Sunday Favorites: Shipwreck Preserves, a New Trend in Conservation

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Published Sunday, April 27, 2014 12:05 am
by Merab-Michal Favorite

The USS Narcissus participated in the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. However, that same year a torpedo struck the hull on the starboard side and the ship sank in 15 minutes.

The USS Narcissus participated in the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. However, that same year a torpedo struck the hull on the starboard side and the ship sank in 15 minutes.

Remnants of Florida’s maritime history lie scattered along Florida’s coast, some of them untouched for thousands of years.

Dugout canoes used by Native Americans to trade with other tribes await excavation.

The skeletons of Spanish Galleons that arrived on Florida shores in search of gold and everlasting existence sit undisturbed on the ocean floor.

And countless vessels commissioned to conduct military operations during a variety of conflicts convey a story of bravery, endurance and patriotism.

But those artifacts can’t be brought into a classroom.

A new trend in preservation has focused on shipwrecks to encourage the education of Florida culture and allow learners the opportunity to participate in a bit of adventure.

Shipwreck parks are relatively new to Florida tourism, meant to serve as educational preservation through recreation.

The program began in 1987 with the designation of the Urca de Lima, a Spanish merchant ship, which sank off the coast of Ft. Pierce in 1715.

Now officials have nominated the USS Narcissus, the remains of a U.S. Navy steam tug sunken off the coast of Egmont Key, as Florida’s twelfth shipwreck park.

The wooden-hulled screw tug had a shallow draft of six feet, could reach speeds up to 12 knots and was armed with a 20-pounder Parrot rifle that fired a 12-pound cannon.

The U.S.S. Narcissus served during the Civil War, but blew up and sank in 1866 during a storm, taking the entire crew with it.

Today parts of the steam machinery, propeller and a portion of the wooden hull are positioned on a sandy bottom northwest of Egmont Key in about 15 feet of water. The conditions are perfect for diving, as the current is often mild and visibility impressive.

The wreck would be the second in the area. In 2004 the Regina, a molasses barge, wrecked during a storm off Bradenton Beach, becoming the states tenth underwater preserve.

If the USS Narcissus site becomes a preserve, an opening ceremony will be held to dedicate the new Preserve and to place an underwater bronze plaque designating the site a State Underwater Archeological Preserve and Florida Heritage Site.

Designating an underwater wreck as one of Florida’s Underwater Archaeological Preserves takes months of preparation. The designation requires historical research by archeologists, historians and divers as well as underwater mapping of the site.

The Florida Aquarium and South Eastern Archaeological Services nominated the wreck in 2010.

The USS Narcisssus was built Albany, N.Y. in 1863, the commissioned by the U.S. Navy for use in Mississippi Sound, New Orleans, Mobile Bay and Pensacola.

Admiral David Farragut of the West Gulf Blockading squadron captained the ship. In August 1864, the vessel participated in the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. However, that same year a torpedo struck the hull on the starboard side and the ship sank in 15 minutes.

Although no lives were lost during the attack, the blow marked the end of the tug’s war career. The USS Narcissus was salvaged, but spent the remainder of the war at the Pensacola Naval Yard under repair.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the USS Narrcissus departed Pensacola destined for the Northeastern U.S., where she was to be sold. However, the tug ran aground and sank Jan. 4, 1866 while navigating around a storm off the coast of Tampa. The collision caused the broiler to explode, blowing the ship, and the entire crew into the depths of the Gulf.

The park is expected to draw in diving and snorkeling enthusiasts and Florida heritage tourism as well as generate revenue to surrounding communities.

Florida’s shipwreck parks are well visited often introducing charters to the site several times a week, especially at the height of dive season.

Other shipwreck perseveres include:
• Urca De Lima, Spanish merchant vessel, Ft. Pierce, Fla.
• San Pedro, Spanish treasure fleet galleon, Isamoralda, Florida Keys
• City of Hawkinsville, stern-wheel steamboat, Swannee River, Levy County
• USS Massachusetts, U.S. Navy Battleship, Pensacola, Fla.
• SS Copenhagen, single screw steamer, Pompano Beach, Fla.
• SS Tarpon, merchant steamer, Panama City, Fla.
• Half Moon, German steel racing yacht, Key Biscayne, Fla.
• Lofthus, English barque, Boynton Beach, Fla.
• Vamar, tramp steamer, Port St. Joe, Fla.
• Regina, screw steamer turned tanker, Bradenton Beach, Fla.
• George Valentine, Barkentine, Stuart, Fla.

