Vol. 15 No. 19- March 4, 2015
BRADENTON BEACH – At the Thursday, March 5, commission meeting, Mayor Bill Shearon is going to present for discussion a “global settlement” that could potentially resolve four pending lawsuits and the forfeiture of office proceedings initiated against him.
Three of the four lawsuits to be discussed were filed by Shearon and/or his partner Tjet Martin, with Jo Ann Meilner serving as co-plaintiff in two of the suits. A fourth lawsuit was filed against Shearon by Ed Chiles’ ELRA Inc. restaurant ownership group.
Attorney Charles Johnson will join Shearon in presenting a proposal to the commission that is expected to include a request that the commission majority terminate the forfeiture proceedings formally initiated last month.
A compromise of this magnitude would benefit the city in many ways, but would not directly impact the citizen-led recall efforts that could still result in a special recall election that would provide city voters the opportunity to determine if Shearon remains in office.
Shearon declined to discuss specific settlement details, but said, “It’s something I’ve been working on … It’s a discussion and a concept, and, hopefully, the commission will move on it. It’s a global settlement to try to resolve the issues, and that’s my job as mayor.”
Shearon’s agenda item contained no supporting documents for the commissioners to review in advance, but there is cautious optimism that a deal can be brokered.
“I have nothing in writing, so we need to see what the mayor is asking for and what he is offering in return,” said Vice Mayor Jack Clarke.
The global settlement will address the 2012 lawsuit Shearon, Martin and Meilner filed against the city in opposition to a commission-approved development agreement that allows restaurant owner Ed Chiles to improve the southern end of his BeachHouse restaurant property for parking. The agreement also obligates the city to develop an unpaved, five-space public parking area adjacent to the BeachHouse property.
Shearon removed himself from the suit when he was elected mayor.
In January, Judge John Lakin dismissed Martin and Meilner’s request for an emergency injunction that would have prevented the city lot from being developed. Last month, the city property was cleared of invasive and non-native plants, but the parking elements have not yet been installed. The settlement proposal is expected to include a request that the city property not be developed for parking.
ELRA vs. Shearon
In early 2014, ELRA Inc. filed a lawsuit against Shearon alleging he attempted to improperly influence city staff in regard to code enforcement and future BeachHouse development plans. The suit also alleges Shearon committed Sunshine Law violations when communicating with other commissioners via e-mail.
Chiles said he needs more details, but he is open to dropping his suit, as long as his parking and future development plans are protected against future lawsuits and challenges.
These protections could include a comprehensive plan amendment that would address the Preservation zoning designation at the heart of the Martin-Meilner suit, which contends parking is not allowed on a privately-owned beachfront property historically used for those purposes.
When discussed previously, Shearon and Commissioner Janie Robertson opposed the comp plan fix, while Commissioners Ed Straight, Jan Vosburgh and Jack Clarke, City Planner Alan Garrett, Building Official Steve Gilbert, City Attorney Ricinda Perry, and ELRA Inc. attorney Robert Lincoln supported it.
A comp plan amendment requires the super majority support of at least four commissioners.
Shearon forfeiture suit
In November, Shearon filed a lawsuit against the city in opposition to the forfeiture resolution and the possibility the mayor could be temporarily suspended. The settlement proposal is expected include a request that the forfeiture resolution be rescinded and the proceedings be permanently terminated.
If the commission-led forfeiture proceeds, Shearon is in danger of being removed from office by his peers. A discussion on forfeiture policies and procedures is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10.
Martin records suit
In November, Martin filed a lawsuit against the city claiming her extensive public records requests had not been fully met, and the settlement proposal could include a request that more than $900 in related administrative fees be waived.
Martin feels the fees are excessive, but state law allows reasonable fees to be charged for particularly time-consuming records requests. The discounted fees assessed by Perry take into account more than eight hours she and her staff spent retrieving the requested records, while removing correspondence protected by attorney-client privileges. Martin has not paid the fee, and Perry has not given her the e-mails.
MAGGIE FIELD | sun
Sandy and John Yates celebrate the
Supreme Court’s ruling.
CORTEZ – The U.S. Supreme Court decided 5-4 last week to overturn the 2011 conviction of former commercial fisherman John Yates for destroying undersized grouper in a federal fisheries investigation.
