Siesta Seen

Cosentino cases consolidated ahead of big hearing in early October; Fire Department inks lease for temporary quarters at 5700 Midnight Pass Road; residents and businesses continuing to misuse Siesta Village garbage cans; and Michael Shay’s Adopt-A-Road group reports on its first cleanup of Ocean Boulevard

Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court website

Following a Sept. 9 hearing in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, Judge Andrea McHugh consolidated both the cases involving Siesta resident Mike Cosentino.

The actions will proceed under Cosentino v. Sarasota County, she wrote in the order she issued later the same day.

Additionally on Sept. 9, McHugh formally discharged Cosentino’s third attorney — Fred E Moore of Blalock Walters in Bradenton — from any further responsibility in the representation of Cosentino. That means Cosentino will proceed pro se, “until such time as he may otherwise choose,” McHugh added.

Pro se means Cosentino will be representing himself. He filed a motion earlier this summer seeking that ruling from McHugh, saying he felt that would be better protection for his rights.

In June 2016, Cosentino filed a complaint against Sarasota County, arguing that the County Commission violated a Comprehensive Plan policy when it voted 4-1 to vacate a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road. His original attorney was Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral. Attorney No. 2 was Lee Robert Rohe of Big Pine Key. Cosentino fired Rohe in the spring, telling McHugh during the June 25 hearing that he had concerns that Rohe was suffering from a cognitive disorder.

(Cosentino told The Sarasota News Leader last year that Brookes needed to step away from the case because of a family issue.)

Cosentino already had been representing himself in the other lawsuit that McHugh consolidated with the original one. Filed in October 2018 and amended just before the end of 2018, that second complaint argues that two Sarasota County Charter amendments Cosentino wrote contravene state law. He was able to get them on the November 2018 General Election ballot, and voters approved them.

This is Sarasota County Charter Section 3.9, which was approved on Nov. 6, 2018. Image courtesy of the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller

This is the text of Charter Section 3.10, also approved by voters on Nov. 6, 2018. Image courtesy of the Office of the Sarasota County Clerk of Court and County Comptroller

One calls for the county to rescind the vacation of the segment of North Beach Road or reacquire that part of the road. The other Charter amendment prohibits the County Commission from selling any county lands that have so much as a waterfront vista.

The lawsuit over the amendments was filed by the Caflisch family, which owns property on the vacated part of North Beach Road. The county has supported the Caflisches in their view of the Charter amendments, which has propelled Cosentino to public criticism of the County Commission and the Office of the County Attorney.

In one other ruling last week, Judge McHugh set aside dates in the spring of 2020 for a potential jury trial in Cosentino v. Sarasota County. That Sept. 9 order calls for a pre-trial conference on March 31, 2020 and the start of the trial on April 27, 2020, with “3+” written in as the potential number of days needed for the hearing of the case.

In a statement he provided to the News Leader on Sept. 11, Cosentino wrote, “One must, at the outset, demand a jury trial.”

Mike Cosentino addresses the Siesta Key Association on Oct. 6, 2016, discussing his lawsuit against the county. File photo

He added that he filed such a demand in his answer to the Caflisch complaint, just as he had done in the original North Beach Road case.

“I think it’s important that the voters who overwhelmingly supported [Reopen Beach Road’s] public protections have the opportunity to adjudicate this matter under the guidance of Judge McHugh.”

Reopen Beach Road is the nonprofit organization Cosentino established in June 2016 as he began his efforts to overturn the County Commission’s road vacation decision.

Nonetheless, he continued on Sept. 11, “I think we will win on motions before this gets to a trial. The challenges to [the] charter amendments simply have no merit. We look forward to proving that to the judge in the coming months.”

Cosentino is not the only party in the case who believes the issues will be resolved without a trial.

The News Leader also asked for a statement from the Caflisches’ attorney, S. William Moore of Moore Bowman & Reese in Sarasota.

“We believe this matter is more appropriately decided by the Court, since it is a question of law, not fact,” Moore wrote in a Sept. 11 email.

He added, “We have a dispositive hearing set on the legal issues (which date may be moved) that will be heard by the Judge only before any jury trial can occur.”

The Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute explains, “A party may make a motion for summary disposition asserting that the undisputed pleaded facts, admissions, affidavits, stipulations, documentary evidence, matters as to which official notice may be taken, and any other evidentiary materials properly submitted in connection with a motion for summary disposition show that:

“(1) There is no genuine issue as to any material fact; and

“(2) The moving party is entitled to a decision in its favor as a matter of law.”

In other words, a judge can throw out a case if all the facts of law related to the case make it clear that the case has no merit.

Moore was referring to the fact that Judge McHugh already has scheduled an Oct. 7 hearing on the June 19 motion Assistant County Attorney David Pearce filed, seeking final summary judgment in the Charter amendments case.

In his brief, Pearce explained, “The purpose of summary judgment is to avoid the expense and delay of trial when no dispute exists concerning the material facts.” He cited a 1954 Florida Supreme Court decision as the basis for that statement.
Pearce asked the court to “decree that the Charter amendments are inconsistent with state law and vague.”

For example, Pearce pointed out, Cosentino did not define “waterfront vista” in the amendments. “There is no standard given for determining whether a right of way includes a waterfront vista,” he wrote. “It is unknown whether such a determination is made [at] grade or at an elevation along a right of way. It is unknown as to whether there is a limitation on the distance from the right of way to the water body.”

