Sunday Favorites: The Murder of Sarasota’s First Mayor

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SIESTA KEY — It was an unusually cold Thursday on Jan. 7, 1921, the kind of day that made one’s extremities go numb. That morning Bert Lutzier and his son, Merle, discovered something far more chilling than the temperature—a man, soaking in a pool of blood, was lying in the middle of Beach Road.

Bert and Merle, construction workers tasked with shoveling and hauling shell to developments along Sarasota Key—present-day Siesta Key—came across the sinister scene at the start of their workday.

Harry Higel
Harry Higel

A closer inspection revealed the man had a pulse although he was unresponsive and gurgling blood. His face was so badly bludgeoned he was unidentifiable.

Immediately, they put him in the back of their truck and raced to Dr. Joseph Haldon’s home in Sarasota. Upon diagnosing the man’s critical condition, (he suffered from a deep laceration above the right eye), Haldon ordered him taken to the closest hospital in Bradenton.

While making the journey south, the caretakers noticed the injured man wore several pieces of gold jewelry. On one hand, a ring with the initials “H.H.” gave away his identity.

The caretakers decided he was Harry Higel, one of the most prominent developers in Sarasota and a former city mayor who served during Sarasota’s 1913 incorporation.

Considered a new-age politician, Higel pushed for Sarasota’s development. When no bridge connected Sarasota Key to the mainland, Higel would sail potential land buyers across the bay to show them properties. He built the prestigious Higelhurst Hotel, and had his hands in other numerous land deals and developments on the key.

But Higel never saw Sarasota Key reach its potential. That cold January day, he died before ever reaching the hospital. He was 53.

While police were looking into a confrontation Harry had with an African-American construction worker a few days prior, members of the public were pointing fingers in another direction.

A mob of local residents formed and kidnapped Sarasota Sun editor Rube Allyn, who had a long-standing beef with the businessman. The short-tempered Allyn had a reputation for behaving erratically.

The mob hung a rope around his neck and was about to string him up when police intervened and transported him to jail in Bradenton to ensure his safety.

In the 1910s, Higel quarreled with Allyn over an unpaid debt after he’d lent Allyn money for a home near his prized Higelhurst Hotel on the north end of Sarasota Key. Allyn not only lived at the location, he also printed the Sarasota Sun inside a dockside office.

Aside from the debt, Higel cringed every day when a donkey-drawn cart carrying Allyn’s disabled son passed the property, and disapproved of Allyn allowing his chickens to run amok instead of keeping them cooped up.

In 1917, the Higelhurst Hotel mysteriously burned down one month before the bridge to Sarasota Key was completed. Higel suffered a major financial loss and had to rebuild.

No one knew whom or what was responsible for the fire, but many folks believed it was Allyn, mostly because of his close proximity to the property and his assertiveness toward Higel. During the 1916 local elections, Allyn is said to have criticized Higel’s character in his newspaper.

Regardless of the relationship the two men had, there was not enough evidence to convict Allyn of Higel’s murder.

On March 10, 1921, a Grand Jury acquitted him of all charges, taking only 10 minutes to deliberate. They found the evidence to be circumstantial.

While Allyn’s jail time meant the end of his career at the Sarasota Sun, he was still working as an editor of Florida Fisherman, a publication put out by the St. Petersburg Times.

The Times stood by Allyn, considering that he had spent much of his time surrounding the murder in St. Petersburg perfecting the start-up magazine.

Upon his arrest, his wife took over management of the Florida Fisherman to ensure it would print on time.

While Allyn’s eccentrics were condemned in Sarasota, co-workers who described him as a “story-book character” heralded him. The Times article goes on to describe him as “a man of high romantic imagination, a philosopher, a poet in prose and a lover of nature.”

Allyn moved away from Sarasota, finally settling in Ruskin. There is a coral reef named after him in Pinellas County.

As for Higel’s murder, it remains unsolved. Although authorities suspected the African-American laborer because he had been shoveling for Higel the day before and a shovel could have caused the injuries, the charge lacked evidence.

A handsome reward was offered to anyone with evidence, but nothing ever came of it. Instead, the murder of Higel remains cloaked in secrecy and always will be one of Southwest Florida’s greatest mysteries.

