Government by Extortion is Considered Criminal

Joe McClash
The ongoing feud between Manatee County Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge, Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes, and the City of Holmes Beach is quickly becoming a crisis of leadership. What’s more, it may be time to question whether the bully tactics being used are even legal.

During Van Ostenbridge’s very first county commission meeting in November of 2020, he suggested that the county might withhold future beach renourishment funds sought by the City of Holmes Beach if the city’s street-side parking allowances were not restored to pre-COVID levels. Van Ostenbridge demanded a minimum of 2,500 parking spaces in Holmes Beach, a figure not based on any past requirement with the county. 

The Mayor of Holmes Beach sent a letter to the county explaining that only 435 public parking spaces one-quarter mile from the beach are required and that her city provides almost three times that amount with 1,261 public spaces (another 642 spaces require a permit for residents and vacation rentals). Holmes Beach provides more free parking than any other island city.

What is really bazaar about this alternate reality with Van Ostenbridge is that, as a county commissioner, he is actually reducing parking at Coquina Beach. It was estimated that over 600 parking spaces are being lost as the county, without any real justification, paves Coquina Beach’s parking area. Perhaps the state legislature’s interest in restoring parking on Anna Maria Island’s beaches should first focus on the county restoring these lost spaces.  

There is also the question of capacity. The beaches, regardless of parking, can only support so many people at any beach location. Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach is, by far, the most congested public beach on the island, and a garage there would create more frustration for people finding a spot to enjoy the beach. 

Coquina Beach, located just down the island in Bradenton Beach, is owned by the county and has more capacity than Manatee Beach, as well as more lifeguard stations. While a garage is not likely to even put a dent in parking demand, if one is to be considered, it should obviously be where the beach has the capacity to handle the additional parking, which is certainly not Manatee Beach, where Van Ostenbridge is attempting to force the city to accept his demands or pay the price.

We thought the parking battle reached new heights in 2021, when the Manatee County County Commission, led by Van Ostenbridge, denied Holmes Beach nearly $300,000 in tourism tax dollars. Commissioner Van Ostenbridge told 8 On Your Side that he plans to propose going for fewer dollars at Holmes Beach due to the ongoing parking dispute. His intent to threaten and extort the city is real. 

At a City of Holmes Beach Commission meeting, Van Ostenbridge commented that he had met with Representative Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) and Florida Senator Jim Boyd (R-Bradenton) concerning the construction of a parking garage. Recently, the two legislators approved submitting legislation in the upcoming session that would strip away from the city its ability to restrict the building of a parking garage on the county’s public beach. If passed, this legislation would remove the city’s local power to regulate building approvals. This obviously goes very much against the Republicans Party’s supposed position in favor of home rule, which dictates that the best decisions are made locally and not forced upon communities by state or federal government. 

In his continuous pattern of threats, Van Ostenbridge told the Holmes Beach Commission to "think long and hard” about restricting his desire to build a multi-level parking garage at Manatee Beach. He further admitted that the decisions by the city commission had already "cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars from this county.”

In an admission of acting on his threat to withhold money from the city over his demand for the city to not restrict parking, Van Ostenbridge stated, "How do I say this politely? It’s not an accident that the governor vetoed $2 million in funding for the city.”

Van Ostenbridge added that the city’s decisions were having "consequences.”

"The county is currently in budget discussions at this time,” said Van Ostenbridge. "I ask you to please be thoughtful and not reactionary. Take into mind there could be or would be good or bad consequences for whatever decisions are made here.”

Van Ostenbridge’s actions and comments are not just playing politics. In fact, they would seem to be illegal, as he has continuously and with malicious intent threatened real injury to the person, property, or reputation of another, with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatsoever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will. If this is proven, it is, by definition, a felony of the second degree.

Florida Statute 836.05 on threats and extortion is not vague.

Whoever, either verbally or by a written or printed communication, maliciously threatens to accuse another of any crime or offense, or by such communication maliciously threatens an injury to the person, property or reputation of another, or maliciously threatens to expose another to disgrace, or to expose any secret affecting another, or to impute any deformity or lack of chastity to another, with intent thereby to extort money or any pecuniary advantage whatsoever, or with intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will, shall be guilty of a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

Let’s summarize the actions that warrant further investigation:
  • During Van Ostebridge’s very first county commission meeting in November of 2020, the commissioner suggested that the county might withhold future beach renourishment funds sought by the city of Holmes Beach if the city’s street-side parking allowances were not restored to pre-COVID levels. 
  • Van Ostenbridge then told the mayor and Holmes Beach commissioners at a public meeting that they had already suffered financial consequences because they did not restore the parking spaces (reduced under the city’s revised ordinance). 
  • Van Ostenbridge is on record, on video, stating that it was no accident that the governor vetoed a stormwater project costing $2 million to the city. These projects were aimed at protecting the public’s infrastructure as well as improving public safety. 
  • At the same meeting, the commissioner stated that there would be consequences if they did not allow his demand for a parking garage. You can view the meeting here along with the mayor's response to the threats made against her city by Van Ostenbridge.
There seems to be enough proof to suggest that, in his communications, Commissioner Van Ostenbridge maliciously threatened an injury to a person, or property with intent thereby to extort a pecuniary advantage whatsoever, and also with intent to compel the person so threatened, or any other person, to do any act or refrain from doing any act against his or her will, to find probable cause that he committed a felony of the second degree.