So the next time you are feeling adventurous, trade the hiking boats for flippers and come on out to a shipwreck park located in your area.

Bradenton Beach pier renovation to cost $1.2M-plus

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

City clerk Jamie Anderson opens sealed construction bids for the renovation of the Historic Bridge Street Pier during the April 21 public meeting at the Tingley Memorial Library, 111 Second St. W., Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

City clerk Jamie Anderson opens sealed construction bids for the renovation of the Historic Bridge Street Pier during the April 21 public meeting at the Tingley Memorial Library, 111 Second St. W., Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

Bradenton Beach city officials finally saw a step forward in the long — more than two-year — process to renovate the city pier.

The good news? The project is fully funded.

Proposals are in for the Historic Bridge Street Pier renovation and the lowest bid exceeds $1.2 million.

The sealed bids were opened during a public meeting April 21 at the Tingley Memorial Library, 111 Second St. W., Bradenton Beach.

Five construction companies submitted bids, seeking to win the contract.

The lowest proposal, $1,202,140.94, was submitted by Miami-based Pac Comm Inc.

Tampa Bay Marine of Gibsonton had the second lowest bid at $1,237,487. Shoreline Foundation Inc. of West Park bid $1,258,543, and Duncan Seawall of Sarasota bid $1,309,452. The most expensive was the bid from a Louisiana-based construction company, Russell Marine, at $1,854,625.

The city will not know which company will be awarded the contract until ZNS Engineering analyzes the bid proposals. That could take about two weeks, according to Steve Gilbert, planning official for Bradenton Beach.

“We look at several factors, including local preference, time projection and whether the plan satisfies all the needs of the city,” Gilbert said.

After the bids are analyzed, the city staff will make a recommendation and the Bradenton Beach City Commission will have final approval.

Of the 11 companies represented at a mandatory pre-bid meeting March 18 at city hall, only five submitted bids.

Gilbert said that is typical in the bid process.

“What happens is the contractors have conflicting projects and therefore don’t complete the process,” he said. “It just depends on what they have going on.”

He said construction on the pier will begin in June, but completion is dependent on the weather since it will fall in hurricane season.

If the project begins as scheduled, it will be reach completion about 10 months from the original completion target date of August 2013.

But the delay proved to be beneficial.

It resulted in an agreement for a $1 million matching-fund partnership with Manatee County, easing the financial worries of Bradenton Beach. Still, officials have been on edge to get the project started.

The pier will be funded through a joint effort by the city of Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency and Manatee County government.

The Manatee County Tourist Development Council recommended up to $1 million in matching funds for the project.

According to Mayor Bill Shearon, the county and the city CRA will split invoices as they are processed.

The county agreed to pay its share of each invoice within 30 days of receiving the bill.

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BBPD dismisses security breach

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

An alleged security breach at Bradenton Beach City Hall was investigated, but the Bradenton Beach Police Department found no evidence to prompt charges.

The BBPD was investigating a report of unauthorized sharing of city files after ELRA Inc. attorney Robert Lincoln sent an email to city attorney Ricinda Perry questioning Mayor Bill Shearon’s authority to give two employees pay raises.

The city clerk’s office noted that Lincoln had attached photos of city personnel records that had not been obtained through normal channels.

ELRA, the corporate entity for the BeacHhouse Restaurant, is suing the mayor, claiming the city charter defines his mayoral position as part of a weak-mayor system of government and alleging that Shearon has tried to remold the position to give him more authority.

The police investigation found that public works employee Christine Watson took photographs of documents and provided them to Lincoln. The records show $1-per-hour pay raises for two administrative employees, Tammy Johnson and Audra Lanzaro, according to the police report.

Of concern was whether the documents were taken and photographed without consent.

The investigation resulted in no criminal charges.

