Siesta Seen

Purported religious group causing angst among Drum Circle participants; Cosentino submits a new filing in his lawsuit against the county; Pine Shores Estates to get uniform speed limit; Stahley still the Key’s Code Enforcement officer; and the Condo Council announces details of its Holiday Lighting Contest

The Drum Circle draws a crowd in June 2012. Image from YouTube
The Drum Circle draws a big crowd in June 2012. Image from YouTube

Members of a religious group from north Florida have been antagonizing participants during recent gatherings of the Drum Circle on Siesta Public Beach, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.

On Nov. 20, for example, men in the group used a bullhorn to address Drum Circle participants, a participant related to the News Leader.

Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that incidents have occurred on more than one recent Sunday.

Thanks to the assistance of Kaitlyn Perez, community affairs director of the Sheriff’s Office, the News Leader reviewed two reports filed in connection with the disruptions.

The first says that just before 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20, a deputy responded to a call about a disturbance on the beach. Upon his arrival, the report continues, he observed protestors Daniel Maguire, 35, and Mark Asher King, 41, “standing with their sign in the middle of the drum circle. They were there exercising their rights and not doing anything illegal.” However, the report notes, people in the crowd became offended “and began to argue with [the men], forcing them back outside of the circle by making a wall of bodies linked together and slowly walking towards them.”

The report says that at one point, Deputy Jason Strom called for a supervisor out of concern that the crowd would get out of control. “Eventually,” the report adds, “the crowd dispersed and both groups were separated.”

A variety of people participate in the Drum Circle each Sunday evening on Siesta Key Beach. Image from TripAdvisor
A variety of people participate in the Drum Circle each Sunday evening on Siesta Key Beach. Image from TripAdvisor

According to the report, King told the deputy his home address is on Ashton Road in Sarasota. Maguire provided a Ruskin address and identified his occupation as “Preacher.”

An earlier incident occurred on July 17, Sheriff’s Office records show. McGuire approached a deputy just before 7:30 p.m. to say that someone had poured beer on him, according to the report. The suspect was a Sarasota resident, Duane Myron Dennis, 33, the report notes.

“According to the victim,” the report says, “he was preaching towards the drum circle” when the incident occurred. McGuire at first wanted to press charges, the deputy wrote, “because Dennis was uncooperative at the time.”

When the deputy then spoke with Dennis and informed him of the allegations, the report continues, Dennis “stated that he did not want to speak with me, because I was not a Sergeant,” and that he had “only opened the beer” on McGuire’s head. After the deputy informed Dennis that he was a suspect in a battery case, Dennis agreed to go with the deputy to the pavilion as the deputy proceeded with his investigation, the report adds. While they were at the pavilion, the deputy continued, McGuire decided not to pursue charges, saying he just wanted Dennis to apologize. Dennis agreed to do so, the report notes.

In response to a News Leader request for comments from county staff regarding the Drum Circle incidents, Deputy Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler wrote in a Nov. 29 email that department staff “will continue to monitor the situation and work with the sheriff’s office to assist with the management of the drum circle to ensure public safety in the event of disorderly conduct.”

North Beach Road lawsuit update

In the latest action involving Siesta resident Mike Cosentino’s lawsuit against Sarasota County over the vacation of a portion of North Beach Road, Cosentino has let the 12th Judicial Circuit Court know that he opposes having a magistrate hear motions in the case, instead of a judge.

Most recently, on Oct. 17, the county filed its motion to dismiss Cosentino’s complaint.

Michael Cosentino addresses the Siesta Key Association on Oct. 6. File photo
Michael Cosentino addresses the Siesta Key Association on Oct. 6. File photo

Cosentino himself filed a motion in mid-September, asking the court to dismiss a counterclaim by one set of intervening parties in the case — North Beach Road property owners Dennis and Wendy Madden — and a third-party complaint the Maddens filed. They have sought to stop him and his nonprofit organization, Reopen Beach Road, from using “false information and deceptive advertising” in an effort to overturn the County Commission’s May 11 vote to vacate a 357-foot segment of North Beach Road. The Maddens — who own rental property along that part of the road — were among three couples who petitioned the board for the vacation.

On Nov. 15, Cosentino’s attorney, Ralf Brookes of Cape Coral, filed a document saying that Cosentino was complying with Florida Rules of Civil Procedure by giving notice “that he does not consent and objects to the referral to a magistrate under Rule 1.490(c).” That rule, according to the document, says, “No reference shall be to a magistrate, either general or special, without the consent of the parties.”

The Nov. 15 filing says Cosentino “was not served with any order, via [electronic copy] or mailed paper service copy of any order referring matters [in] this case to [a] Magistrate and was … not aware of any such order until today.”

The court file shows no record of any order referring the hearing of the motions to a magistrate. However, such action has become common procedure in the court system; the News Leader has observed it in numerous recent cases.

It just took some time

More than two years ago, a resident submitted a petition to Sarasota County, seeking the reduction of the speed limit on Upper Elmwood Avenue between U.S. 41 and Crestwood Avenue — in Pine Shores Estates — from 30 mph to 25 mph. By Dec. 9, all of the roads in the subdivision are expected to be posted with that lower speed limit.

A graphic shows the existing speed limits in Pine Shores Estates. Image courtesy Sarasota County
A graphic shows the existing speed limits in Pine Shores Estates. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That was the unanimous decision of the County Commission on Nov. 22 as part of its vote on its Consent Agenda of routine business items.