Sunday Favorites: Ringling’s Female Counterpart

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 12.21.15 PMSARASOTA — It’s almost impossible to mention Sarasota without naming its greatest advocate John Ringling. The circus tycoon is synonymous with the city’s development investing heavily in property and helping to shape the area, as we know it. However, Ringling had a female counterpart who is rarely mentioned by residents.

While the name Bertha Palmer might not ring a bell, you probably have driven down a road that bears her maiden name Honore.

Bertha Honore Palmer
Bertha Honore Palmer

Both Palmer and Ringling arrived in Sarasota in the 1910s during the height of the land boom. Both invested heavily, buying large tracts of land around the county, which they hoped would appreciate quickly. Both were charismatic and stylish (Bertha also touted curves that would make Kim Kardashian jealous). Both platted land and laid out roads and both left lasting legacies, which are still around today.

Palmer was just as wealthy and connected as Ringling. She was the widow of Potter Palmer, a land developer who famously established Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. Now an expressway running parallel to Lake Michigan, the spans was originally intended for leisurely carriage rides.

Palmer is credited with coercing city officials to build Lake Shore Drive because he thought it would add value to his adjacent property; his home overlooking the lake was known as “The Castle.” Palmer also designed and built the famous Palmer House Hotel, a swanky inn located in the Chicago Loop area.

But Bertha was a legend in her own right. Coined the “Queen of Chicago,” she was known for her social connections, charity work and political stance supporting women’s rights. She chaired the Board of Lady Managers for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and she always seemed to appear in the newspapers, mostly for her designer clothes and lavish jewelry.

Automobiles were a new invention at the time of Bertha’s arrival and the thick Florida underbrush was hard to clear so most folks sailed when they wanted to get from one place to another.

Palmer bought Spanish Point from the Webb’s, and also purchased thousands of acres that started in Oneco and ran all the way to Venice.

While Ringling was busy building a bridge connecting Siesta Key to the mainland, Bertha was enticing the Seaboard Air Line Rail Way to provide commercial transportation to the area.

She is also largely responsible for dredging a channel in between Sarasota and its barrier islands. The project eventually led to the federally funded Intracoastal Waterway.

Bertha introduced more nutritious grasses to area pastures for cattle grazing and began fencing the open range. At the time, a fruit fly epidemic was killing cattle in Manatee, so Bertha petitioned the city for mandatory cattle dipping.

While some might criticize her for helping to bring Florida’s open range and cattle driving to an end, it is her high-tech ranch that now makes up Myakka State Park. That’s right; Bertha donated her 30,000-acre ranch, originally called Meadowsweet Pastures, now a state persevere.

Ironically the property is attached to part of a 67,000-acre tract owned by John and Charles Ringling that was once the site of an oil-drilling venture. That property is now the county-owned Carlton Preserve.

The southern portion of Bertha’s estate eventually became the City of Venice. Her two sons, along with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, essentially drained 8,000 acres of wetlands to create Palmer Farms and Palmer Farm Growers Association, a co-op celery packing and shipping organization.

But Bertha’s heart and soul was the winter estate she purchased from the Webb’s called Spanish Point. She renamed the landmark Osprey Point, and planted exotic gardens, most notably the sunken garden that is still around today. She told people that the bay reminded her of one she’d encountered on a trip to Italy.

She restored the cottages once inhabited by the Webb’s, and used them as guest quarters for her guests.

Today, Bertha Palmer is rarely mentioned by locals, but the next time you drive by a landmark bearing her name, hopefully you will picture the buxom socialite who made just as much of an impact on the area as her male counterpart … what was his name again?

Sunday Favorites: The First Golf Course

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SARASOTA — Golf courses today speckle the state, expertly cut out of just about every possible Florida terrain one could imagine, but did you know one of the first courses in the U.S. was located right here in Sarasota?

Built in 1886 on a 110-acre tract bordering Main Street, the nine-hole course was the start of golf in Florida, and the U.S., as we know it.

