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Vol. 17 No. 43 - August 9, 2017

headlines

Sunshine lawsuit forthcoming

Carol Whitmore

joe hendricks | SUN

From left, Commissioners John Chappie, Ralph Cole and
Jake Spooner voted in support of the proposed legal action,
and Mayor Bill Shearon opposed it during Monday’s meeting.

BRADENTON BEACH – Sarasota attorney Robert Watrous and legal consultant and Sunshine Law expert Michael Barfield have taken the initial steps in filing a Sunshine violation lawsuit against planning board member John Metz and former planning board members Reed Mapes, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent.

Barfield confirmed Monday that the intent was to name the four individuals as defendants in a lawsuit to be filed later that afternoon or Tuesday morning.

Former Mayor Jack Clarke and the city of Bradenton Beach have joined in legal action against the planning board members and will be co-represented by Watrous and his legal team.

During Monday's commission meeting, which was a continuation of the Thursday, Aug. 3, meeting, the commission voted 3-1 in favor of Mayor Bill Shearon executing the contract with Watrous, not to exceed $5,000. Shearon opposed the action and Commissioner Marilyn Maro had left the meeting by that time.

During the preliminary discussion Thursday night, the commission voted 5-0 in favor of joining in the legal action to determine if Sunshine violations occurred.

City Attorney Ricinda Perry had been informed by Barfield that legal action was forthcoming, but at the time it was not known that Clarke was also involved.

“There’s a cloud there that has to be addressed by somebody who can look at everything presented to them and make a ruling,” Chappie said Monday.

When Shearon complained about the hourly rates charged by Watrous’ team, Chappie said, “And what price do we put on preserving and protecting the integrity of our government?”

Shearon said the legal action would leave a cloud over the city for months to come. Perry said Barfield believed the matter could be resolved sooner than that.

Alleged violations

The lawsuit pertains to a parking garage discussion at the July 25 Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) steering committee meeting. The meeting took place at the Annie Silver Community Center, which is not city property; and the meeting was not officially noticed by the city clerk’s office.

During that meeting, four planning board members who also served on the steering committee expressed their desire to prohibit the construction of a parking garage anywhere in the city. Sunshine law prohibits elected officials and appointed board members from discussing matters that could foreseeably come before them, except for in a properly noticed city meeting.

Perry said the Watrous would seek a non-criminal declaratory judgement from a judge who will be asked to determine whether Sunshine violations occurred. The lawsuit will also seek an injunctive ruling that addresses remedies if any violations occurred.

Emergency action

Thursday night’s discussion took place at Chappie’s request, in response to an e-mail Perry sent the commission on July 29.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is and how damaging it can be,” Chappie said, regarding Sunshine Law compliance discussion.

He also expressed disappointment with Shearon’s decision to not add the discussion to the agenda in advance, as requested by Perry.

Shearon cited concerns about an already lengthy agenda and said he took offense to Chappie’s comment.

Perry said the city of Sarasota recently spent close to $400,000 defending a Sunshine lawsuit.

“Mr. Barfield contacted me. He advised me that he was aware of the activities of the CNOBB group and he had concerns with the actions. He was letting me know that his group was looking at investigating this,” she said.

“I think that’s a safe, proactive course of action for the city,” Perry said regarding the city joining in the legal action rather than risk being named as a defendant for failing to respond to Sunshine compliance concerns.

“I think we need to do whatever we can to protect the city,” Commissioner Ralph Cole said.

Resignations tendered

Vincent resigned during Thursday’s meeting. He said that would help prevent future Sunshine Law conflicts. He also said city board members would no longer be allowed to serve on CNOBB’s steering committee.

“I’ve been naïve and perhaps misguided in thinking that grown adults, knowing about the Sunshine Law, could voluntarily and effectively stay away from it,” he said.

Mapes and Shay resigned the following day. Metz has given no indication that he intends to resign.

Snooty cause may be headed for courts
Carol Whitmore

THOMAS BENDER/SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE | SUBMITTED

A photo taken on Snooty’s 69th birthday, Friday, July 21, 2017,
shows what appears to be a loose access panel, which he swam
through sometime after his birthday party on July 22 or 23.
He became trapped behind the panel and drowned.

 

Justice for Snooty organizer Denise Anderson said Monday she is planning to sue the South Florida Museum for what she calls negligence in the drowning of Manatee County’s official mascot, Snooty the manatee.

Anderson organized a protest at the museum on Saturday, where Florida Voices for Animals members called for the dismissal of museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio and COO Jeff Rodgers.