Yates, 62, was charged, convicted and served 30 days in jail for disposing of evidence under a federal law passed in the wake of the Enron fraud scandal that criminalizes destruction of certain types of evidence.
In an opinion laced with colorful maritime puns and citing Dr. Suess’ “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” the court wrote that 72 undersized grouper discovered on the Miss Katie by federal fisheries officers in 2007 are not “tangible objects” under the law, which makes it a crime to “knowingly alter, destroy, mutilate, conceal, cover up, falsify or make a false entry in any record, document or tangible object with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation.”
“It’s been a long haul, and I’m happy, and I’m glad that somebody finally got the truth out there,” Yates said last week at Off the Hook, the Cortez recycled furniture business he owns with his wife, Sandy Yates.
Yates holds little hope that he will return to the sea.
“I’d love to, but they forced me into early retirement,” he said, adding that the Cortez fleet is fully stocked with captains. “We own the business, that’s our income now.”
Yates is consulting with attorneys to see if he can recover lost wages, he said, and plans with his wife to take the first vacation they’ve had in several years this summer, inland, in a log cabin.
The Supreme Court decision may help other fishermen in a similar situation, he hopes.
“It would make them look at it a little bit harder if nothing else,” he said.
After oral arguments last year, Yates said he thought the decision would come back 9-0, but “5-4 is as good as 9-0,” he said.
During those arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined in ruling for Yates last week, told prosecuting attorney Roman Martinez that he made Yates “sound like a mob boss” in describing Yates as launching “a convoluted cover-up scheme to cover up the fact that he had destroyed the evidence. He enlisted other people, including his crew members, in executing that scheme and in lying to the law enforcement officers about it.”
Fisheries officers testified at trial that they told Yates to leave the fish on board as evidence and return to the Cortez docks, where the fish were to be seized. Three fish out of 72 were missing when the catch was counted at the dock, accounting to court records.
Two justices who appeared to favor Yates in the 2014 arguments voted against him last week – Justice Antonin Scalia, who had asked, “What kind of a mad prosecutor would try to send this guy up for 20 years?” and Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had quipped, “Perhaps Congress should have called this the Sarbanes-Oxley-Grouper Act.”
“I’m happy we got the win, but not with the opinion,” said Sandy Yates, a former legal assistant, adding she was surprised to have “lost Scalia.”
Because the court noted in its opinion that more than 32 months passed before criminal charges were filed against Yates, he may file an abuse of process claim, she said.
“I don’t know if they would pay damages or not, but I would like the justice depart
ment to take note that you should not be abusing fishermen with threats of 30 years of prison for undersized fish,” she said.
The court wrote in the majority opinion that by the time Yates was indicted for destroying property to prevent a federal seizure and for destroying, concealing and covering up undersized fish to impede a federal investigation, “the minimum legal length for Gulf red grouper had been lowered from 20 inches to 18 inches. No measured fish in Yates’ catch fell below that limit.”
The Yates decision could have implications on a case decided last month by the Florida Supreme Court that left the commercial gill net ban in place, she said.
“The fishing industry hasn’t got a good hit in a long time,” she said. “The net ban people need to continue to a higher level.”
In reversing the decision by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, the justices examined the meaning and context of the term “tangible object” in the federal law under which Yates was charged, using time-honored methods of interpreting statutes and legal precedent.
They also had some fun.
“A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent, citing Dr. Seuss’ “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.”
Kagan also cited a case in which dead crocodiles were used as evidence to support a smuggling conviction.
“Congress realizes that in a game of free association with ‘record’ and ‘document,’ it will never think of all the other things - including crocodiles and fish - whose destruction or alteration can (less frequently but just as effectively) thwart law enforcement… and so Congress adds the general term ‘or tangible object’ again, exactly because such things do not spring to mind,” she wrote.
“Who wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if a neighbor, when asked to identify something similar to a ‘record’ or ‘document,’ said ‘crocodile?’” Justice Samuel Alito wrote, concurring with the majority.
While the verbs in the law – “alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in” and “…could apply to far-flung nouns such as salamanders or sand dunes, the term ‘makes a false entry in’ makes no sense outside of file keeping,” Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion.