John Hamilton Gillespie poses under a large palm. Photo: State Archives of Florida
John Hamilton Gillespie poses under a large palm. Photo: State Archives of Florida

Scottish people claim to have invented the game of golf. I say ‘claim’ because the fact is based on a quote by a Royal and Ancient Golf Club spokesman who famously said, “Stick and ball games have been around for many centuries, but golf as we know it today, played over 18 holes, clearly started in Scotland.”

Whatever the case, it was definitely a Scot who first brought the game here. John Hamilton Gillespie, who was elected first mayor of the Town of Sarasota in 1902, is credited with building the first golf course in the U.S., according to the State Archives of Florida.

Back in the late 1800s, when Sarasota was just beginning to take shape, Gillespie had a crazy pipe dream that included the course, a clubhouse and a five-star hotel. Lucky for us, the dream actually came to fruition in 1905.

Gillespie was an aristocrat and the son of a man by the same name except J.G. Senior sported the title “Sir,” an honor conferred by royalty. Both Gillespies were lawyers as well as members of the Royal Company of Archers, an organization that served as bodyguard for the queen.

However, in 1885, John Gillespie Junior was one of several Scottish immigrants who boarded a steamer departing Glasgow, Scotland that was bound for Sarasota. They were promised a trip to a new land filled with, well, promise.

What they found when they arrived was a freezing barren landscape with no crops, no housing and no dock for the boat to pull up to!

So why were these immigrants duped into crossing an ocean for a budding town not quite ready for habitation? According to historian Janet Snyder Matthews, it was all part of broadside settlement enacted to help some wealthy politicians get out of debt after the Civil War.

In 1881, Governor William Bloxham crafted an agreement with former Union officer Hamilton Disston, basically allowing him to drain the Kissimmee River Valley, south of Lake Okeechobee, in order to provide millions of acres of fertile soil for grazing cattle and farmland. Disston of course would get half of the acreage. He ended up paying $1 million for four million acres; talk about a good investment!

Disston sold half his land to Edward J. Reed, an international land developer from England. Towns soon popped up across the state donning English and Scottish names.

Those Scottish immigrant families boarded a steamer bound for a place the clever land developers designated “Ormiston Colony,” a rebranded version of Sarasota, itself a modern version of its former Spanish name Zarazote. The colony was described as a brand new town with profitable citrus groves and vegetable fields that grew during the winter, a luxury Scotland did not provide.

Imagine the surprise when the weary travelers had to wade ashore only to find they needed to build their own shelter out of something called ‘palm fronds’ or stay with a family they didn’t know. When snow began falling the next month, most of the Scots packed their belongings and headed back home. You can read more about their experience here.

But young Gillespie stayed. He smelled potential.

Matthews describes the next few years in her booklet, “Sarasota Over My Shoulder.”

“Some (of the colonists) stayed and worked while the developer’s plans took shape. They described it as ‘the busy place with a ring of axes and the crash of falling pine trees, accompanied by the songs of Negroes and smell of burning brush.’ Homes, stores and a dock went up. Roads were cleared and graded. Avenues were named for fruits exciting to the 1880s European — Mango, Lime, Lemon, Strawberry, Pineapple, Orange, Coconut and Banana.”

Gillespie was considered a construction manager of the undertaking. In 1886, he cleared woods along Main Street and laid out a long fairway. By 1905, he had completed a nine-hole course and clubhouse on the 110-acre tract.

At the time, golf was just emerging in the U.S. Although the Savannah Golf Club can be traced back to 1794, the majority of clubs opened in the late 1800s, with the first official U.S. Amateur Champion taking place in 1895.

Probably inspired by his own disappointing arrival, Gillespie also built the Desoto Hotel, which he placed at the foot of Main Street to serve as accommodations for those visitors and investors arriving by ship.

Gillespie died playing the game he loved, suffering a heart attack on his course in 1923. While Gillespie’s life was cut short, his legacy is still apparent today. Aside from Florida being one of the world’s top golf destinations, his Scottish heritage is still present locally. Up into the 1990s, the Riverview High School band wore kilts and engaged the “Highland Dancers” who regularly performed Scottish ditties during football games.​

Mayor’s ‘spouse’ stirs up Bradenton Beach commission race

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By Merab-Michal Favorite

If you ask Tjet Martin why she’s running for office, you’ll get a response “I want to stir things up a bit.”