Investigating BBPD Sgt. Lenard Diaz said it was his opinion that no criminal acts occurred within the city government because the files, which are normally in a locked file cabinet, were said to be found on a desk in plain view when the photographs were taken.

City clerk Jamie Anderson told police the files had been moved from former deputy clerk Karen Cervetto’s office in order to have the room painted. Cervetto resigned in January after being disciplined by Shearon.

The investigation revealed that Watson took the photographs in January with her cellphone, when she noticed the documents on the desk while painting in some of the city offices.

Tom Woodward, the city’s public works director, said he would issue Watson a verbal warning.

Woodward said he did not believe Watson’s actions were malicious because news of the raises had upset several employees who claimed the mayor did not follow protocol for salary increases.

Johnson issued an email response to commissioners and city department heads regarding the conclusion of the investigation. In the email, she expressed her disappointment with the results.

“Regardless of whether there were criminal activities or not, unethical and unprofessional activities certainly took place, and that seems to have been swept under the carpet,” she wrote. “Someone employed by the city passed on illicitly gained information to an attorney who is in litigation with the city.”

Shearon defended his decision to issue pay raises, noting that Johnson and Lanzaro had no supervision, were acting as department heads and took on a lot more responsibility after longtime City Clerk Nora Idso resigned in November due to health issues.

“The problem was I couldn’t act as a department head, so I chose to make them department heads, my administrative staff was depleted by half.” he said. “The ship was sinking and I had to plug a hole.”

The pay raises were included in the $47,564 budget amendment that was approved by commissioners at the April 17 commission meeting.

In other business

The commission April 17 voted 3-2, with Shearon and Vice Mayor Janie Robertson opposed, to require that the city attorney communicate with all commissioners, not just the mayor, when discussing litigation.

During the April meeting, Robertson pulled an invoice for Perry that details her work from the consent agenda, saying she is uncomfortable with Lincoln communicating with Perry, who had charged the city for the conferences.

Robertson said Lincoln should be communicating with the mayor’s attorney Charles F. Johnson, of Blalock Walters, not the city attorney.

“We are not being informed about what is really going on in any of the lawsuits,” she said. “We are not getting any updates from any attorneys.”

Perry said she is obliged to respond to Lincoln in certain situations, but said she could “handle herself” if she believed Lincoln was taking advantage of the situation. She said she is required by law to provide Lincoln with public records and to discuss certain items in order to give him background.

Discussion ensued and Commissioner Jan Vosburgh made a motion to have Perry copy all commissioners when conferring litigation with the mayor.

Shearon assured the commission that there was no duplication of counsel and opposed the motion. “I’d like to see you try this and run the city,” he said.

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MCSO: Woman stole $100K-plus from marina

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter



A Myakka woman was arrested April 23 for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 from a business where she worked for more than 10 years.

Kristine Louise McWilliams, 46, faces charges of grand theft over $100,000 and scheming to defraud over $50,000.

The theft occurred over the course of a year, according to the police report.

McWilliams was employed as the bookkeeper for Cannons Marina, 6040 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, for about 10 years, the report said.

During her tenure, she reportedly performed bookkeeping duties that included making bank deposits.

Around July 2013, David Miller, the business owner, noticed discrepancies in the cash and check deposits and found modified deposit slips.

A forensic audit of subpoenaed bank records revealed modified slips with the cash portion of the deposit greatly reduced or missing.

From June 1, 2012, to July 10, 2013, McWilliams allegedly modified more than 100 deposits, pocketing cash of as much as $109,506.16.

Lucile Capo-Miller, public relations director for Cannons Marina and wife of owner David Miller, said the incident was “unfortunate” but would not comment further.

McWilliams was being held at the Manatee County jail on a $10,000 bond. She was released April 26.

Her arraignment will be Friday, May 9, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

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Sunday Favorites: Doctors, Healers and Midwives

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 12.21.15 PMPublished Sunday, April 20, 2014 12:05 am
by Merab-Michal Favorite

Seminole Chief Holata Micco, also known as Billy Bowlegs, practiced self-inflicted bleeding to help cleanse the body of infections.

Seminole Chief Holata Micco, also known as Billy
Bowlegs, practiced self-inflicted bleeding to help
cleanse the body of infections.

