The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 48 - September 24, 2014


Mayor, commissioners square off
Carol Whitmore


Mayor Bill Shearon

BRADENTON BEACH – Monday afternoon, the city commission decided by 4-1 vote to initiate forfeiture of office proceedings against embattled Mayor Bill Shearon, with the caveat that an alternative proposal may be presented at a follow up meeting tentatively scheduled for Monday, Oct. 6.

Shearon pleaded with commissioners to take a more measured approach, but it was Commissioner Janie Robertson who cast the lone vote in in opposition to moving forward with forfeiture proceedings.

She warned her fellow commissioners that any decisions rendered regarding the removal of the mayor may be appealed and might subject commissioners, individually or collectively, to future lawsuits.

Taking no sides in the matter, City Attorney Ricinda Perry told commissioners forfeiture of office proceedings are the most extreme action that can be taken against an elected official.

Shearon, who is legally blind, asked City Clerk Gia Lancaster to read into record his lengthy written responses to the allegations made Vice Mayor Jack Clarke during last week’s commission work session.

Shearon noted that Clarke is new to politics and won his seat unopposed.

“His hidden agenda is to be the mayor without being elected by the people,” he declared.

Shearon disputed claims that there is a morale problem with city employees.

“I apologize if upon occasion my frustration is expressed in a negative or unpleasant manner,” he stated.

He claimed he has no personal agenda against Ed Chiles, despite the fact that he initiated a lawsuit against the BeachHouse restaurant owner in 2012.

In an effort to save his job, Shearon wrote, “With all our dirty laundry now in the public, let’s work together to clean up the issues. To continue to dwell on the past means not focusing on the future. Let’s all reevaluate our activities and avoid hidden agendas.”

He also made it clear that he intends to run for a second term if he survives his first.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said, “I’m scared for our city, and I think it’s going in the wrong direction, and it has been going in the wrong direction since the mayor was elected. We never had these problems before.”

When she later asked Shearon if he was willing to change his ways and find some fault in himself, the mayor responded in a testy manner that won him no favors.

Jo Ann Meilner came to the mayor's defense during public comment and said, “I think this is a hatchet job, bordering on illegal.”

Her husband Don, said, “This is a well-orchestrated mutiny that began with the removal of Vice Mayor Janie Robertson.”

He suggested that Clarke’s true intent is to place himself in the mayor’s seat.

Clarke responded later by saying, “I took this action out of the utmost in frustration. I have the least amount of experience of anyone on this commission, but I know what’s right.”

After the meeting, Clarke said, “As the new guy on the city commission, being mayor is the furthest thing from my mind.”

Commissioner Ed Straight acknowledged that there are Shearon-related issues that need to be addressed, but it was he who suggested that there might be an alternative to removal from office.

What’s next?

According to the city charter, an elected official can be removed from office if he or she has become physically or mentally incapable of performing duties of office; violates any standard of conduct established by law for public officials; or has been convicted of a felony while in office.

When the next meeting takes place on or around Oct. 6, numerous procedural decisions need to made.

Those who wish to remove him from office must declare what mayor did to justify his removal from office. The commission must also decide if Shearon will be temporarily suspended while the process plays out.

Decisions must made in regard to how evidence for and against the mayor will collected and presented, what role City Attorney Perry will play and whether she will serve as the commission’s prosecutor. Timetables and time limits must be established, and someone has to chair the forfeiture proceedings.

Shearon can attend the meetings, but he will not be an active participant or have a vote in the final decision. The four commissioners will determine his fate.

If he seeks legal counsel, he must pay his own legal fees, but may have the right to seek reimbursement if his defense is successful.

If Shearon is removed, Clarke will serve as mayor until the mayor’s term ends in November 2015. Commission would also have to appoint a new member from Ward 1 to serve the remainder of Clark’s commission term.

War of words exchanged at city commission

BRADENTON BEACH – Mayor Bill Shearon was the subject of intense scrutiny during last week’s commission work session.

By meeting’s end, Vice Mayor Jack Clarke had requested a special meeting on Monday to initiate forfeiture of office proceedings against the mayor.

“Since coming into office, the mayor has used the metaphor of being the captain of a ship. In just over 300 days, our city, the ship, has been repeatedly taken off course and directed into the eye of many storms,” Clarke said, when launching into his 25-minute speech.

“The mayor claims the commission has tied his hands. I submit, Mr. Mayor, it is you who has tied the hands of the city with lawsuits, public records requests, hostile environment claims and all around poor morale,” Clarke said.

“It’s one thing to have a hands-on management style, but this is a heavy-handed form of dictatorship,” Clarke said, citing “gag orders and capricious edicts” issued by the mayor that hinder staff effectiveness and enthusiasm and impact relationships with vendors, contractors and county officials.