If they are not fired, “I will personally file a lawsuit,” Anderson told The Sun. “Snooty’s death by drowning is 100 percent due to the negligence of the South Florida Museum, and we want those negligent employees removed.”

Snooty was discovered drowned the morning of Sunday, July 23, the day after his gala birthday party and two days after his 69th birthday. He was trapped in a small area used to access the aquarium’s life support equipment, according to museum officials, who said he entered through a dislodged access panel secured by four screws and inspected daily by divers.

The world’s oldest known manatee, Snooty was too large to turn around in the confined space, and manatees are unable to swim backwards, officials said.

Photographs published by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that apparently show the access panel attached by only one screw the day before the birthday party added to Anderson’s resolve to stand up for Snooty.

“The reason I did the protest was that the COO said that divers checked that panel every day, and "I thought it was suspicious that it completely fell off overnight,” the Manatee County native said.

“That’s not the way Snooty should have left us,” Anderson said. As a captive-born manatee, “His whole life was 100 percent dependent on the museum. The number one job at the museum is to provide a safe environment for Snooty and the other manatees,” she said. “And they failed.”

The museum has since installed 10 stainless steel screws to replace the four that originally fastened the corners, and three half-inch, high-density PVC supports to block the panel.

The museum also has requested a review of its procedures, protocols and facility by the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, a group of not-for-profit, private, state and federal entities.

Anderson’s grief and the heartache of a worldwide community who loved Snooty as a family pet has given her courage to step into the spotlight, where she has received some hateful responses, but mostly encouragement, she said.

“He’s not here to speak for himself,” Anderson said. “I would take a bullet for him.”

If you have any information about Snooty’s death, contact Anderson at 941-284-4612.

Petition drives start in Bradenton Beach

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

joe hendricks | SUN

CNOBB steering committee member Reed Mapes presents
petition initiative forms to his fellow committee members.

BRADENTON BEACH – The Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach (CNOBB) group is conducting a petition drive in hopes of getting three charter amendment questions placed on the November ballot.

CNOBB members want city voters to eliminate the four geographically-defined city commission wards that require one commissioner come from each ward in addition to an at-large mayor. They also want to reduce candidate residency requirements from two years to one.

The third proposed amendment addresses the City Commission’s ability to interpret, define or clarify the city charter. The charter serves as the city’s constitution in terms of how the city is governed. The charter can only be amended by city voters.

During the Thursday, Aug. 3, CNOBB steering committee meeting at the Pines Trailer Park, member Reed Mapes provided copies of the petition forms to be finalized and distributed to as many registered city voters as possible. The forms can be viewed and downloaded at www.CNOBB.org, using the Initiatives tab.

Voting wards

The ballot summary for eliminating voting wards says: “In recent elections, several wards have been unable to produce any candidates for commissioner. This amendment will produce more qualified and interested candidates for commission races.

“All wards would be eliminated. Commissioners would be elected at large as terms expire or vacancies occur. The candidate receiving the highest number of votes will be elected first; the candidate with the second highest number of votes will be elected second, and so on, until all vacancies are filled.”

Eliminating commission wards could result in the City Commission consisting of multiple members from the same neighborhood, mobile home park, condominium complex or end of town.

Residency

The ballot summary for reducing residency requirements says: “Reducing the residency requirement for candidates will provide more qualified candidates for city offices. In recent elections, we have had few candidates available; and in some cases, no candidates at all. A one-year residency requirement has been held constitutional by a Florida court.”

Last year, city voters supported increasing the residency requirement from nine months to two years.

Charter interpretation

The ballot summary language pertaining to charter interpretation by the City Commission is the most opinionated of the three: “The charter is our local constitution. Occasionally, commission majorities seek to redefine of interpret the charter to advance their own objectives without regard to a public consensus of the public good.”

This proposed amendment is partially inspired by a commission-initiated ordinance adopted by 3-1 vote in 2016. The ordinance clarifies the commission’s understanding of the charter as it pertains to the mayor and commission’s supervisory authority over city department heads in a weak mayor form of government.

Procedural steps

Mapes said 604 city voters participated in last November’s city elections, which means the group needs at least 61 (10 percent) verified signatures from registered city voters for each petition initiative to move forward. To be safe, Mapes encourages members to collect at least 100 signatures for each petition initiative. The signatures will be presented to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, which will verify or reject each signature received.

According to City Attorney Ricinda Perry, the ballot language must also be reviewed to ensure constitutional compliance with the city charter. If the proposed amendments meet constitutional standards, city voters will have the opportunity to accept or reject them in November.

