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Date of Issue: October 13, 2005

Code board won't meet on fence future

Mark English cut short his North Carolina vacation to be back in Anna Maria in plenty of time to prepare for the Oct. 10 meeting of the city’s code enforcement board.

English, of 776 N. Shore Drive, is the guy whose fence is in "code board limbo" following a 2-2 tie vote by the board last July over whether or not the height of his fence violated a city code (The Islander, Oct. 5).

Somewhere north on Interstate 95 during the driving rainstorms of Tropical Storm Tammy last week, he got the cell phone call that the Oct. 10 meeting had been canceled, reportedly because not enough members would be available to rehear his case.

English had originally understood that the four members of the board who voted in July would simply re-vote to determine if a decision could be reached. As such, it was not a rehearing and he and his attorney did not have to present their case all over again. When he learned two weeks ago that the board would rehear the case, he and his family finished their vacation to get back to Anna Maria.

"This is just wonderful," said English dryly. "This case has been dragging on and on. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut. I was looking forward to a resolution of this nightmare."

He also blasted City Attorney Jim Dye for suggesting the board rehear the case, claiming that Dye is "not the attorney for the board, so I don’t understand how he speaks for the board." English also said Dye "blocked every resolution the board wanted to consider" last July.

He said that after the July meeting, he even tried a suggestion by the board to use topsoil to comply with the code, much as another North Shore Drive resident has reportedly done, to meet the fence height requirement.

 Instead, someone filed a complaint with Code Enforcement Officer Gerry Rathvon and English was ordered to remove the topsoil.

"I feel like a deer staring in a headlight. I don’t know which way to turn," said an aggravated English. He’s been an Anna Maria resident and property owner 20 years and said he’s "never encountered a city as confrontational as this ‘laid back’ community has become.

"It’s already cost me $8,000 and the city is apparently still pursuing the issue. It’s not funny anymore."

Code enforcement reactive in Anna Maria

Faced with the growing controversy surrounding the code enforcement case at 776 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn has reminded the city’s code enforcement board and public that code enforcement in the city is determined by commission policy, not the mayor.

The code enforcement officer can institute enforcement in only two cases: trash, garbage and yard waste outside a structure at an inappropriate time and during the turtle nesting season, when there are issues related to the protection of turtles, she said.

"All other actions are initiated by a complaint, either identified or anonymous. It is the complaint that determines the actions of the CEO, not the CEO."

She noted that in the case of 776 N. Shore Drive, the CEO "may note that every neighboring fence is in violation, but she cannot take action against those property owners because no complaint has been filed."

While this policy "does not make sense to some," it is a city commission policy, not that of her administration or the CEO.

The commission has discussed the issue of "reactive" versus "proactive" and "identified" versus "anonymous" complaints on numerous occasions since she has been in office, SueLynn observed. The commission "continues to maintain that it is in the best interests of the city that the CEO remain reactive." In other words, a complaint must be filed at city hall before the CEO takes any action and that "anonymous complaints" are justifiable.

The mayor added that while the "outcome" of the code enforcement board’s July decision in the case "appeared to accuse the CEO of selective enforcement," that is "not the case."

The CEO did see other fences in the area that may violate the city’s fence ordinance, but could take no action because no complaint had been filed. The investigation into the fence at 776 N. Shore Drive was simply a "reaction" to a complaint filed by a neighbor.

"There was no selective enforcement regarding this case, or any other that she has been involved with," the mayor maintained.

SueLynn also noted that a formal complaint has now been filed against a fence at 801 N. Shore Drive and the CEO is investigating.