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HB code enforcement board remains a force

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach code violators will continue to go before local residents serving on a code enforcement board rather than a special magistrate if the commission stays on course.

Holmes Beach commissioners May 22 went against a prior consensus to move forward with an ordinance to implement a special magistrate system of hearings for code violations.

Had the commission stayed the course, the new system would have replaced the current seven-member board of community members with a paid professional, such as an attorney or retired judge as its magistrate.

But after hearing from code board members — Chair Don Schroder, Tom Creed and John Wize and alternates Marvin Grossman and Renee Ferguson — who opposed the change, commissioners voted 2-3 to deny the special magistrate ordinance.

Commission Chair David Zaccagnino joined commissioners Jean Peelen and John Monetti voting against the magistrate ordinance. Commissioners Pat Morton and Sandy Haas-Martens voted for the change.

Zaccagnino introduced the proposed special master ordinance, saying it may be a way to “avoid the uneasy, uncivil and awkward” situation of one community member sitting in judgment of another, and Peelen agreed.

However, after hearing from the code board members, Zaccagnino and Peelen joined Monetti in opposing the motion.

“I am extremely impressed,” Ferguson said about the code board she has served on since January.

Addressing previous comments about an April code board hearing that Morton said was “not a pretty sight,” Ferguson said, “It was not pleasant because certain things ran amok, not because of the code enforcement board.”

The April code board heard a stop work violation, and Schroder had criticized the city for not having the proper official at the hearing to testify.

“It’s not broken,” Ferguson added. “It seems to be working very, very well.”

Appointed to the code board at the same time as Ferguson, Grossman said, “When I first heard about going to a special magistrate, I definitely thought it was a good idea.” But after sitting on the board, he said, “I was amazed.” The board is “so concerned with the truth.” And, he said, members had no problem recusing themselves when a conflict arose. He said they were “not uncomfortable” with the notion the violator might be their neighbor, he said.

Recently reappointed, Creed objected to the city paying a special master when a competent code board of citizens serves without compensation.

He said he “seriously doubted” that bringing in a special magistrate who “doesn’t know the Island that well” could serve “nearly as well” as the current board. Creed complimented Schroder’s recent handling of a violator who was brought into compliance.

Schroder also asked the commission to reconsider its position, and noted the special magistrate was rejected about five years ago.

“I was dismayed to read in the newspaper that once again” the city was looking to disband the code board, and “doubly shocked” because it was not based on facts, but perception.

Never in his 14 years on the code board, Schroder said, had there been a problem getting a quorum.

“I see both sides of that coin,” Monetti said. “It seems like the city has been more contentious than in the past,” and code board members more “likely to get beat up by their neighbor, but it seems they’re happy to take that on.”

Morton said his recommendation for the special magistrate system was “not about our local citizenry” and their ability to serve on the code enforcement board. They’re doing “a great job,” he said, but rather it is about a desire to protect citizens as “things are changing.”

In other business, at the recommendation of Zaccagnino, Petruff and Mayor Rich Bohnenberger were asked to jump-start a resolution to flooding issues near Gulf Drive in the southeast area of the city. Zaccagnino said he lives in the area, and a heavy rainfall “last Tuesday was a horror show,” at 31st Street near Gulf Drive.

Joseph Snow, a resident of 31st Street on the west side of Gulf Drive, also told commissioners the water was so high he was unable to park in his driveway without having water flood into his car.

To alleviate the problem, swales need to be improved, but first an exemption is needed from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to allow for mangrove removal, according to Bohnenberger. He also reported funds for the work may be available if an ongoing stormwater project comes in under budget.

Commissioners next voted 3-2 to approve an ordinance eliminating the current practice of requiring citizens to swear to the truth before speaking at work sessions. Monetti and Haas-Martens dissented.

The commission unanimously approved:

• A mutual release of all claims in the William Sorg, 3707 Gulf Drive, fourplex code enforcement matter.

• A contract between the city and Wood Dock & Seawall of Bradenton to install 28 docks in three T-end canals on Marina Drive for $58,760.

• Two-year reappointments of Darcie Duncan to the police officers’ pension board of trustees and Jim Dunne to the parks and beautification committee.

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