The court also considered the law’s title, “Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations and bankruptcy,” writing in its opinion that the title “points toward file keeping rather than fish.”
The court continued, “A fish is no doubt an object that is tangible; fish can be seen, caught, and handled, and a catch, as this case illustrates, is vulnerable to destruction. But it would cut §1519 loose from its financial-fraud mooring to hold that it encompasses any and all objects, whatever their size or significance, destroyed with obstructive intent.”
The court concluded that it would not widen the interpretation of the law to cover destruction of all types of evidence.
“Leaving that important decision to Congress, we hold that a “tangible object” within §1519’s compass is one used to record or preserve information.”
MIKE FIELD | SUN
Northbound traffic is backed up at the intersection of Gulf Drive
and Magnolia Avenue, where a new four-way stop has caught
some motorists by surprise.
ANNA MARIA – Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Davis says his deputies are monitoring the intersection of Gulf Drive and Magnolia Avenue to make sure people comply with the four-way stop sign.
The Anna Maria City Commission passed an ordinance last week adding the extra stop signs to make it safer for pedestrians walking across the street and drivers trying to pull onto Gulf Drive without being able to see if there is traffic coming. The Department of Public Works erected the signs last Friday, but a lot of drivers aren’t used to it.
“It’s an educational process,” said Davis, who ordered his deputies to give warnings to motorists who don’t stop.
“We’ve given warning and a few tickets,” Davis said, “but the tickets were for not having registration, proof of insurance or a valid driver’s license.”
The first Sunday of the four-way stop was a mess because of the rummage sale in one of the lots next to the intersection. Witnesses said the people and cars caused a backup, especially on Gulf Drive.
Davis said they would continue with the warnings for a short while, until people get used to it. He said they have deputies monitor the intersection when available. He also said he hasn’t heard much griping about the extra delays.
“The only thing they are saying is, ‘It’s about time.’”
That’s not exactly how everyone feels about the redesigned intersection, however.
Victoria Sweeney owns Island Scooter Rentals near the intersection, and she saw the traffic back up during Sunday’s flea market.
“I’m not for anything that causes more congestion,” she said. “Hopefully, this will make people safer.”
Line Brousseou and Maurice Amor have been coming to the Island for 35 years, and they like to sit outside Ginny and Jane E’s and watch the people. Amor thinks they should put flashing lights at the stop signs, since they’ve seen a lot of people go through the intersection without stopping.
“We’ve watched the motorists stop and wait for others.,” he said. “They are very polite. I haven’t heard anyone yell at somebody.”
A number of motorists said they are avoiding the intersection altogether and using North Shore Drive just one block east. That presents its own set of problems, however, because the four-way stop has backed up traffic so far south that its hard to make a left-hand turn back onto Gulf Drive from the other intersecting streets.
Mayor Dan Murphy said he witnessed the situation at Gulf and Magnolia on Sunday.
“I sat on a bench with my wife, Barb, and it was a perfect storm with tourists and the flea market,” he said. “You could see the worst case scenario.”
Murphy said there was a lot of traffic, and it got backed up on Gulf Drive as motorists waited for pedestrians to cross the street. He said he would continue to monitor the situation.
“I am not above saying I made a mistake and taking it out, but over the last 20 years, I have watched motorists trying to get out onto Gulf Drive without being able to see if traffic was coming,” he said. “Pedestrians have trouble crossing the street, and I’ve heard a lot of complaints.”
Murphy called it the most congested intersection in the city.
“We’re evaluating the situation,” he added. “I just want to make it safer for everyone.”
CINDY LANE | sun
About 150 people came to hear ideas from
the ULI on the future of Anna Maria Island on Friday morning.
HOLMES BEACH – A map for Anna Maria Island’s future has been sketched, and it’s up to residents, tourists, businesses and government officials to fill in the details, members of the Urban Land Institute told a group of about 150 people last Friday at CrossPointe Fellowship.
Contrary to the wishes of many long-time residents, the Island “is likely to continue to be what it is, a barrier island resort, fully built out,” ULI Chair Alex Rose said, adding that controlling how the inevitable redevelopment happens is the key to solving problems.