A memo provided to the board in advance of the Nov. 22 meeting said the original petition was submitted by Patricia Estes on Oct. 27, 2014. After the county’s Traffic Advisory Council (TAC) members considered it on March 9, 2015, the memo continued, the TAC members asked staff to expand the boundary of the affected area to incorporate the entire Pine Shores Estates subdivision, “because there are streets with a posted speed limit of 30 mph and other streets with a posted speed limit of 25 mph.”

The boundary expansion was seen as a way to bring uniformity to the neighborhood speed limits and as a means to “better conform to driver expectations,” as the memo put it.

On June 8, 2015, the TAC held a public hearing on the revised petition and then approved it unanimously, the minutes of that meeting say. Only one public speaker addressed the issue beforehand, and that person pointed out that his primary concern was enforcement of the current speed limit, the Nov. 22 staff memo said.

Elmwood Avenue is one of the local roads in Pine Shores Estates. Image courtesy Sarasota County
Elmwood Avenue is one of the local roads in Pine Shores Estates. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Asked why it took almost 18 months after the June 2015 TAC approval of the uniform speed limit for the matter to go on a County Commission agenda, county spokesman Drew Winchester told the News Leader in a Nov. 29 email that because of a vacancy in the position of county traffic engineering manager, staff ended up with “[j]ust a large backlog of TAC items that needed to make it to the [County Commission]. Now that the traffic engineering manager position, currently held by Robert Fakhri, is staffed, the backlog of items should be coming before the board in a more timely fashion.”

The County Commission’s agenda packet for Nov. 22 included only one recent communication staff had received about the matter: In a Sept. 19 email, a couple living on Baywinds Lane wrote that they “thoroughly support the speed reduction ….”

Prior to the June 2015 TAC hearing, the Nov. 22 memo explained, staff “investigated four streets for speed analysis” in Pine Shores Estates: Crestwood Avenue, Elmwood Avenue, North Elmwood Avenue and Brentwood Avenue, all of which the memo described as local roads. Two of the streets — Beechwood and Elmwood — already had the 25 mph posted limit, while the other two had a posted limit of 30 mph, the memo added.

The average speed on Crestwood was 21 mph; on Elmwood, 22 mph; on North Elmwood, 20 mph; and on Brentwood, 10 mph, the analysis showed. Of the four, the memo noted, Crestwood and Brentwood were tied for the highest annual average daily traffic count: 387. North Elmwood had the lowest count: 181.

The 85th percentile speed ranged from 30 mph on Elmwood to 15 mph on Brentwood, the memo added. “[T]he Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) recommends speed limits are set within 5 miles per hour of the 85th percentile speed,” the memo pointed out.

Upon conclusion of the analysis, staff had recommended that the TAC approve the uniform speed limit for the entire neighborhood.

And if anyone who is not a Pine Shores Estates resident thinks the subdivision name sounds familiar, that is because its residents have been very vocal in their opposition to facets of the proposed mixed-use Siesta Promenade project. That development is planned at the northwest corner of the intersection of Stickney Point Road and U.S. 41; it would border the neighborhood.

One big concern for people living in Pine Shores is the potential for one of their streets to become an access for Siesta Promenade.

Yes, she is

Susan Stahley. File photo
Susan Stahley. File photo

During the Nov. 3 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, a member asked why county Code Enforcement Officer Susan Stahley never appears at the organization’s meetings. The member — Katherine Zimmerman — pointed out that Stahley’s predecessor on the Key, John Lally — often was present to provide updates on Code Enforcement issues.

“I believe she’s pretty busy,” Catherine Luckner, the SKA’s second vice president responded, referring to Stahley.

Nonetheless, Zimmerman said, members continue to have a lot of questions about Code Enforcement issues.

Luckner replied that she would ask again about whether Stahley might be able to come to an SKA meeting from time to time.

Then member Dave Thomas said he had not seen Stahley in a while, leading to the question of whether she is still the island’s primary Code Enforcement officer.

The News Leader posed Thomas’ question to county staff. In response, spokesman Jason Bartolone wrote in an email to confirm that Stahley “is still the code officer working Siesta Key. She informed the SKA president long ago she cannot attend the [4:30 p.m.] Thursday meetings due to another commitment.”

The SKA meets the first Thursday of the month at St. Boniface Episcopal Church.

Bartolone added, “Susan and code enforcement can be reached via the Sarasota County Contact Center at 941-861-5000.”

It’s that time of year again

Beachaven's holiday pig has proven a popular decoration at Siesta condo complexes. File photo
Beachaven’s holiday pig has proven an especially popular decoration. File photo

The Siesta Key Condominium Council has announced details of its 2016 Holiday Lighting Contest, which is sponsored by the Siesta Chamber, Siesta Trolley, the Siesta Key Village Association and Siesta Sand.

A notice from Kathryn Cunningham, chair of the council’s Holiday Lighting Committee, points out that the contest is open only to condominium associations that have paid their current dues to the council.

The deadline to register is 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 9. Judging will take place on the evening of Dec. 14, she added. The judges will depart the Chamber of Commerce’s office at 6 p.m.

Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place in each of the following categories:

  • Category I — 101 or more units.
  • Category II — 51-100 units.

• Category III — 50 or fewer units.