Cosentino also indicated to the News Leader that the October hearing might be moved to another date.

Fire Department inks lease for temporary quarters

This exhibit with the county lease for space in the building located at 5700 Midnight Pass Road shows details about the location of that property and Fire Station 13, which is to the immediate north. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On Aug. 26, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis signed a lease for temporary space in the building located at 5700 Midnight Pass Road. That will enable the crews of Fire Station 13 to call that building home, so to speak, while construction of the new fire station takes place, county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant told the News Leader.

The lease will be in effect, she said, until the new station is ready for use.

The lease officially began on Aug. 23 and will terminate on Aug. 22, 2022, the document says.

The county will pay the landlord $4,000 a month, which “includes all common area maintenance costs.”

The county also will be responsible for utilities payments.

The document says that the building at 5700 Midnight Pass Road — which is immediately to the south of Fire Station 13 — “can be renovated for accommodations for Fire Station employees and has ample parking space to accommodate Fire Station’s trucks and other fire equipment …”

This rendering shows a night view of the planned new structure for Fire Station 13. Image courtesy Sarasota County

It further notes that it will take “up to three months” to complete renovations to the Midnight Pass Road property necessary for the fire crews to operate out of the space.

The landlord is S. Dudley Carson of Siesta Key Real Estate consultants LLC, who operates out of Suite 4A at 5700 Midnight Pass Road.

The lease says the Fire Department will take over “approximately 1,400 contiguous square feet of private space on the first floor of the building, two private lavatories [and] exclusive use of all surface parking spaces on the west side (approximately 14 spaces),” as well as “exclusive use of the existing wooden shed.”

Fire Chief Michael Regnier told Siesta Key Association members on Aug. 1 that plans call for construction of the new Fire Station 13 to begin in the spring of 2020 and to be completed within approximately 12 months. The lease does point to the same expectation in regard to how long the construction will take.

Keeping Siesta Village clean

During the most recent Siesta Chamber of Commerce quarterly meeting for members — on Aug. 21 — Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., told the group gathered in the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, “We’re still having what I’m calling a ‘dumping issue.’ Residents as well as businesses are putting their garbage” in the decorative pails in the Village.

Shay pointed out, “Those pails along the Village walkways are part of the Village Maintenance Corp. Those are for pedestrians, visitors, to put their stuff in.”

When residents or employees of businesses use the Maintenance Corp. garbage pails, he stressed, “It just creates a problem.”

Michael Shay (foreground) talks about maintenance issues in Siesta Village as Siesta Chamber members listen on Aug. 21. Rachel Hackney photo

A couple of weeks before that Aug. 21 meeting, he said, on a Monday night, a person from a business filled a Village garbage can with refuse from that business. Yet, the company that handles the Village maintenance under contract to the county does not collect Village garbage on Tuesdays, Shay added.

Referring to the affected pail, he said, “It was unsightly and it was overflowing, and it was going to stay that way,” so he decided to remedy the situation.

He went through the business’ garbage, he said, until he found mail with an address on it. Then he went to the person’s address and “put the whole [pile of refuse] on their doorstep.”

That comment prompted a round of laughter.

“They apologized,” Shay noted, telling him it was a mistake that the garbage ended up in the Village pail. “Yada, yada, yada.”

He declined to identify the business or the person with whom he spoke.

“We really need to work on that [issue],” he stressed of businesses and residents using the Village garbage cans.

He reminded everyone that he has discussed such incidents in the past, seeking to spread the word that the Maintenance Corp. needs the cooperation of businesses and residents.

Keeping the Key clean

Along with his endeavors to keep Siesta Village looking as clean and inviting as possible, Michael Shay long has been a volunteer with Adopt-A-Road initiatives on the island.

In July, Shay won authorization from Keep Sarasota County Beautiful to clean up Ocean Boulevard on a routine basis under the Adopt-A-Road Program that that county division oversees.

Although the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful guidelines stipulate cleanup efforts on a quarterly basis, as a minimum, Shay told the News Leader that he and a group he had assembled planned to work on a bimonthly basis.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, he wrote in an email to the News Leader, he and his group made their first Adopt-A-Road outing.

Image courtesy of Michael Shay

“We were a total of 6 friends, working in pairs,” he explained. They divided Ocean Boulevard into three sections: “2 [people] did [the stretch] from Higel [Avenue] to Treasure Boat Way [on the] west side (Karen Martin & Carol DiVita); 2 did that same area [on the] east side (Maria & Michael Shay); and 2 covered the Village, both sides of the street (Louise & Jim Mitchell).”

Shay added, “We all worked for an hour and picked up a total of 5 bags of garbage and 1 bag of recyclables.”

“We all went afterwards to Village Café for breakfast,” he continued, “and lo and behold Tom, Kay & Pops were very gracious and bought us breakfast as thanks for our cleanup efforts! WOW, they are the best!!!!!”

He was referring to members of the Kouvatsos family, who own and operate the restaurant in Siesta Village.

For a number of years, the Kouvatsoses served free breakfasts to Siesta Key Association members after Adopt-A-Road initiatives that the nonprofit had organized for its members.