Vol. 15 No. 9 - December 24, 2014
Dear Santa, Students have last-minute wishes
HOLMES BEACH – As the clock wound down on the last school day before the Christmas break, students at Anna Maria Elementary were getting ready by cleaning their desks and making sure their assignments were done. The Sun wondered what some of those kids were dreaming about finding under the Christmas tree.
Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison took notes and made sure names were spelled correctly as we wandered the halls, visiting classrooms. Here’s what they said they wanted.
1. Gabriel Djakov asks for a Star Wars tanker.
2. Lily Stringer simply said, “I really want to see Santa.”
3. Lorena Danolic wants a Doc McStuffins Play Set.
4. Heidi Querrard would like a Princess Doll.
5. Emerson Edixon asks for an American Girl Doll.
6. Alyssa Sparks wants a Minecraft Game with an X Box and full controller.
7. Tristan Watson, who attended AMI and is now at Bradenton Christian, got his wish. He’s going on a weeklong trip to Disney World.
8. Kaleb Rice wants video games for his play station.
9. David Connerton asked for an iPhone.
10. Finally, Mrs Harrison told everyone what she wanted for Christmas and every day of the year – peace.
So, make sure you leave Santa some cookies and hot chocolate, kids, and hope he reads The Sun to find out your Christmas wishes.
Endangered bird may delay pier rebuild
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the red knot, a shorebird that frequents Anna Maria Island, as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
A designation of threatened means a species is at risk of becoming endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The new listing may delay the already-permitted removal of three crumbling erosion control groins and the construction of three new permeable adjustable groins in Bradenton Beach until the federal government grants permission to proceed or specifies further permit conditions to protect the birds, said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.
The Manatee County Commission awarded the contract for the project last week to Cayo LLC of Fort Worth, Tex., for $4,412,415 with 285 days for completion.
The project is necessary to prevent road damage to Gulf Drive in the event of a storm, according to Hunsicker.
Listing the species will be good for the birds, said Suzi Fox, director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, which worked on a study of red knots three years ago with Eckerd College.
The purpose of the month-long study was to see if cordoning off a section of beach would be beneficial to red knots, but the birds didn’t stay within the boundaries, preferring the open beach, she said. Other bird species readily nest inside cordoned areas on the beach.
Turtle Watch is working on a plan to help beachgoers and beachfront property owners identify and understand the species and share the beach with them, Fox said.
The birds winter on Anna Maria Island during their migration of thousands of miles from the Canadian Arctic to the southern tip of South America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cites development, climate change, and the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay as bait as reasons for the listing. The birds feed on eggs during the spawning of horseshoe crabs.
One red knot, banded in 1995 by biologists in Argentina, has been named Moonbird because he has flown the equivalent of a trip to the moon and at least halfway back in its 21 or more years of migrations, according to the service.
JOE HENDRICKS | SUN
From left, recall committee chair Pete Barreda looks on as
Bradenton Beach resident Mitchell Ladeweski signs the recall petition
BRADENTON BEACH – As promised, former City Commissioner Pete Barreda was sitting in the Gulf Drive Café’s Kokonut Hut Wednesday afternoon, making available to city voters the recall petition that could lead to a special election that would determine whether Mayor Bill Shearon finishes his term in office.
Barreda, the recall committee chair, sat ready with a folder filled with 200 unsigned copies of the single-page document. Each form is designed to accommodate one signee, and the verified signatures of at least 100 registered city voters must be collected in order for the recall effort to continue. If fewer than 100 verified signatures are collected, this particular recall effort dies.
The petition to recall Mayor William Shearon states, “We, the undersigned, registered and qualified voters of the city of Bradenton Beach, Manatee County, Florida, pursuant to 100.361, Florida Statutes, petition for the recall of William Shearon, holding the office of mayor in the city of Bradenton Beach.”
The form includes a Statement of Grounds that lists the two counts of alleged wrongdoing that serve as legal grounds for a recall effort.
“Count 1 – Malfeasance: On or about Feb. 6, 2014, Mayor William Shearon violated the Sunshine Law by engaging in a discussion with, and soliciting a response from, another city commissioner via e-mail on the topic of pending litigation, a matter involving city business that was reasonably foreseeable to come before the city commission and without advance notice to the public in violation of Art. 1. Sec. 24(b), Florida Constitution and 286.011, Florida Statutes.”