This is not your typical politics of give and take. It is one based on threats and extortion, all of which are very much illegal. As for our state representatives, it is debatable at this point whether you can even call them "representatives" of the people they serve. Shame on both Will Robinson and Jim Boyd for their lack of character in failing to communicate to the City of Holmes Beach directly as to their desire to have the State of Florida enforce the county’s desire to build a parking garage onto one of its beaches. 

In addition to this egregious shortcoming, we must consider the legislators' second affront to home rule regarding commissioning a study to look at consolidating the three unique island cities into one larger government. This is not only poor judgment, as it falls far short of what should be expected of so-called leaders, but it is yet another example of big government disrespecting the principle of home rule.

While our state legislators’ actions are beyond disappointing, they are unlikely to be illegal unless they were somehow witting accomplices to the threats and extortion of Commissioner Van Ostenbridge. When it comes to the latter, however, Florida officials owe it to residents of the state to investigate whether the commissioner’s brazen strongarming of a local government meets the threshold of extortion charges. If we really are the so-called Free State of Florida, as so many of my fellow Republicans like to brag when it comes to culture war issues, we should indeed be free of extortion at the hands of those elected to represent us.

Joe McClash is the publisher of The Bradenton Times. He served on the Manatee County Commission for 22 years.

Reader Comments
Larry Kenneth Grossman
JAN 28, 2023  •  Kevin approaches Mayor Judy and says, "Your money or a parking garage". That is political extortion. Never mind that a 450-space four-story parking garage on Holmes Beach would largely displace the existing surface parking lot which is very accessible and convenient for beach patrons with all their beach paraphernalia. By replacing multiple access points with a single entrance and exit a parking garage will create congestion where none exists today. A garage would be an unsightly intrusion on what now is a low scale bucolic setting with the Beach Cafe. Also, the garage would replace permeable ground surface with an impervious surface for the garage footprint of over an acre. The comparable is the Selby Gardens Garage in Sarasota. Mr. Ostenbridge and Company is using similar tactics in ramming through a $31million street widening project for 59th Street where the residents were notified after the fact that some of their homes were going to be taken for the widening. The residents, property owners, visitors and businesses along this 2.3 mile stretch of roadway were not part of a planning process where the input of those most affected would be sought out. It seems that elected officials in the County and the State level don't have to represent their constituent wishes; Democracy transforms to Autocracy- the weaponization of power against the wishes of those who pay the salaries of those who purportedly represent them.
JAN 27, 2023  •  KVO is trailer park trash. Stealing plants, and acting like a bully, what a clown. Along with his buddies crashing into trees, and having vaccine parties. This is what leadership is like here in Manatee County, what a joke.
Ty Sheridan
JAN 24, 2023  •  KVO is a white trash redneck. The fact that this little runt has a platform - of even perceived power - is such an embarrassment to this county. Of course, he has no power. He takes orders from his paymasters and his one employee, "Dr." Scott Hopes. Short, fat, bald and stupid is no way to go through life, but here we are. Oh and just wait til some of his behavior around women goes public. That'll be his next Bougainvillea.
JAN 23, 2023  •  If enough people dislike Van Ostenbridge as is reported here, the problem should be easily resolved on election day. Most people agree that there will never, ever be enough parking and even worse, bridge capacity to get the parkers on and off the islands. But if more parking is the goal, Coquina Beach would be the place to expand. There is plenty of room, it wouldn't take much to add hundreds of spaces without an expensive garage, and yes, why did they reduce spaces with their paving scheme? If you don't like your leaders, vote them out. Anyone who wants a garage should not get a single vote in my opinion!
Janet Aubry
JAN 23, 2023  •  Thank you for clearly presenting the facts of the current situation on Anna Maria Island. There are a couple letters here saying island residents led by Mayor Judy Holmes Titsworth are keeping children from sunny days at the beach. WHAT?! Can these people read the parking statistics known to all and contained in public record that you spelled out for them?! What it comes down to is should island residents have the same rights as others in the county when it comes to safety, taxes, parking, traffic, noise, infrastructure, water quality, pollution, destruction of private property and voting? Be careful how you answer that people who are challenging the rights of your island neighbors. It could happen to you next and then you will understand clearly this is unAmerican and not what any of us stand for. I know my father did not fight in the hell of the Pacific Basin in WWII for this! Wake up people.
