened in the long-running saga of the treehouse owners.

In this new effort, a petition from the owners dredges up matters already in court or decided at trial and in appeal.

That is the Holmes Beach view of the new case opened in 12th Circuit Court by treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, according to motions filed Jan. 3 by attorney Jim Dye, of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, for the city.

Dye filed motions to dismiss, to request a more definite statement and to strike the owners’ petition for a temporary injunction.

Dye criticized the owners’ petition in his filing, describing it as “a free-flowing attempt unconnected to a proper lawsuit to enjoin the city from doing undescribed actions.”

The owners’ filed the petition pro se — without an attorney — in mid-December, asking the court to end the daily fines and prevent the demolition of the treehouse. It names the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as respondents.

The DEP was served Dec. 20, 2018, but had not responded as of Jan. 4.

In 2016, the city ordered Tran and Hazen to remove the treehouse and comply with the land-development code, imposing a fine of $50 a day as of July 22, 2015.

The owners’ petition states that some $65,000 in “illegally excessive and unfounded” fines have accumulated, but they are seeking to halt the fines going forward, not the accrued fine.

Asked about whether she will seek to reduce the accumulated fine, Tran said Jan. 4 that “For now,” she is not asking to have the fine forgiven. “I will eventually.”

Tran and Hazen built the treehouse in 2011 without permits required by the city and state for the beachfront property 20 feet west of 103 29th St., where they live and operate short-term rentals known as Angelinos Sea Lodge.

An anonymous tip to the city about beachfront construction resulted in a referral to the DEP and the city refused to waive its 50-foot setback.

Tran and Hazen have brought a number of challenges related to their treehouse through attorney David Levin of Icard Merrill of Sarasota.

Prior litigation included city code board appeals as well as a bid to allow a citywide vote on the fate of the treehouse, which the owners took to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court declined to review the case and allowed the trial court decision to stand.

In addition to owners’ new petition, there are two pending treehouse actions in the 12th Circuit Court.

In February 2018, the city filed a case seeking to enforce the 2016 city magistrate order.

And a 2013 challenge to the constitutionality of the city’s setback rule was reinvigorated in 2018 by Levin before it was set by the court for dismissal due to inactivity.

The opposing motions in the code enforcement case are coming up for a hearing before Judge Lon Arend after press time Jan. 8.

Commissioner hopes to boost business, Anna Maria park events

The loss of one treasure may have led to the discovery of another amenity’s value.

Pine Avenue has become host to a stream of people drawn to City Pier Park, situated at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard in Anna Maria, as they take part in such city-sponsored events as weekly winter farmers markets and Movies in the Park.

When the historic Anna Maria City Pier was closed in September 2017 due to storm damage, Mayor Dan Murphy proposed a market to draw people to Pine Avenue, one of two main commercial streets in the city, and to create a sense of community.

The city commission approved a seasonal Tuesday market and later approved Movies in the Park, a weekly event in which the city screens a family-friendly film and provides beverages to viewers.

The events have been a hit, according to the mayor.

“I look at the Movies in the Park last Wednesday, for example,” he said in an interview Jan. 2. “There were over 80 people there. I’ve only gotten positive feedback for the events, and people seem to be happy that we are successful in building a sense of community in the city.”

Commission Chair Brian Seymour said in an interview Jan. 2, “I really do feel that so far the events have been a huge success. The farmers market on Tuesdays is very well attended and the amount of vendors that keep coming back weekly show it’s worth their time.”

Karsen Lonzo, manager of Island Cabana, 403 Pine Ave., said events have helped minimize economic losses due to the loss of traffic to the old pier and the effects of red tide.

“Having the pier being closed hasn’t really affected us a lot, but I think that might be because they do the events at the park,” she said in an interview Jan. 3. “On Tuesdays, when there is the farmers market, we see tons of people coming in with bags and produce.”

In addition to the Lilly Pulitzer women’s clothing sign at the front of the shop, Lonzo said the Island Cabana doubles down on its most recognizable brand to capitalize on Tuesdays’ increased traffic by providing Pulitzer-branded bags to carry away purchases.

Seymour, citing the success of ongoing events, wants to see more events in the park, which in addition to the markets and screenings has hosted some holiday events.

“I would definitely like to see events continue after the pier is finished,” said Seymour, who has a business on Pine Avenue, the Anna Maria General Store. “They help us build community spirit.”