The litigation referred to is a lawsuit filed by the BeachHouse restaurant ownership group alleging that Shearon exceeded his mayoral authority in an attempt to thwart future development plans.
The second alleged count of malfeasance says: “On or about April 21, 2014, Mayor William Shearon violated the Sunshine Law by engaging in a discussion with another city commissioner via e-mail on the topic of special events, a matter involving official city business that was reasonably foreseeable to come before the city commission and without advance notice to the public.”
This charge pertains to Shearon’s correspondence with Commissioner Janie Robertson regarding her efforts to revise the special event permitting process.
The petition form explains the legal requirements of the signee in terms of being a city resident and a registered city voter, lists Barreda as the chair of the recall committee and provides space for the signature of the person witnessing the signature.
While awaiting his first signee, Barreda reiterated that his goal is to keep the recall process as professional as possible. He also noted that he has not publically stated his personal stance on the matter.
“I never said I wanted him out,” Barreda said.
“How I feel about it isn’t important,” he added.
Mitchell Ladeweski has attended many of the forfeiture of office meetings that have taken place at city hall in recent months, and he was among the first to sign the recall petition.
“I think the people should have the right to make the decision. I’ve been in the meetings, and we don’t get anywhere, and we’re spending too much money in the process,” he said.
His female companion said she preferred the recall method over the commission-led forfeiture proceedings because the recall effort is not prone to attorney fees and endless appeals.
Like Barreda, neither Ladeweski nor his companion indicated whether they support the mayor or support him being removed from office; and Barreda encouraged all city voters to sign the petition, regardless of where they stand on the issue.
The recall committee now has 30 days from Dec. 17 to submit its petition signatures to the Supervisor of Elections for verification. If this effort is successful, Shearon will be given the chance to add a 200 word rebuttal to a second petition form that would require approximately 115 signatures in order to trigger a special election.
Petition sheets can be obtained by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fire commissioner assails district for spending
BRADENTON – Tempers flared at last week’s meeting of the West Manatee Fire Commission when Commissioner George Harris asked if they should limit the amount of information that a single commissioner can request from the staff without board approval.
“I believe your pointing at me,” Commissioner Al Robinson said.
“Yes sir, I am,” Harris replied.
Robinson responded that in the last 24 hours, the district spent $17,000 and spends $500,000 a month and $6 million per year.
“When I chose to run, I had a platform to try and stop the hemorrhaging of money,” Robinson said. “Three thousand people gave me that mandate. We’re spending money like crazy, and I can’t make decisions unless I know the economics.”
He then passed out a memo listing costs including capital items purchased in the past five years and for more than $35,000 each at a total of $658,000, remodeling Station 1 in Holmes Beach at $360,000, purchasing and remodeling of the administration building at $1.6 million, and remodeling of Station 2 in Cortez at $1.5 million for a total of $4.3 million.
“Word on the street, and I can’t get a straight answer out of anybody, is we’re going to spend $2 million on this building over here (Station 4) and heard today about a $400,000 jet boat.
“It’s flabbergasting the way we spend money,” he said. “We’re not living within our means. We’re spending the taxpayers’ money. We’re over the top.”
Harris said it took staff several hours and cost $154 to get the information for Robinson and added, “My concern is that this request may be the tip of the iceberg. I think it would be advantageous for this board to address what an individual commissioner can request.”
Incoming Fire Chief Tom Sousa said they should develop guidelines on the process for commissioners to seek information, “not to try to squelch getting information,” but to govern staff time in providing it.
Commissioner David Bishop, the incoming chair, asked if Harris wanted the issue on the next meeting agenda and Harris replied, “Yes; it needs to be addressed,”
Station 4 report
Sousa reported on information he had gathered on potential sites for rebuilding Station 4. Two sites are being evaluated – the current site at 407 67th Street W. in Bradenton and a parcel owned by the Palma Sola Presbyterian Church that is adjacent to the fire district’s administration building at 6417 Third Ave. W., Bradenton.
At a work session on Dec. 9 questions arose regarding an easement through the middle of the current site and angle parking for the church on Third Avenue West, which could interfere with ingress and egress from the church-owned site.
“The easement is for a sewer line, and it bisects the property,” Sousa told the board. “NDC (NDC Construction, the design/build team selected for replacing the station) didn’t feel it was a big problem to move it.”