Mapes said Assistant Supervisor of Elections Scott Farrington told him that he was not aware of any previous attempts to amend a city charter via citizen initiated referendum in Manatee County.

Final Cortez Bridge hearing set

 

SUN FILE PHOTO

The future of a Cortez Bridge, whether a drawbridge or
a fixed-span, will be decided after this public hearing on
Thursday, Aug. 31, starting at 5 p.m. at Kirkwood Presbyterian
Church at 6101 Cortez Road W. in west Bradenton.

CORTEZ – The stage is set for the final showdown on the future of the Cortez Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has scheduled a final Project Development and Environment meeting on the 60-year-old drawbridge on Thursday, Aug 31, at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church, 6101 Cortez Road W. in Bradenton. The hearing starts at 5 p.m. with message boards and maps and project officials who will be available to answer questions. Around 6 p.m., there will a video and more questions. Attendees will have the opportunity to express their preferences.

A four-year history

FDOT began collecting information on the future of the bridge in 2013 when staff members manned at a booth at the Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on Feb. 16 and 17. They collected 168 opinions at the festival. Fifty-six percent wanted to rehabilitate the bridge, and 36 percent wanted to replace it.

FDOT held a public kickoff meeting on April 30, 2013. About 170 people attended the three-hour open house at Kirkwood Presbyterian Church.

Staff discussed project issues using aerial photographs of the existing bridge and the surrounding study area. A video explained the study process.

FDOT distributed surveys by U.S. mail and received almost 850 completed surveys. They also received 38 written comment sheets, letters and e-mails through the study website. The results of the completed surveys received in April and May indicated:

• 51 percent favored further rehabilitation of Cortez Bridge;
• 43 percent favored replacement of the bridge;
Of those in favor of bridge replacement:
• 38 percent preferred a high-level fixed bridge;
• 19 percent opted for a mid-level drawbridge;
• 33 percent wanted a low-level drawbridge;
• 4 percent favor another option such as a tunnel or another bridge to Longboat Key.

At an alternatives public meeting on Aug. 28, 2014, at St. Bernard Catholic Church, in Holmes Beach, 87 people attended and 60 responded to a questionnaire. Eleven percent wanted to repair the bridge, 23 percent wanted to rehabilitate it, while 72 percent favored replacing it. Preferences for a replacement bridge were 16 percent for a low-level drawbridge, 33 percent for a mid-level drawbridge and 21 percent for a high-level fixed-span bridge. Nineteen percent wanted another plan, such as a new bridge to Longboat Key.

Fixed span gains fans

It was back to St. Bernard Church for the highway department on Aug. 9, 2016, where 179 people attended another public alternative meeting. FDOT officials stressed the fact that the bridge is rapidly deteriorating. To date, they have received 425 completed comment sheets, and the results are 5 percent prefer a low-level drawbridge, 19 percent favor the mid-level drawbridge and 44 percent want the high-level fixed span. Four percent want a new bridge to Longboat Key.

In the past, residents of Cortez Village have opposed the high-level bridge saying it would be out of character with the village’s cottages. They say the higher bridge would have to be longer than the low-level bridge it replaces, impacting some businesses along Cortez Road.

Demise of the day dock

joe hendricks | SUN

Live-aboard boaters and their dinghies must now share this
city-owned dock with tour boat operators and others.

BRADENTON BEACH – The storm-damaged floating day dock next to the Historic Bridge Street Pier is permanently closed and will not reopen until a new dock is installed in September or October.

Police Chief Sam Speciale and the City Commission reached this decision last week after discussing the damage Tropical Storm Emily did to the dock. The structure is no longer safe for public use because waves tore apart the connecting hinges that hold the dock sections together.

Speciale anticipated the dock being removed Tuesday, Aug. 8, weather permitting. John Banyas and his crew from the N.E. Taylor Boatworks in Cortez will remove what remains of the dock. In June 2016, Banyas and his crew removed dock sections damaged by Tropical Storm Colin.

The dock closing means recreational and commercial boaters can no longer access the AMOB on the Pier restaurant and Bridge Street via the pier.

Paradise Boat Tours and other commercial entities that use the day dock can use the south side of the small city-owned dock near the Bridge Tender Inn. That dock is referred to as the dinghy dock, but Speciale is quick to note that it’s never been officially designated for exclusive use by the live-aboard boaters in the nearby anchorage.

This temporary arrangement will require cooperation between commercial boat captains, who will be allowed to dock on the north side of the dinghy dock on a short-term basis, preferably 15 minutes or less, and the live-aboard boaters, who can still leave their dinghies on the north side.

