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County to assist HB building department

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Lacking staff in the Holmes Beach building department — particularly someone qualified to sign permits — the city has turned to Manatee County for assistance.

Interim building inspector Tom O’Brien applied Jan. 2 for a Florida provisional building code administrator’s certificate that will allow him as a licensed architect to sign off on building permits and plans.

To fill the gap while the state processes O’Brien’s certification, Mayor Carmel Monti announced Jan. 8, the county will begin assisting the building department on or about Jan. 10 for about 90 days.

Monti said he and O’Brien met with Manatee County building department officials Jan. 7 and agreed to the interim arrangement.

Part-time consultant and former building official John Fernandez had been issuing permits, but he ended his contract with the city Dec. 26.

When O’Brien’s license will be approved depends on the Florida construction industry licensing board, according to the Department of Business and Professional Regulations communications director Sandi Poreda.

The need for a building official in Holmes Beach comes after months of controversy over building practices in the city.

Monti and two commissioners, Marvin Grossman and Judy Titsworth, elected in November, and others, including already-seated Commissioner Jean Peelen, have been critical of building-code interpretations and enforcement of the city’s land-development and state’s building codes.

Monti told commissioners last week, public works superintendent Joe Duennes, who stepped down Nov.16 after more than 16 years — but remains on the payroll — had been signing permits in an “ex-officio status” before the decision to use the county building officials.

In a phone call last week, Duennes said he decided against signing permits because of possible legal ramifications and the DBPR discouraged it. He discontinued the practice Jan. 4.

Duennes also said it was unfair to blame the past administration for following a city ordinance that permitted underground footers to separate duplex units, which were blamed for a myriad of problems related to rentals.

At the city’s Jan. 8 meeting, Commissioner David Zaccagnino asked whether it was known how long it would take for O’Brien’s licensing, adding, “I’m pretty sure they’re not giving it to us gratis.”

However, the question went unanswered.

In other matters related to the building department, commissioners voted 4-1 on a four-month amended employment contract with O’Brien, which terminates March 31. A formal search is expected to fill the permanent position.

Monti explained the amended agreement replaces a 40-hour weekly work requirement with a flat fee of $5,000 per month for services performed. He said he did not want to micromanage O’Brien’s hours and that he expects him to get his job done, including attendance at city commission meetings.

City attorney Patricia Petruff noted another change in the worker’s compensation insurance portion of the agreement filled in some missing language.

Zaccagnino pointed out that O’Brien, hired on the interim contract basis in December, had just tendered his liability insurance as required by the agreement, and inquired about his lack of coverage for worker’s compensation.

Petruff said she was told by the DBPR that O’Brien was considered a non-contractor and sole proprietor and not part of the construction industry, and, as such, exempt from worker’s compensation laws. O’Brien can ask the DBPR for a courtesy letter to confirm his status, she said.

After the meeting, O’Brien said he understood the need for legal compliance because he is in the position of requiring others to conform to building laws.

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