He said depending on the depth of the pipe, if the fire officials decide to move it and there is not enough inversion for the sewage to flow, they would have to build a lift station. He said he is seeking a rough estimate on design and cost for a lift station.
“To utilize the whole property you would have to mitigate that sewer line,” he pointed out, “I’m skeptical about trying to put that big a building on such a small footprint without relocating the sewer line.”
Sousa said he met with the minister about the angle parking and both agreed that it would be a problem. He proposed some areas of no parking and she said she would take the proposal to the church board.
He also said he met with officials from an engineering firm about traffic light control for Manatee Avenue and 67th Street, but he does not have any costs yet.
“I’m not prepared to make a recommendation until I get all of the information,” he concluded. “I polled the battalion chiefs and they prefer the current site. I’m comfortable with either site once we get the church to agree to parking and talk to the signalization people.”
Lawyers offer vacation
rental advice to officials
Lawyers offered local municipal government officials some tips last week on how to address vacation rental problems under a state law curbing municipal regulation of rentals.
Al Hadeed, county attorney for Flagler County, and Susan Trevarthen, attorney with Weiss, Serota in Fort Lauderdale, conducted a webinar featuring suggestions on things to do and things to avoid doing gleaned from court cases in several Florida jurisdictions.
The 2011 vacation rental law passed with aid from the well-funded Short Term Rental Advocacy Center, which also advises lawyers challenging municipal attempts to regulate rentals, Hadeed said.
The law prohibited communities from regulating vacation rentals if they didn’t already have regulations in place at the time the law passed in June 2011, making municipalities with such ordinances on the books leery about amending them due to the possibility of invalidating the grandfathered provisions, he said.
This year, the Legislature amended the law to restore local regulatory powers as long as municipalities don’t prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rentals, but local leaders must be careful to tailor any new ordinances to their cities’ unique situations, he said.
“Get the opinions of as many stakeholders as possible,” before passing a new ordinance, he suggested, adding that while full-time residents deserve their quality of life, rental owners have property rights, too.
Flagler County is focusing on regulations for the public safety and welfare, he said, using fire safety as an example. More thorough fire inspections may be required to ensure that rentals have, for example, hard-wired smoke detectors, an evacuation plan or a posted emergency contact number.
The 2011 law allowed for 20 people to occupy a 3,000-square-foot house, he said, which encouraged investor groups to buy and convert homes into rentals, greatly impacting single family home neighborhoods, he said.
To combat that impact by instituting an occupancy cap is tricky, he said, because rental owners argue that the city is interfering with their investment expectations. Phase in a cap over time and consider vesting existing rental agreements that could be could be affected, he suggested. Regulating the number of people allowed per bathroom in a rental would be a creative response to rental owners who cram bunk beds in living rooms and convert garages into bedrooms to maximize occupancy, according to Susan Trevarthen, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who detailed case law on vacation rentals for listeners.
To thwart challenges from vacation rental owners, code enforcement inspections of vacation rentals should be made pursuant to a clearly defined municipal program and conducted when rental units are vacant to minimize the risk of transgressing state statutes, Hadeed said.
The vacation rental law likely will be revisited by the Legislature in the 2015 session, Hadeed predicted, primarily because of the unfairness to residents whose neighborhood character has been redefined by a constant transient population and whose market values are impacted negatively by vacation rentals.
“You have one hand tied behind your back because of this legislative process,” he told leaders.
Anna Maria commission discusses webinar
ANNA MARIA – After sitting through the Florida League of Cities webinar on what other cities are doing to handle problem vacation rentals, members of the city commission talked about what they learned on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
“When one group of property owners impact their neighbors’ rights, you have to consider that when writing an ordinance,” said Commission Chair Chuck Webb.
“I learned if you don’t explain the intent of an ordinance in the first part of the ordinance, the courts might make a broader interpretation of it,” said Commissioner Doug Copeland, who said he would like to see if the attorney in the webinar, Susan Trevarthan would be available to help out the city.
Mayor Dan Murphy said he is concerned that City Attorney James Dye is part owner of a rental property in the city and he has to recuse himself from discussing vacation rentals.
“I think it’s time to fish or cut bait and use another attorney,” he said.
Webb said Dye did not recuse himself until late in the game and now he says he got a ruling from the bar that he can weigh in on vacation rentals.
Webb asked staff to put the perceived conflict on the agenda for a meeting last Thursday.
