Island Chatter: November 2020

Trolley still ‘Breeze-ing’ along

The Siesta Key Breeze has been able to meet recent demand, even with coronavirus pandemic protocols in place,

Jane Grogg, interim director of Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), has reported.

In August, the open-air trolley carried 6,669 passengers. For September, the total was 7,289.   

“CPR Medical Transport LLC [which operates the Breeze] continues with distancing measures on the Trolley, just as when service resumed in June,” Grogg wrote in an email. “That includes blocking every other bench. Also, their drivers are required to wear facemasks when in any Trolley (encouraged but not required of passengers). Trolley capacity is adequate to cover current demand,” she added.

During the most recent Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members meeting, conducted on June 17, Nathan Reid, general manager of the Breeze, explained that June 15 was the first day the trolley was back in operation after the county ordered a halt in its service in late March. That March action followed county leaders’ decision to close the public beaches in an effort to keep people safe during the pandemic.

County staff responds to streetlight outages

After receiving comments from a reader about lighting outages in Siesta Village, the SNL checked in with Lisa Cece, the special district coordinator for Sarasota County who oversees the Village upkeep as county liaison with the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp.

The Siesta Key Village Maintenance manager undertakes night inspections to evaluate the Village streetlights, Cece wrote in an email. Three had been reported out, she added, so the county’s Traffic Operations staff worked to ensure they shone once again.

However, after the SNL let Cece know that one streetlight continued to be out, she replied that she would make a request for staff to check it.

Additionally, the SNL told her in mid-October that a reader had reported that the Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) streetlight at Beach Access 5 was out. Cece responded that she was unaware of that situation, but she would get the number for the pole there and report the situation to FPL.

Residents will call her to report FPL outages, she added, so she can make requests of the company to address them. Otherwise, she noted, residents may contact FPL themselves.

What happened to the ‘concrete triangles’?

The SNL also asked Lisa Cece, the county’s special districts coordinator, about a report regarding removal of the concrete triangles that long had been in place on the east side of Ocean Boulevard, between Beach Bazaar and Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill.

Cece explained that after county Public Works Department staff reviewed various issues related to the four triangular curbs in that section of Siesta Village, a decision was made to remove the structures. Siesta architect Mark Smith, who has been one of the leaders of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. over the years, had no objection to that decision, Cece noted.

“Over the years,” she wrote in an email, “landscaping intended for these [triangular] beds did not survive, and vehicles frequently drove over them.”

“Drivers will need to avoid blocking the crosswalk at Gilligan’s,” Cece pointed out, “but this change will enhance parking along the east side of Ocean Boulevard.”

Good news for Siesta Village property owners

Along with approving the budget for the 2021 fiscal year — which began on Oct. 1 — the Sarasota County Commission approved the millage rates for special districts in the county. Among those is the Siesta Key Public Improvement District. Property owners will see a 3.58% decrease in their new millage rate, from 1.7704 mills to 1.7071 mills. That district’s funds pay for the upkeep of Siesta Village.

The Siesta Key Lighting District property owners also will have a lower millage rate for the 2021 fiscal year. It fell 5.56%, from 0.0072 mills to 0.0068 mills.

Kayak tour operators complain about new bid process

Kayak tour operators at both Turtle Beach Park and Ted Sperling Park have protested a Sarasota County bid process launched in September that they say will put them out of business.

The Invitation for Bids (IFB) formally calls for suppliers “to provide non-motorized water vessel activities” at Turtle Beach Park on Siesta Key and Ted Sperling Park on Lido Key “for an initial term of three years.” Two annual renewals of the contracts are possible.

An Excel spreadsheet included in the solicitation shows estimated bids for operations at Turtle Beach Park ranging from $720,000 to $240,000.

The bid period, which began on Sept. 21, originally was to end at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 4. However, the deadline was extended to 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 18. An addendum to the IFB explained, “Due to the receipt of a protest, the County is halting the solicitation process until the protest is resolved. The bid shall be extended two weeks to accommodate this delay.”

On the morning of Sept. 23, four business owners appeared before the County Commission to protest the process, stressing that county staff did not engage any tour operators in discussions about the proposal or allow them to comment on it before the solicitation went live through the county’s Procurement Department.

They also emphasized the fact that they learned of the plans for the solicitation only three days before it would be advertised.

Kris Fehlberg pointed out that she is a biologist and environmental educator who worked for the county for almost a decade. More than 12 businesses with 50 employees will be affected by the IFB process, Fehlberg stressed, noting that the companies have been working “in good faith with the county.”

(Fehlberg is co-owner of BIOTICA Ecotours. Among the company’s offerings are coastal paddles launched from Turtle Beach Park.)

Not only is the change in county procedures being undertaken during a pandemic, she added, but also in the wake of “one of the worst red tide events in Sarasota history.”