For the most part, early settlers had to self-treat their wounds using natural remedies to heal the infections and diseases that befell them.

While some treatment methods could be considered acceptable by today’s standards, others such as purging the stomach, bleeding and the use of leeches might be considered irrational.

The Seminoles used herbs and bleeding to cleanse their bodies in times of sickness. In the book The Lures of Manatee, by Lillie McDuffee, the Wyatt family discovered a band of Seminoles, Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs among them. The group had been quarantined from the rest of their tribe and was conducting the bleeding method of cleansing.

The first doctor to come to the area was Dr. John Oliver Brown who moved to Palmetto in 1893 at the age of 24 to practice medicine.

Brown was particularly interested in typhoid and malaria (also referred to “Intermittent Fear”) fevers. At the time, most doctors believed that inhaling rotting vegetation caused malaria. However, Brown associated the disease with mosquitoes and ordered all open-water wells filled and all rainwater cisterns covered because he believed it would reduce the population.

Brown served the community for 57 years, delivering 976 babies and traveling as many as 30 miles on horseback to tend to his patients.

The Manatee Mineral Spring was thought to have healing powers. It was used by native Americans and settled by Manatee's first white pioneer, Josiah Gates, in January 1842. It served Fort Branch when the early settlers camped nearby for protection from the Seminole raid of 1856.

The Manatee Mineral Spring was thought to have healing powers. It was used by native Americans and settled by Manatee’s first white pioneer, Josiah Gates, in January 1842. It served Fort Branch when the early settlers camped nearby for protection from the Seminole raid of 1856.

When a doctor wasn’t available, the women in the community served as healers. Pioneer housewives had access to medical books for guidance.

Each family kept a garden near their home containing essential medicinal herbs. According to historian Adam Wescott, palmetto berries and pennyroyal tea were used for colds and flu, soda and ginger helped treated colic, lemon, honey and horehound were used for cough, cinnamon and nutmeg helped with diarrhea, willow bark reduced fever, oak bark tea or a drop of turpentine on a lump of sugar was used for worms, chewed tobacco poultice was applied to insect stings and kerosene or animal fat healed wounds.

But people with more severe sicknesses or long term illnesses might seek out a more experienced “herb woman” or be taken to the doctor, which often meant traveling many miles to the next town or city.

Northern doctors prescribed a trip to Florida for several diseases such as tuberculosis. That is how many of the area pioneers ended up in Manatee County.
The fact that people came to Florida to better their health was also enticing to doctors.

Dr. Franklin Branch, born in 1802 in Orwell, Vermont, moved to the Village of Manatee in October 1846 and purchased the land that included the Manatee Mineral Spring.

Dr. Franklin Branch planned to begin a sanatorium, utilizing the springs' healing powers to cure his patients. However, the sanatorium became a fortified encampment during the Third Seminole War and Branch's plan never came to fruition.

Dr. Franklin Branch planned to begin a sanatorium, utilizing the springs’ healing powers to cure his patients. However, the sanatorium became a fortified encampment during the Third Seminole War and Branch’s plan never came to fruition.

Branch planned to build a sanatorium and utilize the supposed healing properties of the mineral spring to treat his patients.

The buildings he constructed were instead fortified with sable palm trunks for protection against the Seminoles. Instead of patients, residents of Manatee occupied the structures of what became known as “Fort Branch” for nine months, during the Third Seminole War.

During that time, Branch delivered three babies and treated a variety of ailments. Following the death of his wife, he sold his property and moved his practice elsewhere.

Dr. John S. Helms arrived in Palmetto in 1896. Immediately, he noticed many of the area’s children featured sallow complexions and behaved lethargically. He discovered they were suffering from hookworm, an often-fatal ailment that plagued many southern states. A simple step of better sanitation eradicated the parasite. Helms later opened a drugstore at Ninth Avenue and Fourth Street.

The germ theory of disease did not become the basis of treatment until the late 1800s.

One of the babies delivered at Fort Branch was Furman Charles Whitaker, the first native-born resident of Manatee County to become a doctor and practice in the area.