Realtor weighs in
on vacation rentals
ANNA MARIA – Island Real Estate owner Larry Chatt got up from the audience at city hall as the work session on vacation rentals concluded and moved to the dais last Thursday night.
The city commission had been speaking about property managers and some of the good ones they knew compared to some who might not be so diligent in their dealings.
Saying the problem is complicated, Chatt said he favors licensing of rental homes and inspections. He said that was his opinion, not the opinion of the group of real estate and property management professionals that was formed recently to make sure their rights to do business were protected. He proposed hashing out the problems with the commissioners so they know what they are.
Before Chatt spoke, the commissioners discussed an ordinance resident Maureen McCormick was putting together as a base for one that would address all of the vacation rental problems.
Commissioner Carol Carter said she spoke with many residents, and they all want regulation of vacation rentals.
Commissioner Dale Woodland said he wanted a simple cap on the number of people allowed in a rental house and it would not be limited by the size of the house. He said 10 would be a good number.
McCormick said if the tenants get too noisy and the police are called, they could count how many people are staying and make excess tenants leave.
The commissioners talked about the bad apple rental managers who packed houses with partiers and got a lot of complaints. Chatt addressed that when he spoke, saying most rental managers would not put too many people into a house because the owners would get mad if they damaged the home or got too many noise complaints.
The commissioners have known they could prohibit managers from doing business in the city if they are too lenient about the quality of tenants they allow to rent.
In a related topic, the commission voted to pass an ordinance spelling out the terms of the city’s moratorium on new homes with more than three bedrooms or rooms that could become bedrooms. The ordinance also allows people who are building non-rental houses to sign a covenant that they would not change the occupation of the house from owner-occupied to rental within five years, unless there was “an extraordinary hardship based on a catastrophic event.”
The commissioners voted to keep the moratorium in effect for a year from its inception on Sept. 22, unless there is sufficient progress that would make it unnecessary. If the moratorium is still needed past the deadline, they could vote to extend it.
Finally, the commission approved a plan to start clearing Gulf Front Park of exotic and invasive plants, but not Australian pines. The city has $25,000 for the project and Mayor Dan Murphy said he is going to ask for money from the Tourist Development Council to pay for the project. He also said he would ask for funds to develop City Pier Park at Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard.
Commission won't use Dye on rentals
ANNA MARIA – City Attorney James Dye will not be a part of the city commission’s attempts to control vacation rentals after a spirited exchange last Thursday night with commission chair Chuck Webb, who also is an attorney.
Webb feels Dye’s partial ownership of a family-owned rental property at 102 Tuna Street, a home built by baseball star Warren Spahn for his family, represents a conflict of interest. A local real estate company manages the rental.
Mayor Dan Murphy first brought up the possibility of a conflict at a meeting earlier last week. He said he was concerned that the city would have to hire another attorney, which would cost the city more in legal fees. The city earlier paid attorney David Levin $5,000 to render an opinion on whether the city is exempt from laws that restrict the city’s power over vacation rentals. Levin said the city was exempt, but many of the commissioners, if not all, disagree with him.
Webb said assisting the city in drafting ordinances to control the influx of large homes built to be rental properties is in conflict with the part-ownership of the house.
Dye said, based on the situation, the bar doesn’t see a conflict. He is part owner of a family house that is rented sometimes. It has two bedrooms and a sleeper sofa.
“This house is outside the area of concern,” he said. “My understanding is you brought Mr. Levin in because you don’t like my opinion.”
Dye said he disagrees with Levin and he would not be able to work on it.
“I’m not sure I can stand in his shoes,” Dye said.
Webb said the issue is whether Dye can continue to work on vacation rentals. Commissioner Dale Woodland said he doesn’t agree with Levin either.
Commissioner Doug Copeland said there were questions raised in a webinar they watched earlier in the week about Levin’s opinion, and they could consider hiring an attorney who worked on the webinar, Susan Trevarthan, to help them. Copeland said he’s backing off of what Levin said.
Commissioner Nancy Yetter said she would have liked Dye to work with Levin. She said Dye let them down.
The mayor said Dye is still recusing himself, and the city needs a city attorney who can weigh in on the issue.
“Bringing in another person doesn’t do it,” the mayor said.
When asked why he thinks there is a conflict, Webb said: “We might regulate your property some day.”
Dye continued to sit through the commission meeting, but when the vacation property work session started, he left.