TARPON SPRINGS — The city is launching an investigation into bogus "No Parking" signs that were posted two years ago along the street leading to a popular Tarpon Springs restaurant in an ongoing dispute.
The signs resulted in hundreds of customers of Jack Willie's Tarpon Turtle Grill and Marina getting $10 parking tickets when they should not have.
The investigation is coming at the request of Commissioner Peter Dalacos, who said he has "major concerns as to how this issue was handled at the time."
"I strongly believe that the commission deserves answers and explanations on this issue," Dalacos wrote in an e-mail Wednesday to City Manager Mark LeCouris.
LeCouris, the city's police chief in 2007, said the commission will get a full report of the incident.
"We are working on that as we speak," LeCouris said Thursday. "We will give it to everybody. I want to get it done quickly and thoroughly and it will be completed hopefully at the beginning of the next week."
The parking sign matter came up during an April 27 Planning and Zoning meeting and again at the City Commission's May 5 meeting during discussion of seating capacity and entertainment at the Tarpon Turtle.
Tarpon Turtle owner Don Alvino sought seating for 213 people and outdoor entertainment, but the commission approved a compromise plan allowing 177 seats and outdoor music on the weekends.
The controversy had arisen because some neighbors complained about noise the restaurant generated. Alvino claimed that he had been targeted by a former business partner, Mike Bronson, and the majority of the complaints were directed by Bronson.
Though the commission settled the seating and entertainment issues, Dalacos was troubled by the fake parking signs. And now he wants answers to the following questions:
• How did the city become aware of the improper signs and what course of action did it take?
• Why was the perpetrator of this alleged action of falsifying city activity or the impression of municipal action not cited?
• What actions or responses did the city take to rectify this issuance of numerous invalid parking citations?
• Were the city attorneys contacted for advice on how to handle these issues? And if not why not?
LeCouris said the matter was mainly a code enforcement issue.
"In code enforcement, we are about compliance first," he said. "We look for compliance. It still doesn't excuse something not being documented on it. There should have been some documentation."
When cars would park along the street near the restaurant, the police department would receive a complaint about illegal parking. The police would arrive and write parking tickets.
Signs in some areas were legitimate, but others weren't.
"My customers started complaining about parking tickets," Alvino said. "I had a meeting with the Tarpon Springs Police Department (in May 2007) and we discovered that the problem was the signs were illegally installed."
No one knows how long the bogus signs were up or how many signs were installed.
Acting police Chief Robert Kochen said once it was discovered that some of the "no parking" signs were not installed by the city, they were immediately removed. Kochen said code enforcement talked with Michael Lacy, who worked for Bronson, and Lacy acknowledged putting up the signs.
But Lacy said Thursday he has never talked with police or code enforcement about the signs. He said he had "absolutely nothing" to do with it and is concerned the city would say that he did.
"If they got some documentation saying that I did, they should bring it," Lacy said.
Alvino and Bronson were business partners. Alvino initially leased the Tarpon Turtle from Bronson with a five-month option to buy. In September 2006, Alvino exercised the option and purchased the restaurant for $3.4 million. The two have publicly battled since.
Bronson built seven townhomes that are beside the Tarpon Turtle and a personal home in the area.
At the April 27 Planning and Zoning Board meeting, Bronson spoke against Alvino's request to have 213 seats. Bronson said there is a "size compatibility" issue with the number of requested seats and the community.
Alvino responded at the meeting, saying: "I didn't realize that he (Bronson) was not quite as Christian as he represented himself to be and if I have a fault, it was being trusting and accepting him as a trusting Christian, honest man."
Numerous attempts to reach Bronson for comment were unsuccessful.
Dalacos is concerned.
"Since last week, the issue of an antagonist against the Tarpon Turtle falsely placing "NO PARKING" signs all along Lake Tarpon Avenue (and the surrounding neighborhood) and thus drawing the city into a personal disagreement has really been bothering me," he said in the e-mail.
LeCouris said the people who received parking tickets near the Tarpon Turtle during that time likely paid them.
Mayor Beverley Billiris said she wished there was better documentation of the incident.
"I would have liked to know that there were some kind of paper trail taken on it and any action that the city does," Billiris said, "especially when there had been tickets issued."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.