Furman had injured his elbow as a boy, without the capability of doing physical labor, he was sent to Danville, Kentucky to study. He returned in 1877, at the end of the Civil War.

He established his medical practice first in Sarasota in 1896, then in Bradenton in 1898. From 1906-1909 Furman practiced general medicine, then went to New York City for his specialty diploma. He was the first Eye, Ear and Nose specialist to practice in Manatee County, returning in 1911.

 Dr. Furman Whittaker became Manatee County's first native-born doctor and Manatee County's first eye, ears and throat specialist.

Dr. Furman Whittaker became Manatee County’s first native-born doctor and Manatee County’s first eye, ears and throat specialist.

Dr. Jack Halton was the first doctor to open a practice in Sarasota, 1904. Four years later, he opened the Halton Sanatorium. However, many historians believe it was his wife who was the real healer in the family.

Back then, women could not earn their doctorate, but they could become midwives.

Cornelia Ponder, of Punta Gorda, was one of the most well-known midwives in the region. Born in 1874 in Georgia, she received medical training was the only midwife to serve the Punta Gorda area during the turn of the century, delivering babies of all ethnicities although she was black. She delivered hundreds of babies in the region.

Antibiotics weren’t invented until the 1930s. Today they are prescribed without a thought, but it wasn’t that long ago that simple herbal ingredients did the job.


Caregiver accused of abusing elderly Holmes Beach man

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

A home health aide was arrested April 10 after she allegedly tied a 95-year-old patient to his bed and physically and mentally abused him.



Joan Smith Franklin, 68, 100 block of Hammock Road, Anna Maria, faces charges of abusing and neglecting an elderly person after she failed to provide the man with proper care and caused him great pain, according to the probable cause affidavit filed by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Franklin has served as the man’s caretaker for more than two years, according to the PCA. She visited the man regularly at his residence on the 600 block of Key Royale Drive in Holmes Beach.

Franklin told The Islander that she is not guilty and plans to fight the charges.

“I was not aware that you can be arrested based on the false accusations of another person,” she said. “I just hope my case helps to brings attention to others in the same situation.”

The patient was immobile due to multiple hip fractures.

He told deputies that Franklin threatened to “break his bones” if he did not lay still. He also accused her of being “very rough when manipulating his body.”

He told the deputy she would often pull his hair when she wanted him to sit up, the report said.

Franklin also allegedly refused to take the victim to his Feb. 28 doctor’s appointment.

A witness told police she saw Franklin tie the victim to the bed, verbally abuse him and pull his hair, the report stated.

Franklin said she has been a caregiver for more than 50 years. She said she is a longtime resident of Anna Maria Island, where she raised her three grandchildren.

Franklin said she routinely volunteers at the elementary school and for community functions. She said receiving a speeding ticket was the closest she’s ever come to being in trouble with the law.

“When you see this, you think, ‘How can this happen?’” she said. “But it can happen to anyone.”

According to the report, Franklin said she restrained the man, but did so to protect him from getting out of bed and hurting himself.

She told The Islander she could not discuss details of the case.

Franklin was taken to the Manatee County jail and released the next day on a $3,000 bond.

Her arraignment will be at 9 a.m., Friday, April 25, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

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Bradenton Beach to crack down on ‘derelict vessels’

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

In Bradenton Beach, a certain derelict sailboat without a mast doesn’t want to stay put.

The boat is now tied up to the public dock on 12th Street South, but broke away from its anchorage, got tied up to the dock, then broke away again.

There seems to be no way of keeping the vessel in place as the dock lines are rotted.

“I get complaints all the time about this boat,” commissioner Jan Vosburgh said during a work session April 15. “People are saying it’s ruining the dock and fear it could be dangerous if it breaks away again.”

A dinghy dock serves as a landing point for boaters anchored off the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach. Officials say the number of boats at the anchorage has doubled in the past two years. Islander Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

A dinghy dock serves as a landing point for boaters anchored off the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach. Officials say the number of boats at the anchorage has doubled in the past two years. Islander Photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

The boat on 12th Street is just one of a number of a rising number of vessels anchored off the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Sarasota Bay that are creating concerns for law enforcement.