“You would think it would be better if fewer people would like AMI, but that’s not a winning strategy,” nor is pulling up the bridges and leaving them up, panelist Klaus Philipsen said, suggesting that “design is the solution to many of the problems you face managing growth.”
Panelists for the ULI, a not-for-profit organization that consults on development issues, outlined several suggestions for the Island, including building affordable worker housing to reduce commuter traffic and creating “areas of preservation” allowing limited development and “areas of change” encouraging redevelopment.
They suggested charging for parking and recommended severing the tie connecting beach renourishment funding to beach access based on parking spaces.
Panelists recommended redeveloping the Holmes Beach commercial district and Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.
Environmental suggestions included harvesting rainwater to curb stormwater runoff, installing generators and solar power so cities could provide backup power in case of hurricanes and using permeable roadways to protect water resources. They also recommended using native plants in landscape design and adopting performance standards to encourage sustainable practices.
They suggested asking the Manatee County Commission for more resort tax funds, since nearly half are generated on the Island, and creating an “AMI brand” apart from the county tourism office’s brand, perhaps along the lines of an active living, car-free, family friendly vacation resort. An experienced marketing manager for the Island-wide Chamber of Commerce would be key, they said. They also recommended forming an Island-wide neighborhood services department to regulate vacation rentals.
Police should direct traffic at busy intersections on busy days, and cities should add signs with parking rules on residential streets, they said.
All three cities should consider sharing services, hiring an AMI planner and forming an AMI leadership council, or brain bank, and increasing mayoral terms to four years to give mayors a chance to do long-term projects, they said, adding that cities should consider a city council/manager type of government.
But most of all, they suggested the cities present a unified front on all requests to the county or state, particularly on the issues of a new bridge, and lobbying legislators to change the state law pre-empting home rule on short-term vacation rentals.
The recommendations are based on a $130,000 study – $125,000 paid for with excess revenues from the two beach concession stands on the Island and the rest from the Island’s three cities – which included studying a briefing book prepared by a local volunteer committee, touring the Island and interviewing more than 100 people about problems and potential solutions.
The panelists will publish a detailed, written report in two to three months.
“ ‘The Island Plan’ is the key to achieving the results AMI desires by the choices AMI makes,” said Rose, who applauded the cities’ “willingness to come together as three cities” and undertake a long-term effort to mold the Island’s future.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said he is impatient to get started and looks forward to working with other Island officials on the recommendations.
He liked the ideas of creating unique branding for the Island and repurposing underused public space, like pocket parks, for use as biking and walking picnic destinations.
Murphy especially liked the idea that free parking is not a right, he said, adding that all of the ideas are worth considering, and the idea of forming a brain bank is already underway in Anna Maria.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson also liked the idea of a group of people with experience working on the recommendations.
He was pleased with the depth of the study and said it was just what Island officials asked for.
Johnson said he looks forward to reading the written report and working on the details, which he said will take time.
Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said the study “exceeded my expectations. Our main thing is, I’ve expressed it before but now it’s even more important, that we have to make this study a living, breathing thing that’s reviewed on a regular basis, not like all the other studies that the cities do and it sits on a shelf and we don’t even know where it is.”
Shearon thought the employee housing recommendation was interesting and said that in the business district, perhaps condos could be built above businesses to house employees, he said.
“That’s the challenge. It’s easy to say you should have affordable housing, but that’s going to be a major challenge.”
Audience member Don Lombardi agreed, saying the ideas are wonderful, but questioning the implementation and wondering how employee housing would be built unless it’s “highly subsidized” given the high cost of land.
Anna Maria resident Ruth Ueker said she was surprised to learn about the impact employee commuters have on traffic, and was “overwhelmed, impressed and excited” by the ideas.
Tom O’Brien, of Holmes Beach, also called the presentation “impressive.”
Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen went farther, saying it brought her to tears.
“Residents have not had a voice due to no organization and no facts,” she said. “We have the facts now and the strategies to move forward.”
The redevelopment trend on the Island away from residential homes to vacation rentals is likely to accelerate with the Island ranking No. 1 in the U.S. last year, panelist Dan Conway told the group.
Manatee County’s growth rate is twice the national average, “and their playground is your AMI,” he said, adding that each year, the Island can expect 80-90 more single family homes, 20-30 more rental units and 40-60 more hotel rooms, along with more businesses.