Clarke questioned Shearon’s opposition to budgeted, staff-approved stormwater improvements that qualify the city for matching Southwest Florida Water Management District funds. He also questioned Shearon’s oversight of problematic computer upgrades and his efforts to displace e-mail administrator Ric Gatehouse due to personal differences.

“You subvert, ignore or intimidate in order to prevent a policy or project from being implemented,” Clark said.

He criticized Shearon for embracing the previous commission’s decision to build a cell tower, despite his personal objections, while refusing to honor a development agreement approved by the same commission that granted BeachHouse restaurant owner Ed Chiles the right to use his property for parking.

“It is abundantly clear that you have a personal vendetta,” Clarke said, noting that Shearon rejected an amendment to the future land use map that could have ended two Chiles-related lawsuits and prevented unintended consequences for other property owners.

“You have been a magnet for litigation,” Clarke said, noting that taxpayers are footing the bill for lawsuits initiated by Shearon and against Shearon.

“Our legal expenses for fiscal year 2014 total $130,543 versus $56,113 in 2013. This is an increase of 133 percent and $74,430 of unbudgeted expenditures,” Clarke said later in the week.

Concluding his work session remarks, Clarke said, “You cannot be trusted and are a liability to this city. The common denominator in every problem we face is you.”

Mayor and commission respond

“I’m very offended by your comments. I believe that a lot of the statements are untrue, inaccurate and totally inappropriate,” Shearon said in response.

“I was elected by the constituents of this city to be mayor. That was done by voters, not the commission. I was elected to run this city, and I plan to do it for the rest of my term, and if I run again, then it will be the voters’ decision. This is not a commission decision,” Shearon defiantly declared.

Shearon said the hostile workplace complaints have been submitted to a labor attorney for discussion at a future commission meeting, and despite voting otherwise, Shearon said he supports the stormwater expenditures, but needs clarification on the scope and cost.

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh applauded Clarke’s efforts and said, “I feel morally obligated to communicate to citizens and taxpayers how bad the city is being run under the current mayor. I would like you to know the city is in a mess and needs to be fixed,” she said.

Commissioner Janie Robertson questioned the accuracy of Clarke’s allegations. She said the detailed nature of his presentation caught her by surprise and required time to digest.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is an opinion of two (commissioners). There may be a few things I agree with, but there are things I disagree with,” she said.

“I find it amazing that Commissioner Vosburgh can agree with absolutely everything Commissioner Clarke said,” Robertson added.

Commissioner Ed Straight reminded Shearon that he, too, was elected to serve an electoral that supports him.

“When you took over, we immediately had this lawsuit in respect to trying to intimidate employees to do certain things with respect to the BeachHouse. This has gone on too long and we need it resolved,” Straight said, noting that hostile workplace allegations and morale problems also require attention.

Sousa named fire chief

BRADENTON – In a unanimous vote, West Manatee fire commissioners approved Capt. Tom Sousa as the district’s chief to take over when Fire Chief Andy Price retires in April 2015.

Prior to the vote, Chair Scott Ricci said they had three choices – to approve of Sousa, to approve of Deputy Chief Brett Pollock, who also was seeking the job, or continue the search outside the district. He said he was concerned that neither candidate had budget experience and added, “That scares me.”

Commissioner David Bishop said they went through a process of evaluation with Sousa and Pollock, and he was not in favor of conducting another search.

Commissioner Larry Tyler pointed out that the new chief would have six months to train with Price, and Commissioners Larry Jennis and Randy Cooper agreed.

Ricci then said his next concern was about the fact the Pollock is in the DROP (deferred retirement option program) and plans to retire in eight months.

“He would be chief for eight months then have to retire; that doesn’t compute,” Ricci said.

However, Bishop noted, “If we did not take into account the eight months, there might be a benefit of the skill set of the deputy chief.”

Tyler made the motion to approve Sousa and Cooper seconded it.

“We had two great candidates,” Bishop said. “Thanks to both for their efforts.”

Building moratorium OK’d again

ANNA MARIA – The land along Magnolia Avenue east or Ginny’s and Jane E’s is being filled in with houses and neighbors found out some startling facts recently that prompted City Commissioner Carol Carter to call an emergency meeting Monday.

“We found out that some of the permits were for six and eight bedrooms in an area of two and three bedroom houses,” she told the meeting. “That’s transient housing and the comprehensive plan needs to be changed.”

Neighbors along Magnolia Street agreed. Bill Eiseman said overcrowded, big-box homes where tenants vehicles are moved to available spaces on the property resemble a hotel.

Ruth Uecker said large homes with multiple bedrooms are usually rented to several families.