Paul D. Smith
JAN 22, 2023  •  Our representatives are only doing the bidding of their masters, so they can build more. Has anyone thought about where an expanded population will get a drink of water, clean water or where they will dispose of their garbage and human waste ??
JAN 22, 2023  •  Bizarre vs. Bazaar...editors should do better.
JAN 22, 2023  •  To Barbara Bohner from Facebook. What does Trump have to do with this? This is a county issue which escalated to the state, not federal. I have lived here for 30 years originally on the island. We moved off because of traffic and the housing cost. That was back in 2007. Also we both worked for the county. My husband retired well before the current board. He passed away. I worked 10 more years. We came to Bradenton because we liked the area. Seeing what has happened and changed is the reason I retired.
Marianne H
JAN 22, 2023  •  This man is a dangerous threat to democracy. He is a thief, a liar, a bully and needs to be recalled before he does further damage. Shame on him and us if we do not act.
Arthur Dent
JAN 22, 2023  •  People on here saying kvo needs to go, y'all are a bit confused, it is in fact Judy and the rest of city council that needs to go. I know that may not have been her intent, but she has effectively banned children from visiting beaches on a warm sunny Florida day. Think about that for a second before you reply. There have been meetings, we had a meeting not that long ago where nine people spoke against her parking policy and one person spoke for it and there was Zero change affected, and yet now you write that Kevin is the bully? The sign at the entrance to Holmes Beach says welcome. Keep that in mind. I don't think Judy as well as her city council, as well as a lot of her residents even know what welcome means. Since Judy in a lot of her supporters don't know what community means, let me explain something. You have beaches, we have a hospital. You're Banning us from your beaches... next time you come into Bradenton for a store you don't have access to, a doctor specialty office, or as I said, a hospital, be sure and take the tram, an Uber, or some other means so you won't have to park here in our town.
JAN 22, 2023  •  There's no question that the current BOCC is led by criminals... but we got ourselves an all "conservative" board filled with pro-Trump pro-DeSantis "the election was stolen" and "look! I have an R next to my name!!" commissioners, so who cares if they break laws? Laws-shcmawls! Law and order is for RINOS!! Long live the "Manatee Mafia"!!!
JAN 22, 2023  •  KVO seems to be nothing more than a common thug and bully with a Napoleon complex.
Alene Gauthier
JAN 22, 2023  •  Wait, let me get this straight. Build MORE buildings on a very small island which would not only obstruct more views of THE REASON people go to the beach but would also allow even MORE people on the island at any given time? I moved to Bradenton permanently 9 years ago for the "small town" feeling I missed from my childhood days AND the beach. Fast forward to NOW, and I don't want to leave my neighborhood (landside) let alone go to the beach, which although I live 10 minutes away with no traffic, it will take up to one full hour when the winter visitors are here. And it has become more and more congested at other times of the year as well. WHY then build a parking garage to increase the capacity of even more people. It has long ago become a great displeasure to travel to any part of the island, let alone go to the beaches which are always in the news for Red Tide. Now, I simply drive to one of the St. Petersburg beaches which are beautiful, quiet peaceful areas and have none of the hassles here in Manatee County. Kevin, stop being a bully and supplying all the developers with the means to continue ruining our county. Have you seriously driven through town along E. 64 / Manatee Ave W and seen the number of tall buildings (obstructs the beauty of the area), both apartment and storage buildings. Geese, how many storage buildings do we NEED. You continually back ways to run our county into the ground. Very, very disappointed in you.
JAN 22, 2023  •  Recall KVO ASAP ! Get rid of the thief heading the commission !
JAN 22, 2023  •  Don't the voters hold any power? Bounce these clowns out. They are ruining your community. What a bunch of lemmings the people seem to be.
Ken Schepel
JAN 22, 2023  •  The roads and access on and off AMI are inadequate now. South of Cortez is typically a nightmare. Will more parking improve that? It is a great article about parking and politics, representing a larger problem no one dares mention, capacity.
JAN 22, 2023  •  The new chant should be "KVO needs to GO, along with Hopes and all his Soaps (operas)." The current BOCC does nothing to enhance the lives of Manatee County citizens.
Jon M
JAN 22, 2023  •  These officials are committing Crimes. They’re all bough5 and paid for by the developers!! Disgraceful and time to bring in the DOJ!! ENOUGH!
Cat L
JAN 22, 2023  •  KVO is a thug. He's there to do the bidding of a would-be-oligarch. His actions are contemptible.
JAN 22, 2023  •  Where do residents of Holmes Beach go to sign the petition to initiate an investigation into whether Commissioner Kevin VanOstenbridge has violated Florida Statute 836.05?