Mayor Bill Shearon said the Bradenton Beach Police Department now will work with the U.S. Coast Guard at Station Cortez and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement arm to make sure all the boats anchored offshore are registered with the state.

“Instead of waiting until the thing sinks, or breaks loose and floats into a dock we are trying to be proactive instead of reactive on this,” he said. “That way we reduce the expense of recovering submerged vessels or repairing damages.”

All boats in Florida for 90 days or more require registration from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, according to The only boats exempt are those used strictly as lifeboats or cruisers traveling through who do not plan to stay more than three months.

Boats must be registered with the tax collector’s office within 30 days of purchase and require a sized-based registration fee ranging from $12-$200.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Florid Fish and Wildlife routinely inspect the boats anchored offshore to make sure they are in compliance with environmental laws regarding sewers and greywater, or wastewater generated from washbasins and baths.

However, Police Chief Sam Speciale said most of boaters are good about the environmental regulations, registration often gets overlooked.

“The problem with the boats here, is that many of them have been here for years,” he said. “When one person decides they don’t want to be a liveaboard anymore, they simply give the boat to someone else to live on.”

Speciale says that while original owners usually hand over the title, they often forget to register the vessel to the new owner. The exchange tends to create confusion in the event of a boat breaking loose from it’s holding.

“When the boat is adrift, (the BBPD) is left solving the mystery as to who owns the boat,” he said.

Boats that look dilapidated are considered “at risk” and are tagged by law enforcement authorities, entered into a database and tracked, according to the FWC website A letter to the owner asks that he or she take action. If no one responds to the letter or tag, the vessel is considered derelict and may be removed by law enforcement at the owner’s expense. However, before this occurs, citizens have the right to claim the vessel as found property. As long as the person goes through the required steps to legally own the vessel, he or she can become the skipper.

Speciale said a vessel considered at risk will now be deemed a derelict vessel and posted, regardless of whether there is someone living aboard.

“What this is going to do is force the people living on the boat to have it registered,” he said. “They will have to claim it as found property and go through the required steps to keep it there.”

Speciale said there has been an influx of livaboards over the past two years as a result of the city of Sarasota operations at its mooring field in Sarasota Bay just outside of Marina Jack, 2 Marina Plaza.

The field allows for 35 vessels at a time and requires a fee of $250 a month or $25 a day for the use of the anchorage and amenities. Features include showers and laundry, Wi-Fi, a pumping vessel, a trash and recycling service and more.

Speciale said that many of the people who used to live on boats near Marina Jack relocated in the anchorage near the Historic Bridge Street Pier because they had access to many of the same amenities minus the price.

He also said the city of Bradenton Beach planned to create and operate its own mooring field 10 years ago, adding space on the pier for a harbormaster office, laundry and showers, however the plan never came to fruition.

“We decided that we would be spending more than we could take in,” he said. “So the effort was abandoned.”

Today the showers and restrooms still exist, but are closed after business hours of the restaurants located on the pier.

The number of boats that call the harbor home has doubled.

“We think focusing on the registration is going to solve a lot of issues,” Speciale said.

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ELRA opposes city’s motions to dismiss, substitute parties

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

Owners of the BeachHouse Restaurant have opposed a motion to list Bradenton Beach as the defendant in a lawsuit filed against the mayor, saying the mayor bears all the responsibility of alleged wrongdoing.

Robert Lincoln, the attorney representing BeachHouse corporate owner ELRA Inc. and its owner, Ed Chiles, has opposed a motion from the city to substitute parties and to dismiss portions of the lawsuit filed in February against Mayor Bill Shearon.

Charles F. Johnson, of Blalock Walters, representing Shearon on behalf of the city, filed a motion to substitute parties March 3, arguing the real party interest is the city, not Shearon, and the lawsuit should reflect that.

However, Lincoln responded that the city isn’t the problem and substituting parties would not make sense. Lincoln did not return phone calls from The Islander.

ELRA’s lawsuit challenges a pattern of past behavior and statements made by Shearon. It alleges he overstepped his authority and has a conflict of interest in another ongoing lawsuit, Meilner-Martin v. ELRA-Bradenton Beach, to terminate a development agreement between the city and ELRA for a parking lot on the beach.

