County commissioners focus on Siesta law enforcement facts during a public hearing; a handicapped parking space vanishes; more South Siesta renourishment bid details released; and veterans plan a march through the Village
More than a few of the arrows proverbially launched during a County Commission public hearing last week over new concrete picnic shelters for Siesta Public Beach were aimed at the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Lt. Debra Kaspar was on hand during the Nov. 10 session to make sure the commissioners had the facts and to try to ease the frustrations of the speakers who aimed those barbs.
For example, a couple of the people who took their allotted five minutes at the podium complained about a Sheriff’s Office dispatcher asking them or friends to meet a deputy in the wee hours of the morning in response to calls regarding noise or people partying at the picnic shelters on the western end of the beach park complex.
Further, David Grimmer, who identified himself as the owner of a condominium at the Crescent Royale complex on Beach Road, insisted that when he calls the Sheriff’s Office “at 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. … [deputies] don’t show up.”
When Commissioner Christine Robinson asked him how many times he had called the Sheriff’s Office in the past year to lodge a complaint, Grimmer replied, “Probably three or four.” He added that 50 percent of the time, a deputy never responds. A dispatcher also has told him in the past that an officer would have to come “from the other side of Sarasota” to deal with the problem, Grimmer said.
“This is easily checkable,” Robinson told him, referring to law enforcement records of those calls. “I just want to make sure [about the number.]”
Grimmer reiterated that deputies do not show up half the time when he phones the Sheriff’s Office.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo questioned Grimmer’s statement about a deputy having to come from the other side of downtown Sarasota. Caragiulo added that he was almost certain a representative of the Sheriff’s Office is on the Key at all times.
After the board members asked Kaspar to come to the podium, she explained that the reason people calling with complaints are asked if they wish to meet an officer is because “we need a witness. We are a neutral party …” The incident or noise that prompted the call might have concluded before the deputy arrived, she pointed out.
In response to Caragiulo’s earlier comment, Kaspar noted, “There is one deputy at all times on Siesta Key. … He does not leave the Key.”
During busy times of the year, she continued, extra officers are assigned to the island. For example, Kaspar said, at least six officers were scheduled to work during the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition, which began Nov. 13 and continued through Nov. 17.
“More often we have more than one deputy out there physically,” she added.
When Robinson replied that it seemed the speakers from Crescent Royale needed someone to help them with issues relating to law enforcement, Kaspar told the board she regularly attends Siesta Key Association and Siesta Key Village Association meetings so she can help handle any problems that arise among residents or business owners.
Robinson noted another comment Grimmer had made: “Crime is on the rise.” Robinson said she did not recall that being the case in Sarasota County.
Kaspar responded that the Sheriff’s Office had recorded “double-digit reductions” in the most serious types of throughout the county.
Caragiulo added that he believed those types of crimes are down about 40 percent.
When Sheriff Tom Knight presented his 2016 fiscal year budget to the County Commission in June of this year, he pointed to the 41-percent drop in what the FBI terms “Part 1” crimes over the past seven years — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
Robinson added during the Nov. 10 public hearing that after the new Public Safety Building is completed as part of the Siesta Beach Park improvements, Sheriff’s Office personnel will have an expansive view of the grounds — including the western end of the complex — thanks to the extensive use of windows in the structure’s upper-floor design. Replying to another question from Robinson, Kaspar said Sgt. Osborne, the previous leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island, worked closely with county staff in the design of the parking lots and the Public Safety Building to improve officers’ ability to prevent unwelcome situations and to respond quickly to problems.
Kaspar told the board, “I will certainly leave my card” with all of the speakers who raised concerns during the public hearing that day “and be the point person for any issues.”
The missing handicapped parking space
During the Nov. 3 Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) meeting, Secretary Helene Hyland reported that she had contacted Susan Stahley, the county Code Enforcement officer who works on the island, about the disappearance of the handicapped parking space in front of Napoli’s Italian Restaurant in the Key Corners shopping center on Ocean Boulevard.
Stahley said she would look into it, Hyland added.
“They stole a parking space?” SKVA Vice President Mark Smith asked?
The sign is gone, Hyland replied, and “they painted over the markings on the ground.”
“You’re kidding!” Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Michael Shay responded.
In place of the handicapped parking sign, Hyland continued, someone had put up signs for Napoli’s, SunniBunni and Another Broken Egg — all restaurants in the shopping center.
One handicapped parking spot is around the corner from Napoli’s on the Avenida Messina side of the complex, Hyland noted. It is adjacent to the ramp from ground level to the walkway leading to the restaurants, she added.
However, given the number of dining establishments in that area, Hyland said, “I don’t think one [handicapped parking] space is sufficient.”
Smith pointed out that the county’s Zoning Code dictates the ratio of handicapped spots to the total number of spaces in a parking lot, “but I don’t have them memorized.”
It is possible, he continued, that that space in front of Napoli’s did not have to be designated for handicapped parking.
Hyland disagreed, noting again the number of restaurants in that plaza.
Moreover, she said, “This has happened before,” referring to the disappearance of the sign in that location. “But they didn’t paint over the markings on the ground that time.”
Then-Code Enforcement Officer John Lally required the owner/manager of the property to put the handicapped sign back in place the first time it vanished, Hyland added.
“Welcome to the beginning of season,” Shay said.
When I contacted Stahley on Nov. 13, she told me, “We are attempting to resolve [the issue] right now.” She added that she had spoken with the property manager of Key Corners, who had sent the matter “up the chain” to the owner. “They know that they have to replace that [sign],” she said.
South Siesta renourishment project bid
Last week, Sarasota County spokesman Jason Bartolone outdid himself getting me the basic information about the bid for the South Siesta Key beach renourishment project scheduled to start in early 2016. That was a huge help as we worked to meet the deadline for the News Leader’s Nov. 13 issue.
A day later, I was able to learn a few more details, including the name of the sole bidder: Weeks Marine Inc. of Covington, LA. The exact bid was $18,202,737.50.
According to materials from the county’s Procurement Department, apparently two other firms had expressed interest in the project, though they did not submit bids. One is based in Jacksonville; the other, in Chesapeake, VA.
Veterans to march through Village
In another report during the Nov. 3 meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association long-time board member Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café, announced that a group of Sarasota veterans will march through the Village on Saturday, Nov. 21, in a show of support for their fellow veterans who have committed suicide since the United States began waging wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
According to the information she had received from the group, Kouvatsos said, 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. Therefore, the march will be 22 kilometers, and each participant will carry a pack weighing 22 kilos.
The event will begin at the White Buffalo Saloon in Sarasota, which had information about the march on its Facebook page, she added. Asked if she had any idea about the number of participants, Kouvatsos replied that she expected the total to be close to 50.