“I’ve seen them put eight people in a two-bedroom home,” she said. “Using that scale, they could get up to 32 people in an eight-bedroom home.

Maureen McCormick said the Island has changed radically in a short period of time and the new rental units are driving that change. Her husband, Dave, suggested the city get more legal help to figure what to do.

Commissioner Doug Copeland asked if they could limit the number of bedrooms and Commissioner Chuck Webb said yes, for the safety and welfare of the residents.

“If we could limit the number of bedrooms to three per property, we could solve 95 percent of the problems,” said Commissioner Dale Woodland.

Webb said they are retracing steps they took earlier when the city used a moratorium to enable the commission to set living area ratios to prevent huge houses. Copeland said he wanted a moratorium now to give them time to work on a solution.

The commissioner agreed to a moratorium on permits for new construction or remodeling for more than three bedrooms. The vote was unanimous and the commissioners will meet again Thursday, Sept. 25, at 5 p.m., an hour before the regular commission work session.

Sabine case figure arrested

A figure in the disappearance of Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler has been arrested and charged with burglary.

Robert Corona, 43, of Bradenton, was arrested Wednesday, Sept. 17, after a witness claimed to have seen him walk out of the victim’s back yard, around 2 p.m. at 1408 11h St. W.

When contacted by police, the victim said the shed had been burglarized Aug. 26, and the victim identified Corona as the person walking out of the shed on that date.

Police caught up with Corona in the 1900 block of 13th Street West. Police read him his Miranda rights and he confessed to being in the victim’s backyard on the date of the arrest, but he said he had never been inside the victim’s shed.

He was then arrested and jailed.

Corona became a figure in the disappearance of Musil-Buehler when he was found driving her Pontiac convertible two days after her estranged husband, Tom Buehler, reported her missing on Nov. 4, 2008. Corona first told detectives he had partied with her the night before at a nightclub, but he later said he stole the car when he found the keys in the ignition. He pled no contest and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Musil-Buehler was last seen Nov. 4, 2008, by William Cumber, her boyfriend who is now facing a trial for second-degree murder in her disappearance. Cumber’s trial is set to begin Oct. 20.

Judge upholds code board on tree house

pat copeland | sun

Visitors from around the world have come to see
the tree house, which was the subject of a segment
on the Today show last year.



HOLMES BEACH – Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan last week upheld the Code Enforcement Board’s 2013 order regarding the tree house at Angelino’s Sea Lodge, 103 29th St., owned by Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen.

“We have reviewed the circuit court judge's decision with our lawyer, and we believe that we have legitimate grounds to seek review of the judge's decision by the District Court of Appeal, Second District,” Tran said after learning of the judge’s decision.

In July 2013, code enforcement board members found Tran and Hazen in violation of the land development code. The city’s building department maintained that the tree house was constructed without a permit and encroached into the erosion control line.

The couple was ordered to remove the violations or demolish the structure by Aug. 28, 2013, and in September 2013, code enforcement board members imposed a fee of $100 per day on Tran and Hazen for failure to comply.

Tran and Hazen appealed both the order and the fine, and in March this year, Tran and Richard Hazen were granted a stay from the code enforcement board’s order imposing a fine.

Judge’s ruling

Dunnigan analyzed the appellant’s arguments that the board did not rely on competent substantial evidence in making it’s findings, that the city’s code provision regarding setbacks is unconstitutional and that the under the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the court should prevent the city from enforcing code violations.

Regarding the first argument, she said that the Building Official Tom O’Brien inspected the property three times, and he testified on the process to gain permission to build a structure on one’s property, what kind of construction would be considered a structure and how the department determines permitting and approvals.

She said O’Brien’s testimony “is particularly relevant to the court’s finding that the board relied upon competent substantial evidence” to determine that appellants violated 11 sections of the code. She then discussed each of the 11 sections.

On the second argument, she said, “Appellants have failed to show that the city code is unconstitutionally more restrictive than Chapter 162, Florida Statutes.”

On the third argument, she said, “Appellant’s decision to build a uniquely elaborate structure along the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, without a formal permit application and subsequent city approval, subjected their tree house to inevitable violations of the city of Holmes Beach Land Development Code. Therefor appellant equitable estoppel claim is without merit.”

Initiative petition

In a separate action on the tree house, Tran and Hazen filed an initiative petition to put an ordinance on the ballot for voters to decide if the tree house is legal.

“The city has alleged that this election is invalid under state law,” City Attorney Petruff explained. “The property owners have filed a general answer denying the substantive portions of the complaint.”

She said the case is in hiatus until the court makes a decision on the validity of the election.

City clerk returns

BRADENTON BEACH – City Clerk Gia Lancaster returned to work Monday morning, after missing more than two weeks to attend to an undisclosed personal matter.