Johnson alleges the city charter provides for a weak-mayor system of government and claims that Shearon has tried to remold the position to reflect his position.

According to Paul Ferber, part-time city resident and former political science professor at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, the biggest difference between the two systems is that in a strong-mayor system, the mayor has the authority to hire and fire the department heads.

“Only the full commission has the power to do this in Bradenton Beach and, thus, what we clearly have here is the weak-mayor system,” Ferber said in an email.

However, the ELRA suit alleges Shearon was acting as a “strong mayor” when he threatened department heads if they failed to provide evidence to sway the commission to deny the development agreement.

Shearon has denied those allegations.

“I was elected by the people to run the city in the best way I can,” he said. “They seem to have a problem with how I’m running the city and thoughts about how I should be running the city, yet, neither one of them live here. Maybe they should move here and run for mayor.”

If Shearon where part of a strong-mayor government, he would have more executive authority over the city and would not be able to vote on the commission, according to Ferber.

At the March 20 commission meeting, Vice Mayor Janie Robertson motioned to reaffirm the mayor as the administrator of Bradenton Beach as described by the city charter and employee handbook.

However, her motion died for lack of a second. Robertson asked if the city would adopt an organizational chart in the future, and Shearon said that was his intent.

The lawsuit also alleges that Shearon has a conflict of interest in the Meilner-Martin lawsuit, which originally listed Shearon, fellow planning and zoning board member Jo Ann Meilner, and Shearon’s partner Tjet Martin as plaintiffs.

Shearon withdrew from the lawsuit after winning the November municipal election, but ELRA claims Shearon still has a conflict because his significant other, Tjet Martin, remains a plaintiff.

Shearon said that while he and Martin are a couple and run a business together, they are not legally married and do not share bank accounts.

“She is funding the lawsuit on her own,” Shearon said. “I pulled out of that lawsuit before I was sworn in and have not spent a dime of my money on that case, therefore, there is no conflict of interest.”

The ELRA v. mayor lawsuit also alleges the mayor violated Florida’s Sunshine Laws through email communications. It also alleges he spoke with Meilner privately on city business in 2012 when they both served on the P&Z board.

Meilner denied any wrongdoing, saying their conversations were not about agenda items, merely a friendly exchange between colleagues about routine items.

“They are reaching here,” she said. “They must be desperate if they are throwing around these accusations. Bill and I never discussed city issues outside city chambers.

Shearon said that while he has no animosity toward ELRA, there has been a perceived difference of opinion concerning the lawsuit.

“What’s really disappointing to me is that they could have come and talked to me about this disagreement but, unfortunately, there has been a lack of communication on Mr. Chiles’ part,” Shearon said.

“With all the problems facing the city, (the lawsuit) is a waste of my time and taxpayer money,” he said.


Bradenton Beach lawyers want city, not mayor named in lawsuit

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

ELRA Inc., owner of the Beachhouse Restaurant, amended on Feb. 24 its lawsuit against Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon that challenges his capacity as mayor.

Sarasota attorney Robert Lincoln filed the original lawsuit Feb. 6 on behalf of ELRA Inc., alleging Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon overstepped his authority and has a conflict of interest in the ongoing litigation to terminate a development agreement between ELRA and the city.

ELRA Inc. lists Ed Chiles as president/director on the government-sponsored website

The lawsuit asks that the court to issue an order determining how Shearon should act in certain future situations.

Charles F. Johnson, of Blalock Walters, the law firm representing Shearon on behalf of the city, said it was his opinion that the court should not pre-judge future events or in any way limit future authority or conduct of the mayor. He says the court should not make a speculative decision on the unknown.

ELRA Inc. also alleges that two emails sent by the mayor to Bradenton Beach commissioners violate Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law. Lincoln alleges the mayor and commissioners can’t discuss matters of public policy without being in a public meeting. No other complaint has been made.

According to a memorandum sent by Johnson, it wasn’t the initial emails but the responses that allegedly violated Chapter 286 of Florida statute.

Johnson said the law firm is investigating those claims, and has filed a motion to dismiss, as well as a motion to substitute parties.

The motion to substitute parties argues that the real party interest is the city, rather than Mayor Shearon, and the lawsuit should reflect that.