The Island “will need to create plans to deal with the changes,” Conway said, offering statistics that back up impressions that residents are leaving the Island and short-term vacation rentals are taking their place.
The Island’s permanent resident population is 6,466, only about 19 percent of the total average population, including tourists, of 34,000, he said.
Since 1990, about 70 people on average per year have left, he said, their homes demolished and rebuilt as vacation rentals, since little vacant land remains.
Residents, who average a $50,000 annual income, can only support a fraction of the businesses on the Island, which rely on day trippers, seasonal residents and short-term vacation renters, he said, adding, “You need visitors as much as visitors need you.”
Able to afford only about $150,000 home prices on average, residents “are forced to find housing off-Island,” but often still work on the Island and commute, contributing to traffic congestion, he said.
Creating affordable employee housing – as many as 2,000 units – could have a significant impact on saving churches, the elementary school and businesses on the Island, he said.
The thread running through much of the presentation was congestion.
“There are too many cars on the Island at too many times,” creating frustration and conflicts between residents and visitors, and employees and customers, panelist Ross Tilghman said.
Once visitors are here, they don’t need to use a car, he said, and should be encouraged to walk, bike, take the trolley or travel by boat.
A slower speed limit would increase safety for those using alternate forms of transportation, he said, adding, “It’s a resort – roads should be slow and safe.”
Marketing the Island to tourists as a car-free vacation resort will ease congestion, he said, as will charging for parking at the beaches, if cities offer a free bus to and from the Island and free remote parking at the bus stop.
On the perennial question of a third bridge, the ULI was non-committal.
“But the Island can’t handle more cars,” Tilghman said, adding that the carrying capacity of the bridges is 40,000 cars a day, with employees and Longboat Key residents contributing “a considerable number.”
“Getting around on the Island you manage your life and alter your lifestyle to get around,” panelist Paul Moore said.
To lessen that, Island officials could consider turning some neighborhood streets that are parallel to main roads like Gulf Drive and Marina Drive into bikeways to offer safer biking and walking options, he said; cities could be on the lookout to buy land that would connect the bikeways together.
Employers should consider paying for a transit pass for employees who commute from the mainland, he said.
Cities should charge for parking, and in neighborhoods that want protection from beach parking overflow, residents can buy a parking permit, he said, adding, “Free parking is not a right,” which drew applause.
Island residents must move past nostalgia and look forward in order to build upon the Island’s strengths, promoting the community’s charm with historic preservation areas but also welcoming visitors vital to the economy, panelist Tyler Meyr said.
There’s no need to increase height restrictions if land is rezoned into “preservation” and "change” areas, he said. Zones of change would have large, short-term rental properties near urban areas where a younger population would live (58.1 percent of Island residents are over 55, Conway said).
Commercial areas are the most suitable for change zones, Philipsen said, suggesting that short-term rentals belong there, not in neighborhoods.
In preservation areas, development should adhere to design guidelines and be approved by a design review panel, he said. To control growth in preservation areas, cities could increase stormwater, sewage and water fees, and institute impervious surface coverage fees and other fees, he said.
Meyr cited Pine Avenue in Anna Maria as a good example of mixed use and suggested that incentives could draw younger workers to live in such business districts.
Officials should make an action plan listing priorities, then include those people directly and indirectly affected in the planning process, including residents, tourism officials, developers, tourists, day trippers, employees and others, panelist George Ruther said.
The ULI’s written report, expected in two to three months, will be a tool in negotiations with the county and state, Conway said.
“They’ve got the money. You have the impacts. You need to ask how their money can fix your impacts.”
joe hendricks | sun
The pier was filled with happy folks during Friday
evening’s grand opening ceremony.
BRADENTON BEACH – The reconstructed Historic Bridge Street Pier was a scene of celebration Friday night during the grand opening ceremony presided over by Mayor Bill Shearon.
Shearon addressed the crowd of approximately 100 people who gathered at the far end of the pier, talking into a bullhorn while standing on one of the new pier benches, with Commissioner Janie Robertson standing nearby.