The 52-year –old Chicago native did just that when she picked up a registration packet from the Bradenton Beach city clerk’s office May 30.

Martin said she plans to run for the Ward 4 commission seat, against incumbent Jan Vosburgh.

However, Martin is no ordinary candidate; she and her longtime partner, Bill Shearon run Linger Longer rentals, 302 Gulf Drive.

Did I mention Shearon also happens be the mayor of Bradenton Beach?

“Everyone has been asking, ‘what about Sunshine?’’ Martin said. “The truth is, we have better things to talk about.”

Because the mayor serves as part of the commission, it is illegal under Florida Statute for him to discuss city topics with other members of the commission in any setting other than a public forum.

Scott Farrington, assistant supervisor of elections for Manatee County, said there is nothing in the election laws that would prevent Martin from running for the commission seat.

“We can only speak for the election laws,” he said. “Obviously there are ethical concerns in this situation but there is nothing we can do to prevent her from registering.”

Martin said residents should not be concerned that the mayor would play favorites if she wins the commission seat.

“Anyone who knows us knows that we are very different people with very different viewpoints,” she said. “We both feel strongly about our own opinions and they differ greatly.”

However, Martin may have another conflict of interest.

She and former planning and zoning board member Jo Ann Meilner are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2012, which challenges 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.

The lawsuit originally listed Shearon who was also a P&Z board member at the time, but he withdrew after winning the November municipal election.

Martin said if she wins, she also would withdraw from the lawsuit and recuse herself from any related agenda items.

“If I don’t win, I’m not going to withdraw,” she said. “ELRA is a bully, and I don’t tolerate bullies.”

Martin said she hopes her decision to run will prompt others to register.

“This city needs a healthy election,” she said. “Someone needs to run against the incumbent commissioners, they shouldn’t just win by default.

The Ward 2 commission seat is also up for grabs on November 4. Incumbent Ed Straight has registered to run, but so far has had no challengers.

Both Straight and Vosburgh ran unopposed in 2012.

Martin accused the current commission of trying to micromanage the city. She said given the opportunity, she would trust city employees to do their job.

She would also like to see the city budget back in the black. A recent audit determined the city was spending more than it had taken in.

Martin has called Bradenton Beach home for the last 11 years.

She was one of eight children raised by factory workers in North Chicago.

She said she realized she was good a building things early on.

Her mechanical talents earned her a job manufacturing machinery in a local factory, a career she says she greatly enjoyed. However, it was cut short when she suffered a work-related injury.

Martin was a server at a German restaurant when she met Shearon.

“He was a regular and basically swept me off my feet,” she said.

The couple was “snowbird cruisers,” living on a boat in Illinois over the summer and sailing to Longboat Key during the winters.

Eventually, they took root in Bradenton Beach and have lived there ever since.

Martin currently serves on the Scenic Waves Committee.

Residents have until June 20 to register to run for office.

Candidate packets are available at the city clerk’s office at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., or at the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office, 600 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton.

Applicants are required to have established residency within the city for 90 days and be registered to vote in the ward for which they qualify.

The candidate must pay a qualifying fee equal to 1 percent of the annual salary for the office sought — $96 for mayor, $48 for commission seat — and obtain 10 petition signatures of voters residing in the city.

Holmes Beach Woman Dies in Accidental Shooting


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By Merab-Michal Favorite

Islander Reporter

A Holmes Beach woman died after she shot herself in the chest June 6 while cleaning a revolver.

Janice Louise Kartzert, 65, was found dead insider her home in the 300 block of 60th Street around 12:45 p.m., according to the report from the Holmes Beach Police Department.

Kartzert’s neighbor called 911 after he reportedly looked in her window and noticed her body slumped over in a chair and blood on her chest, the report said.

The neighbor said he became curious when Kartzert did not come to the door as she normally does every morning.

According to the neighbor, Kartzert gives his dog a treat if he comes to her back door on their morning walks.

A team of emergency medical responders arrived at Katzert’s home at 12:28, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

An HBPD officer noticed a silver revolver on the table next to a cleaning kit and towel, the report said.

Holms Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said officers initially thought Kartzert died as the result of a suicide, however, after they analyzed the crime scene, they determined Kartzert had been cleaning her gun when it accidentally fired.