Friday morning, Lancaster, City Attorney Ricinda Perry and Mayor Bill Shearon huddled in the mayor’s office for more than an hour to discuss the clerk’s return. The trio emerged from Shearon’s office at 11:23 a.m., with smiles on the faces.

Lancaster departed city hall late Friday morning under much happier circumstances than the emotionally-charged exit she made after addressing commissioners in a highly-agitated state at the Sept. 4 commission meeting.

“It’s back to work on Monday,” she said, looking relaxed and refreshed as she prepared to resume the clerk’s duties she assumed in late August.

“It’s looking good, and I’m confident in myself,” Lancaster said, as she made her way out of city hall, giving no indication that any tension existed between her, the mayor or anyone else at city hall.

Lancaster said she hopes to restore a sense of stability to a clerk’s office that has seen numerous personnel changes since longtime City Clerk Nora Idso fell ill and resigned in 2013.

“Gia will be returning to work on Monday. We had an employee consultation this morning and addressed the issues. She’s all in, and I gave her an update on what’s happening. She’ll be sitting at her desk Monday morning. My approach is it’s just like her first day, and we’ll start over again,” said Mayor Bill Shearon.

Lancaster’s return is well-timed, as Deputy Clerk Terri Sanclemente is scheduled to spend three days in Orlando this week attending a Sunshine Law and ethics conference.

Last week, the city brought in Denise Bartels to assist the clerk’s office on a temporary, part-time basis. Bartels is a family friend of former Holmes Beach Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens.

City Commissioner Janie Robertson also lent a hand last week, spending numerous hours at city hall placing city e-mails in the public read file, stamping business tax receipts and assisting with other clerical duties. Robertson said she was just doing her part to assist the short-staffed clerk’s office during one of its busiest times of the year.

Bridge study results released

BRADENTON BEACH – The future of the Cortez Bridge remains uncertain, but if the people who voted at a meeting at St. Bernard Church Aug. 28 had their way, the drawbridge would be replaced by a mid-sized drawbridge.

The results of the vote from those attending the public information meeting held by the Florida Department of Transportation showed 72 percent of the 60 voters wanted to replace the current bridge, which was build in the mid-1950s, 23 percent wanted to rehabilitate the bridge and 11 percent wanted to repair the bridge as needed.

The bridge is currently being rehabilitated, which FDOT hopes will keep it usable for 10 more years.

The type of replacement bridge that was most popular in the August vote was a medium height drawbridge, that would be 35 feet from mean tide to the underside of the roadway. Thirty-three percent of the voters wanted it, while 16 percent wanted a low rise drawbridge like the current bridge and 21 percent wanted a high-level, 65-foot tall, fixed-span bridge. Nineteen percent wanted a new bridge from the mainland to north Longboat Key.

The results are different from a vote from a February 2013 survey when the majority wanted to rehab the bridge and most of those wanting to replace it wanted a high, fixed-span.

Nearly 850 replies were received from the vote, which included people who live on the mainland and some who don’t use the bridge much. They indicated 51 percent of the respondents favored rehabilitation of the bridge and 43 percent favored replacement. Of those wanting replacement, 38 percent favored a high, fixed-span bridge; 19 percent wanted a mid-level drawbridge; 33 percent preferred a low-level drawbridge; and 4 percent favored another option.

FDOT will review the comments and, together with the engineering and environmental analyses, refine the viable build alternatives, according to an FDOT news release. It will conduct a thorough analysis of potential environmental effects and document the findings in several reports. It also will continue coordination with local governmental entities. The recommended alternative and a no build/repair alternative will be presented at a formal public hearing where public comments will be solicited again. The hearing is tentatively scheduled for spring 2015.

Parking and congestion dominate meeting

LONGBOAT KEY – Island elected officials focused on parking and congestion at their monthly meeting last week.

“We continue to struggle with congestion,” Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said. “The cities should work together.”

Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti suggested an Island-wide traffic analysis, congestion study or parking analysis. He said the city is getting valuable information from its new speed signs that can track the time of day, number of vehicles, speed of each vehicle, top speed, average speed and low speed.

However, SueLynn disagreed and said, “A traffic study will be a confirmation of what we already know. We need a study to tell us what to do to alleviate it.”

Monti asked what data is provided by the cameras on Longboat Key that photograph the license plate of every vehicle that comes on or leaves the island.

Town Manager Dave Bullock said they are primarily for law enforcement and noted, ‘We’ve taken more people to jail in a year that the previous five years.”

He said the cameras also count traffic and that the cost of the system was $68,400, which included four cameras, software, training and installation.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen said the missing piece of the equation is “keeping cars off the Island” and that they should discuss off-Island parking lots.

Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown noted, “It’s hard to get Americans out of their cars.”

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