The mayor thanked the Tourist Development Council and Manatee County for the shared pier funding; the Cast-n-Cage restaurant and the Bridge Street Merchants for participating in the evening’s ceremony; and former Mayor John Shaughnessy, city staff, and the Pier Team advisory board for their guidance and contributions.
He also thanked the pier contractors, Duncan Seawall and ZNS Engineering, for their efforts during the reconstruction process that began in August and resulted in the pier being reopened in mid-January.
“Look at the craftsmanship that’s involved here; it’s unbelievable” Shearon said.
The loudest cheer of the evening occurred when Shearon said, “This project came in on time and under budget.”
Shearon concluded his remarks by saying, “Thank you call for coming, and enjoy our new pier.”
Afterwards, County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said, “It’s great. This reminds of when I was a kid, fishing out here with a cane pole,”
Vice Mayor Jack Clarke said, “The pier is beautiful, thanks to a lot of hard work by the Pier Team, city staff, Duncan and ZNS.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said, “I love the way it turned out, and we wouldn’t be here if not for John Shaughnessy and Nora Idso (the late city clerk).”
In honor of Idso, one of the green pier benches bears the engraving: “In remembrance of Nora Idso…Service dates: June 1999 to October 2013.” A pair of pigs bookend the verbiage, in honor of Idso’s fondness for the curly-tailed creatures.
After to responding to a Wildlife Inc. rescue call with his grandson Devon, Commissioner Ed Straight arrived as the short ceremony was winding down.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it really looks good,” Straight said.
The longtime commissioner expressed gratitude for the extra pilings that will protect the pier from damage should any of the anchored vessels break free, as was the case in 2012, when the pier was severely damaged.
Before the ceremony began, Anna Maria Island Privateer’s President Bob “Stitch” Dominas stood beneath the historic clock tower, surrounded by his fellow pirates, and fired an ear-shattering ceremonial shot from the miniature, but mighty, Privateers’ cannon.
He then hollered, “Let’s go take back our pier.”
HOLMES BEACH – City commissioners agreed to tweak Anna Maria’s vacation rental regulation ordinance to suit their needs rather than reinventing the wheel.
“I feel it would be good to have consistency between Anna Maria and Holmes Beach,” Chair Judy Titsworth told the board at last week’s work session.
“You need to discuss what you want and what’s within your ability to provide,” City Attorney Jim Dye advised. “Do you have the resources and facilities to follow through?”
“You have to decide what is the problem we’re trying to solve, can it be solved and what does it take to solve it,” Mayor Bob Johnson added.
Commissioner Jean Peelen pointed out that the whereas clauses in the Anna Maria ordinance “are really good. I want to see us go in that direction and then look at substance.”
Peelen said they should consider regulating the number of sleeping rooms, and Titsworth said the city planner suggested that they treat the vacation rentals as motels and calculate them at the bedroom density of motels.
Bert Harris Act
However, Dye cautioned them about Bert Harris Act claims and explained, “The rule of thumb is if you can do less with your property after the ordinance than you could before the ordinance, you could have a Bert Harris claim.”
He said the city’s action must impact the value of the property, and the owner must provide an appraisal to back up the claim and noted, “They are not challenging the city’s action, but that it hits them in the pocketbook.”
Commissioners then went through the Anna Maria ordinance to determine what changes they might want to make.
One area Dye cautioned them about was provisions for inspections and stressed, “Look at how many rentals there are and how long it would take you to inspect them.”
City Clerk Stacy Johnston said there are 1,700 rentals. Peelen said they could hire an outside company to inspect rentals, and Titsworth suggested they could do inspections in stages.
After they finished reviewing the ordinance, Johnson advised, “Go through what you’ve done and make sure you’re solving the problem. A lot of this could be code enforcement.
Titsworth said each commissioner should flag any provisions that could be removed and also list any new provisions to add for the next work session.
Peelen suggested that they contact Anna Maria commissioners about their efforts.
ANNA MARIA – Seeking a declaratory judgment for slowing the tide of short-term rental house construction is back on the table.
The city has talked about getting a declaratory judgment from the courts regarding whether the city had outlawed short-term rentals in its code before a state law took away the right of cities to do so. Getting a judgment would require the city to take legal action against a short-term rental operation, plead its case and hear what the judge rules.