Locals knew Kartzert as “Scooter Jan,” because of her distinct yellow motor scooter she used to navigate the island.

On Sunday mornings, Kartzert’s scooter was usually parked outside D’Coy Ducks, 5410 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, where she often played cribbage.

“She was a very caring and giving person,” said Rhonda Gula, a bartender at D’Coy’s. “She had a huge heart and she would go out of her way for anyone.”

Gula said Kartzert loved to splurge on her friends on their birthdays.

“She’d get them pizza or order them a round,” Gula said. “She loved spoiling people on their name day.”

“She was a wonderful person and she will be missed,” Gula added.

Sky Lanterns: Beautiful or Dangerous?

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Originally run in the June 4, 2014 edition

By Merab-Michal Favorite

Aerial luminaries have gained popularity in the United States and are sometimes released during weddings and other events. Islander photo: courtesy National Association of Fire Marshals
Aerial luminaries have gained popularity in the United States and are sometimes released during weddings and other events. Islander photo: courtesy National Association of Fire Marshals

Imagine standing in the sand with small waves breaking at your ankles and looking up to see hundreds of flying luminaries drift slowly through the night sky.

“It really is a beautiful scene,” said Christina Mathews, owner of Weddings by Christina, of Sun City. “Sometimes when people are witnessing it for the first time, it actually takes their breath away.”

Mathews, who often coordinates weddings on Anna Maria Island, said the ceremonial release of aerial luminaries has gained popularity in recent years, especially during weddings and remembrance events.

“It’s a nice touch, kind of like releasing butterflies or doves,” Mathews said. “They also make for amazing pictures.”

Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, shows Brandenton Beach commissioners remnants of an aerial lantern during their May 22 meeting. Islander photo: Merab-Michal Favorite
Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, shows Brandenton Beach commissioners remnants of an aerial lantern during their May 22 meeting. Islander photo: Merab-Michal Favorite

Also known as Chinese lanterns, sky candles and fire balloons, aerial luminaries are essentially miniature hot-air balloons, made of lightweight rice paper and bamboo frames that are kept aloft by a burning candle and are made to disintegrate in the air.

Normally released over the water, the destiny of the flying lantern is greatly dependent on the weather.

“It’s fine unless the wind shifts east,” explained Chief Andy Price, of West Manatee Fire Rescue. “When that happens, you end up with a major fire hazard.”

Just ask Suzi Fox, executive director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring.

Fox recently collected the charred remains of a half dozen aerial lanterns from her Bradenton Beach neighborhood the morning after they were released at a beach wedding ceremony.

“Some ended up on roofs, others were in peoples backyards,” she said May 22 during public comment at the commission meeting. “They say they are environmentally friendly, but I don’t think they are.”

Fox has started a grassroots movement to get the luminaries banned throughout the county.

“I would like to see the whole island on board with this, but I’m starting out with the city I live in because this one was in my backyard,” Fox said as she held up what was left of an aerial lantern.

WMFR Deputy Fire Marshall Jim Davis said he initially didn’t see the need for a special ban on the luminaries because ordinances already in place specifically prohibit the use of fire on the beach.

“We don’t allow fire or fireworks, so why would we allow uncontrolled fire released into the air?” he said. “It seems like a no brainer.”

The luminaires are addressed on a state level through fire codes, according to the National Association of Fire Marshalls, but Davis feels not having them specifically mentioned in the code has caused issues with enforcement.

Davis has been avidly against allowing the release of the lanterns after at least two brush fires were attributed to lanterns on the beach four years ago.

“One of them burned a 20-square-foot area of sea oats and another got entangled in some Australian pines and started a fire,” he said. “Our guys had to put them both out.”

Davis said the occurrence prompted him to speak with several island businesses associated with events to discuss the lanterns.

“I thought we had an understanding that the lanterns were not allowed, but people continue to release them,” he said.

Davis plans to bring the topic up at the June 10 fire marshal meeting, where officials from all the fire organizations within the county get together.

“I think we are going to need a countywide ban on these things,” said Davis. “Here at the beach, they usually go out over the water, but out east there is land and forest and, if that caught fire, there would be some major damage.”

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.

– See more at:

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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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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