HB building inspector faced discipline before dismissal

Former Holmes Beach building inspector Bob Shaffer was disciplined for “exaggerated leniency to marginal and over-the-line practices by some contractors,” according to an April 20 memorandum in Shaffer’s personnel file.

        Public works superintendent Joe Duennes terminated Shaffer Sept. 18, with Mayor Rich Bohnenberger’s concurrence.

        The April memo from Shaffer to Duennes was co-signed by Bohnenberger.

        Duennes declined to comment on Shaffer’s departure, saying he expects some legal action may follow.

        The April memo documents Duennes’ placement of Shaffer on a three-month probation. It also ordered Shaffer off the job for two days without pay because of what the memo labeled “contractor mismanagement issues.”

        The memo gave examples, including ongoing forgiveness of late or improperly ordered inspections, failure to require proper permit cards at construction sites, and failure to issue stop work orders for improper construction at 5806 Holmes Blvd. and 120 50th St.

        “In the next three months, we will discuss on a regular basis your ability to stand firm when contractor irregularities occur,” the memo states.

        It concludes, “I will provide you with a written opinion each month on your progress or lack thereof, which could lead to termination.”

        Although, no written opinions were found Sept. 27 in Shaffer’s personnel file.

        After the April 20 memo, the next document in Shaffer’s file is the termination letter, dated Sept. 19, that cites the city’s policy designed to correct improper behavior, improve services and maximize productivity.

        It is unclear, however, whether he was asked to resign prior to taking a planned two-week vacation Sept. 14.

        Shaffer reportedly told several city hall workers he was leaving his position before he left for vacation, and he removed his personal items from his office.

        He has not returned three calls for comment.

        Duennes said Sept. 18 that Shaffer’s vacation was planned, and that he had told Duennes he was considering resigning.

        Bohnenberger had no comment Sept. 25 on Shaffer’s departure, except that it was a termination and he understood Shaffer had referred the matter to an attorney.

        City attorney Patricia Petruff said she has had no contact from any one representing Shaffer.

        Shaffer’s departure comes at a time of increased building department scrutiny, public records requests and criticism about builders being allowed to ignore regulations and build in setbacks, a lack of inspections and erroneous lot calculations.

        In addition to the April 20 memo, Shaffer’s personnel file contains documents indicating a 90-day probation for failure to complete work in November 2006, and an April 2006 memo warning Shaffer not to discuss unapproved design modifications and not to become involved with code enforcement cases.

        Shaffer was hired as a building inspector by Duennes and then-Mayor Carol Whitmore in August 2002.       Shaffer’s initial hourly pay was $14.83. It increased over the years to $26.96 in October 2011. In July 2011, Duennes upgraded Shaffer’s duties to include plans examiner and requested a $2.29 hourly pay raise for Shaffer.

        Former public works superintendent John Fernandez, recently retired building official for the town of Longboat Key, began assisting the city as a building department consultant in July, and has been filling in for Shaffer, doing inspections and plan reviews.

        Fernandez is working about 37 hours a month as an independent contractor for Holmes Beach.

        According to Bohnenberger, the open inspector position is being advertised.

        City Commissioner John Monetti’s code enforcement focus group suggested the city look at an outside engineering firm to review plans and inspections. The focus group was one of several commissioner-led groups aimed at solving the city’s problems with construction sites and increased residential renters.

        At that time, Petruff opposed the move, defending the capability of Duennes and the building department. She also pointed out the city had recently enacted a policy change where Shaffer was doing initial inspections, Duennes the second and both doing a third.

        Since April, criticism and a call for expertise in the building department has increased.

        Bohnenberger recently acknowledged the possibility of calling in building department assistance from Bradenton Beach.

        Building department clerk Susan Lonzo said last week she expects there will be delays in inspections and plan reviews, as long as Duennes is the only available building official.

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