The commission previously agreed to go ahead with a declaratory judgment, but Mayor Dan Murphy placed it on the agenda of Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting, where commissioners can vote on items. The previous vote was at a publicly advertised workshop.
“I call for a new vote because we voted at a workshop,” Murphy said. “No other city votes during a workshop.”
Commission Chair Chuck Webb said whether a city could vote at a workshop is not controlled by state law and former City Attorney James Dye said earlier that the commissioners could vote at a workshop.
“The real issue to me is whether it is advertised adequately,” Webb said. “I feel this has been discussed a lot and to me, it is one continuous action.”
Resident David McCormick said he was at the previous vote.
“As they discussed, they had three ways to go – a declaratory judgment, a moratorium and an ordinance regulating rentals,” he said. “I want to see you move ahead with the declaratory judgment.”
Commissioner Dale Woodland said he had two questions – how much will it cost and what are the chances of an appeal?
Webb estimated it would take nine months with an appeal. He said he felt a declaratory judgment would take two-thirds of the time that code enforcement action would take.
Commissioner Carol Carter drew applause when she said the city should go both routes.
Commissioner Nancy Yetter asked why were they voting again if the first vote was legal?
The others agreed, and they let the previous vote, in which Woodland and Commissioner Doug Copeland opposed the action, stand.
As for a test case, Webb said there is had a rental house in the city that had 30 people staying there over the Christmas holidays that would make a good case.
Acting City Attorney Ricinda Perry updated the city on its settlement efforts of claims under the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act. The city has settled with Mark and Katherine McLean on one case and nearly finished with developer Shawn Kaleta over two homes being built. She said it settles all claims, but she felt it was too vague. She asked the commissioners to change the wording and they agreed by consensus.
The commissioners also made changes in its short-term rental ordinance and will continue discussion at a later date.
pat copeland | SUN
Lynn Brennan, with the Roser Church group,
fills boxes with food packages.
ANNA MARIA – Enthusiastic volunteers rocked out to music while manning tables and filling plastic zip bags with food at Roser Church on Saturday.
Their mission was to pack 261 boxes with meal packages for Feeding Children Everywhere (FCE), providing 75,168 meals for people in need. One healthy, nutritious package of lentils, rice, dehydrated vegetables and Himalayan sea salt costs $1.50 and feeds six people.
Meals will be distributed through the Manatee County Food Bank and to organizations such as Loving Hands, Agape Flights, Beth-El, the Lord’s Lighthouse and the AMI Community Center.
One group manning tables included middle and high school students from First Baptist Church of Palmetto.
“We’ve been looking forward to coming all year,” said student pastor Todd Poppell. “The kids love getting involved and giving back to the community.”
Coordinating an event
Event coordinators included Molly Slicker, Mary Selby and Kim Darnell. It was their third event for the organization, which is based in Longwood, Fla.
Slicker, who grew up on the Island, is a senior at UCF in Orlando. She said she attended the first event three years ago and was so impressed that she became an intern in the organization. Now she is a staff member as the FCE communications’ coordinator.
“I ask for a place and people to do it and then set it up and watch the magic happen,” she said.
Darnell, who first saw an FCE event on a television program, said, “It just clicked with me and I said, ‘I need to know more about that.’”
One of the people on the program was board member Ed Koble, who has a home in Anna Maria. Darnell contacted him, and he put her in touch with Don Campbell, the founder of Feeding Children.
“I met Don and went to an event in Tampa,” Darnell recalled. “I came back and called Mary to see if she would help me.”
Darnell said she did not know Selby, but saw her name in The Sun as being involved in missions at Roser Church. Selby said she was surprised by Darnell’s phone call, but also intrigued. The two met and clicked.
“My husband, Mike, was mayor of Anna Maria, and he had just received an e-mail about the Manatee County Food Bank’s shelves being bare,” Selby recalled.
“We forwarded the e-mail to Don, and he immediately sent 50,000 meals to the food bank with another 100,000 to follow in the next two months.”
The two threw a party in which they served 30 people with the organization’s meal to convince them to help with the first event in the fall of 2012.
During that event, volunteers packed 104.544 meals. In the second event in the fall of 2013 volunteers packed 97,000 meals.