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County won’t reconsider contract on beach cafe

MANATEE — In what might have been Cafe on the Beach’s last stand, county commissioners said Tuesday they would not reconsider their decision to award the restaurant and retail shop’s operating contract to another vendor.

After two commissioners on the losing end of that 4-3 vote asked the majority to reconsider, three of those who voted to hire a Tampa company instead of retaining the cafe’s current operator said their minds were set.

“After reviewing everything, I think I voted the right way,” Commissioner Gwen Brown said.

She, along with Commissioners Larry Bustle, Ron Getman and Donna Hayes, voted May 11 to hire United Park Services to operate the county-owned facility at Manatee Beach.

Commissioners John Chappie, Joe McClash and Carol Whitmore had wanted to keep current cafe operators Tommy Vayias and John Menihtas, who sub-lease the facility from contract holders Dee and Gene Schaefer.

The decision came after cafe patrons lobbied heavily for Vayias and Menihtas, whose attorney since has filed an official protest of the vote.

On Tuesday, McClash and Whitmore asked Brown, Bustle and Hayes — Getman was absent from the meeting — to reconsider their vote, saying the selection process was marred by irregularities.

County procedures allow any commissioner on the losing end of a split vote to ask, at the next regularly scheduled board meeting, any member of that vote’s majority to reconsider his or her decision.

“I think it’s kind of a kick in the teeth to the local guy,” said McClash, who called the selection process “one of the most unfair situations I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.” He said the county did not give Vayias and Menihtas the opportunity to match or beat United Park Service’s proposal despite promises to do so.

But Brown, Bustle and Hayes disagreed, saying the county showed no favoritism and followed the process correctly.

“We did do the proper procedure, and we need to let it go,” Hayes said. “We’ve got other issues.”

Bustle said being asked to reconsider undermined faith in the county’s selection process.

“Just because the results were not pleasing to you doesn’t mean you throw out the process,” he said.

While he and Hayes were resolute in their decisions, Brown said she initially had some second thoughts in the days following the controversial vote. She said she further researched all four companies that sought the contract, and fielded numerous phone calls and read several e-mails from both sides of the issue.

But she denied that emotions, politics or personal prejudice factored into her decision.

“The emotions were just so high and so strong,” she said. “I do know this: If this one issue determines whether I get (re-)elected or not ... then this job isn’t worthwhile.”

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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