“Some ideas we need to discuss, but I have heard or been asked about looking into musical events in the park, community yard-sale type of events, etc.,” he said. “We are trying to add fiscally responsible events, as setup and cleanup is handled by our city staff, which could get out of control cost-wise if we try and do a lot of events.”

Murphy encouraged people to bring community-minded events to the space, like when the Anna Maria Island Privateers hosted Snooks Adams Kids Day at the park in 2018.

“I don’t think City Pier Park should ever turn into a commercial venue,” the mayor said. “But I think it is a great venue for nonprofits to have events.

Groups or individuals interested in hosting an event in the park must obtain a special event permit from the city, which requires commission approval, payment of a $200 nonrefundable fee and submission of a site plan or drawing for the event, as well as proof of insurance with a minimum of $1,000,000 in general liability coverage.

“It’s a great venue for community-type events, not just city-sponsored events,” Murphy said.

However, he cautioned, “I think you can reach a tipping point, and I don’t want to reach a tipping point, but it’s good to see people back on Pine Avenue now and on Gulf Drive. It’s good to see people back in our city.”

City delays depositions in Bradenton Beach sunshine suit

It looks like the tables have turned.

A lawsuit filed in August 2017 by the city of Bradenton Beach alleging six former board members violated Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law is being met with frustration from the defendants, the same former volunteers previously accused by city officials of delaying depositions, failing to provide documents and prolonging the suit.

The city now has claimed scheduling delays as the defendants attempt to set depositions for city planner Alan Garrett, city clerk Terri Sanclemente, city attorney Ricinda Perry and ex-mayor Jack Clarke.

Clarke initiated the suit that was joined by the city.

At past city commission meetings, Mayor John Chappie and Perry accused the defendants of deliberately dragging the matter out but recent scheduling snafus look like a turnabout.

The defendants are Reed Mapes, Tjet Martin, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill and Rose Vincent.

The suit alleges violations of the Sunshine Law with regard to unnoticed meetings and emails of a grass-roots organization, Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach, between the members, some of whom served on city boards.

A deposition scheduled for Jan. 4 for Garrett was canceled the day prior due to scheduling mix-ups by Michael Barfield, the paralegal for attorney Robert Watrous, who is representing Clarke and the city, according to Barfield Jan. 4 during an interview with The Islander.

Perry’s deposition, originally planned for Dec. 17, 2018, has been postponed for medical reasons until mid-February.

Unless another cancellation occurs, Clarke was to be deposed Jan. 7, as The Islander went to press, and Sanclemente was to be deposed Jan. 9.

All but two of the pretrial interrogatories of the defendants have been conducted by Watrous and thousands of pages of documents have been submitted by the former city board members.

Defendant Mapes was deposed May 30, 2018, Martin June 1 and Shay June 5. CNOBB founder Bill Vincent was deposed Dec. 12.

Metz and Rose Vincent are yet to be deposed.

Commissioner Randy White — not a defendant, but a supporter of CNOBB — was deposed Nov. 14 allegedly for communication with defendants before and after his election in November 2017.

In an August 2018 email from Watrous to the Vincents, who had a vacation planned months in advance of the deposition scheduled by Watrous, the lawyer wrote, “You do not have the automatic right to declare lengthy vacations on a last-minute basis. Indeed this appears to be a delay tactic on your part.”

In an interview Jan. 3, Martin said the city has the burden of proof as the plaintiff, but the defendants also have the right to conduct their own discovery.

Martin said Chappie and Perry have publicly stated the defendants should admit guilt and settle.

“Has it ever occurred to them that we have done nothing wrong?” Martin said. “I can’t live my life under this suit that the city has brought against us with no evidence.”

Except for Metz, represented by attorney Thomas Shults, the defendants are not represented by attorneys, citing increasing legal expenses as the case crawls along.

When the investigation for the lawsuit was approved by the city in 2017, the commission voted to execute a contract with Watrous and Barfield, not to exceed $5,000.

Since that vote, the lawsuit has cost the city more than $110,000.

At a case management conference Dec. 3, Judge Lon Arend of the Manatee County 12th Judicial Circuit Court ordered a nonjury trial the week of March 18.

Judge Edward Nicholas is assigned to the case going forward in 2019.

Additionally, a hearing for a motion of partial summary judgment for legal fees is planned for Jan. 31 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.