The Public Works Department has already taken steps to ensure American Disabilities Act compliance for tour boat passengers and others, and the police department will help educate dock users on the need for shared cooperation.

New dock coming

In March, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), chaired by City Commissioner Ralph Cole, approved a $119,980 contract for North Palm Beach based Technomarine to manufacture and install a new floating dock system built to withstand Category 3 hurricanes. The Manatee County Commission pledged up to $125,000 in matching Tourist Development Council/resort tax funds for the pending dock replacement.

Bradenton Area sticks with Visit Florida

The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is not among the tourism marketing agencies cutting ties with Visit Florida, the statewide tourism agency, according to Director Elliott Falcione.

“We have the utmost trust and faith in Ken Lawson’s ability to be transparent and manage Visit Florida better than ever before,” he said Monday.

Tourism programs that have cut ties with Visit Florida include Amelia Island, Brevard County, Discover the Palm Beaches, Experience Kissimmee, Florida Keys & Key West, Franklin County, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Orlando North/Seminole County, Santa Rosa County, Visit Orlando, Visit Tampa Bay and Visit South Walton, according to media reports around the state. Some cite the Florida Legislature’s new requirements that employee salaries be included in contracts with businesses or governmental agencies that receive public funds from the state or from local tourist taxes.

The requirements are the Legislature’s response to a secret $1 million Visit Florida music video contract with Miami music artist Pitbull uncovered in a 2016 lawsuit filed by Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O’Lakes), which prompted the Legislature to propose cutting the agency’s budget to $25 million.

After lobbying by Gov. Rick Scott, lawmakers raised the funding allocation to $76 million. In 2015-16, Visit Florida had $74 million in public funding and $133 million in private funding, according to the agency.

Police agencies help find suicidal woman

HOLMES BEACH – Quick action by Island police agencies may have helped save a woman's life.

On Saturday, July 29, Island law enforcement worked together to find a visitor that had expressed a desire to kill herself.

It began when a friend of the woman called the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office to report that her friend had tweeted she was going to commit suicide on Anna Maria Island.

According to a Sheriff's Office report, local law enforcement immediately began looking for the woman, first checking in all the local watering holes. The woman was described as in her 50s and having blond hair.

The Sheriff’s Office dispatch tried to call the woman on her cell phone and eventually she answered. She said she was at a motel, but would not say which one. The report said she was slurring her words and told the deputy she had consumed pills and alcohol. She eventually dropped her phone.

The deputy then started searching motels in Anna Maria, while Holmes Beach police did the same in that city. They finally found her at Haley’s Motel in Anna Maria.

Dispatch could hear the officers knocking on the door from the woman’s cell phone, which was still on an open line. They made their way in and found her unconscious, but alive. She was taken to Blake Medical Center, however, authorities are not releasing her condition at this time. Holmes Beach police are continuing the investigating.

Aqua by the Bay hearings to resume

joe hendricks | SUN

From left, Aqua by the Bay developer Carlos Beruff
and attorney Ed Vogler previously presented their much-debated
development plans to county commissioners in May.

BRADENTON– On Thursday, August 10, the Manatee County Planning Commission will conduct its second review of the controversial Aqua by the Bay development being proposed by Carlos Beruff and his development team.

The Planning Commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m., with two time-certain agenda items to precede the Aqua by the Bay review. The meeting will take place in the Manatee County Commission chambers at 1112 Manatee Ave. W. in downtown Bradenton, and is scheduled to go until 5 p.m. if necessary.

The meeting will be streamed live at www.mymanatee.org and the video feed can be accessed using the MGA TV Live Stream link found in the left column of the county’s home page.

The planning commissioners will have more information on proposed high-rise building heights and locations than what was first presented to them in April and County Commissioners in May.

The planning commissioners will be asked to render a majority opinion as to whether they feel the project that now includes as many as 16 high-rises, a man-made estuary enhancement area and retaining wall and a man-made Crystal Lagoon is consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and land development code.

The Planning Commission recommendation will be forwarded to the County Commission and taken into consideration when county commissioners attempt to make some final decisions on the proposed general development plan and rezoning requests at the Wednesday, Aug. 16, land use meeting. The land use meeting will begin at 9 a.m. and could go until 5 p.m. or later. That meeting will also be streamed live online.

The Planning Commission and County Commission meetings will both allow for public input and a large turnout is expected at both meetings.

The county meetings were to be preceded by a Tuesday, Aug. 8, public forum hosted by Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club, ManaSota 88 and others at the Cortez Road Baptist Church.



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