The motion to dismiss argues that portions of the suit are moot because of the other suit against the city filed by former planning and zoning board member Jo Ann Meilner and Tjet Martin. That lawsuit has been ongoing since June 2012.

It originally included Shearon, Martin’s life partner and business partner, as a plaintiff, but Shearon withdrew after being elected mayor in November 2013.

Blalock Waters invoiced the city $3,093 to file the motions. Commissioners unanimously approved the expense during their March 20 meeting.

A new judge has been assigned to the lawsuit brought by Martin and Meilner against the city.

On Feb. 28, 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan entered an order disqualifying herself from the case, citing a conflict of interest. The case has been re-assigned to Judge Gilbert Smith, also of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

Shearon, Martin and Meilner filed the 2012 lawsuit challenging the city’s approval of an agreement with ELRA Inc., allowing construction of a parking lot on a vacant parcel south of the BeachHouse Restaurant.

At the time of the planning and zoning board review, the board found the application inconsistent with the comprehensive plan and that the proposed parking lot impeded on an erosion control line developed by the state in 1992.

According to ELRA’s attorney, in 2006, the city initiated a code enforcement action against ELRA regarding the use of the vacant parcel. However, ELRA’s evidence at the hearing showed the parcel had been used for parking since the restaurant opened in the 1970s. It was considered “grandfathered” — exempt from regulation. The parties then compromised, allowing up to forty cars to park on the parcel.

Between 2008 and 2012, ELRA Inc. claims it worked with the city to ensure parking on the vacant lot did not violate sea turtle nesting regulations.

In March 2012, the city approved the joint agreement with ELRA to improve the parking lot, install handicap-accessible parking spaces and improve access for city residents. The project included creating a dune west of the lot to protect city hall — across Gulf Drive — from storm surge. The joint agreement gave both entities non-exclusive access.

The P&Z recommended against the agreement, and Shearon and Meilner resigned from P&Z following the approval by the commission.

ELRA’s lawsuit also alleges Meilner and Shearon were observed by an unnamed witness talking in the parking lot following a P&Z meeting, violating the Sunshine Law, but no complaint has been made to that effect.

The lawsuit filed by Meilner and Martin against the city has been stalled in the court system, without mediation, arbitration or a hearing date.


Stabbing suspect faces additional charges

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By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

A man arrested after allegedly stabbing a woman multiple times March 15 in the Holmes Beach apartment they shared with another man now faces additional charges after the victim reported finding a homemade weapon in the apartment.



Andrew Helderman, 23, 300 block of Clark Drive, now faces new charges of making or discharging a destructive device and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon in addition to the charges of aggravated assault and attempted first-degree murder.

The initial second-degree attempted murder charge was dropped March 31 and replaced with the first-degree attempted murder charge because officials now believe the attack on the victim was premeditated, court documents state.

Helderman also injured his male roommate in the March 15 attack.

The attorney representing Helderman, Franklin Roberts, entered a plea of not guilty to all charges and requested a jury trial.

According to the HBPD police report, the 31-year-old victim discovered the “bangstick” — capable of firing a 12-gauge shotgun round — while moving out of the apartment.

She was released from the hospital after recovering from a series of lacerations she suffered during the stabbing. She is planning a move to Tampa.

HBPD Officer Steve Ogline stopped by the apartment March 20 when he noticed the tailgate of a vehicle parked at the residence was open.

The woman showed Ogline a weapon that, according to police, Helderman built only a few days before he attacked her.

She said Helderman had showed it to her and fired it at least once into a wooded area across the street from the apartment.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office assisted the HBPD in determining if the device was operational.

It is made of metal tubing, vacuum cleaner parts and electrical tape, and was determined to be capable of firing a bullet when packed with gunpowder, according to the report.

Helderman is a felon who served six years in prison in Glades County. He was convicted of battery on a detention officer, false imprisonment, criminal mischief, grand theft auto, escape from a juvenile detention facility and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He is prohibited from owning a gun.

Helderman is being held at the Manatee County jail on a $174,000 bond.

According to the court website, the arraignment scheduled for April 11 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W, Bradenton, was continued.