These affected small businesses are already struggling, Fehlberg told the commissioners. The bidding process likely will lead to the end of her operation and her livelihood, she said. The solicitation has been structured so “only the highest bidder” will have the right to offer tours, she added. Yet, she continued, the solicitation “doesn’t take into consideration environmental protections” for park resources or require that bidders provide any details about environmental accreditations or whether they have had any conflicts with the county in the past.

“I believe this is counter to the county’s mission statement to protect [its parks],” Fehlberg added.

She asked that the IFB be put on hold until after county staff had engaged with the current tour operators at Turtle Beach and Sperling parks.

Another speaker that morning, Amy Tobin, predicted the bid awards would go to large, national companies.

Commissioner Nancy Detert said that she hoped county staff would take into consideration the local businesses “that respect our environment.”

Nonetheless, Detert pointed out to the tour operators, “We’re letting you use our natural resources for your own benefit.”

She did agree that the only three days of notice before the IFB solicitation was published was “probably too little [time].”

After another speaker complained about the IFB on Oct. 7, Detert said the commissioners had instructed staff “to spend a little bit more time” on the solicitation.

In response to a SNL question about the reasoning behind the IFB, county staff wrote in an email, “As a result of the growth of this [Commercial Recreation and Tour Operator] program, staff was challenged to identify a mechanism that limits the available permits to aid in balancing the use of the natural resource while providing all interested individuals/businesses a fair and equitable opportunity to provide services in the park. An IFB provides an opportunity for the greatest number of vendors to participate versus a Request for Proposal.”

Cosentino loses another attorney

In late spring, Siesta resident Mike Cosentino hired a new attorney, based in Tampa, for his latest appeal to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal in his North Beach Road case.

She has become the latest counsel for Cosentino to take leave of him.

In a Sept. 15 motion filed with the Court of Appeal, Janelle A. Weber of Manta Law pointed out that Cosentino hired her on May 28. “Irreconcilable differences have arisen,” she explained of her decision to ask the court to allow her to pull out of the case.

Citing Rule 9.440 of the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 4-1.16(a) and (b) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct, Weber added, “Professional considerations both require and allow termination of the representation in this instance. … Reasonable notice has been given to [Cosentino].”

She explained that the rules she cited allow for withdrawal of counsel when that “‘can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client; (2) the client insists upon taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant, imprudent, or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement; (3) the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer’s services and has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled; (4) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client; or (5) other good cause for withdrawal exists.’”

Weber’s Manta Law website does indicate that she is the only attorney with the firm, which, the website says, she founded.

While Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure require that Cosentino’s nonprofit organization, Reopen Beach Road, be represented by counsel, Weber continued, she did file the initial brief in the case for that organization. “The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure do not require the filing of a Reply Brief” from Reopen Beach Road, in response to the county’s answer in the case, she added. However, Weber pointed out, Cosentino also was asking for a 45-day extension of time for Reopen Beach Road to file a Reply Brief, and that period would enable him to hire new counsel.

Cosentino is representing himself in the appeal, she added.

On Sept. 23, the Court of Appeal granted Weber’s motion to withdraw from the case. Further, the court ordered that Reopen Beach Road “secure new counsel, who must immediately file a notice of appearance in this court. Within thirty days, [Reopen Beach Road], through counsel, may serve a reply brief,” the court added in its decision.

Then, on Oct. 1, Cosentino filed a motion, seeking an extension of time to file his reply brief and to exceed the 15-page limit on that brief. As of Oct. 14, the court had not responded to that motion as of the deadline for this issue of Siesta Sand.

Cosentino’s first attorney in his lawsuit against Sarasota County over the May 2016 vacation of a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road was Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral. Brookes ended up withdrawing from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court case for personal reasons, Cosentino told the SNL.

Cosentino hired two other attorneys at various times as the case proceeded in Circuit Court, firing one after alleging that that person had cognitive problems and letting the third one go because that attorney, Cosentino said, did not have sufficient time to get up to speed on all aspects of the case before the presiding Circuit Court judge, Andrea McHugh, wanted to conclude all the arguments.

Cosentino also has hired a variety of attorneys in the Tampa area to handle his appeals, as Circuit Court rulings have gone against him.

In fact, his original attorney in this latest appeal lasted only two weeks before Weber replaced her, court records show.

2020 Holiday Lighting Contest

The Siesta Key Condominium Council will be holding its annual Holiday Lighting Contest in December.

Hilla Blatt, SKCC Director, encourages the condos to participate and try to brighten up our year. “We look forward to visiting and judging the Holiday Contest again,” she said. As in the past, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is supplying the judging trolley.
“More details will be forthcoming; however, now is the time to plan for a great 2020 Holiday Lighting Display,” Blatt said.