Anna Maria loses FEMA discount, fires building official

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Anna Maria city commissioners look on Nov. 30 as building official Jimmy Strickland explains why he failed to comply with FEMA requirements. Islander Photos: Bianca Benedí

Missteps in reporting to the Federal Emergency Management Agency by the Anna Maria building official got him fired.

A unanimous vote of no confidence from Anna Maria commissioners Nov. 30 resulted in the termination of building official Jimmy Strickland’s employment with the city.

In August, another misstep was overlooked and Strickland gained a vote of confidence.

At the Nov. 30 commission meeting, however, the situation revealed by Mayor Dan Murphy was more dire.

Murphy said that due to neglect on the part of the building official, the city lost its citywide 25 percent discount from FEMA for the National Flood Insurance Program.

All property owners in the city have been affected by the loss since late October.

Murphy said FEMA representative Craig Carpenter informed him in October that the city would lose its discount due to a lack of information submitted to FEMA on steps taken by the city to mitigate flood risks.

The discount is calculated based on FEMA’s community rating system.

In December 2016, Strickland was to send FEMA a number of documents detailing efforts the city had made to provide significant investments.

However, Strickland failed to provide FEMA with the correct documentation showing those efforts.

Over the next 10 months, Carpenter claimed, Strickland either ignored multiple requests for information or responded with inadequate information.

Murphy said after he spoke to Carpenter, city staff was given 20 days to come up with the necessary paperwork.

Thanks to that effort, the paperwork has been submitted, but the city is “at the mercy of FEMA at this point,” Murphy said.

Commission Chair Doug Copeland said it was “shocking” for the city to lose its discount, given the effort Anna Maria put into reducing flood risk.

“In the past, building officials have worked hard, and we’ve had a superior discount to Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach,” he said.

 

Strickland sites overload

      Murphy told commissioners Nov. 30 that Strickland had not informed him there was a problem prior to Carpenter’s letter landing in his hands.

When the letter arrived, Murphy said Strickland told him he had not fulfilled the FEMA request due to the massive amount of documentation required.

Strickland said it was too much for him to take on himself, according to Murphy.

      The city needs a flood-plain expert, Strickland told Murphy, to handle day-to-day FEMA documents.

      Strickland doubled down on his claims when he addressed the commission.

      “You need a lot of training for the documentation they want and it’s constant work. … We really need the extra position” to keep up with the FEMA workload, he said.

Strickland said he had not brought the issue to the attention of the mayor because he didn’t realize FEMA would impose a deadline.

“We were still working on things when they came in and said, ‘you’re done,’” Strickland said.

Commissioner Brian Seymour asked Strickland why the issue of inadequate staffing had not been brought to the city earlier or to Strickland’s contractual employer, M.T. Causley Inc.

Causley offers building, consulting engineering and government department service statewide from offices in Homestead, Florida.

The city contracts Causley for building services and Causley selects and provides — upon city approval — a professional, state-licensed official as well as the official’s benefits.

Copeland chided Strickland for failing to alert the city to the problem for more than 10 months, pointing out staff was able to gather the documents in 20 days after they were alerted.

      Copeland also directly asked Strickland whose responsibility it was to gather the documents.

In response, Strickland said, “I knew about some of the times and I had been working throughout the period of time.… I think a lot of it is, we were just so sheer busy.”

Strickland said if his department had a full-time flood-plain manager and he wasn’t obligated to do code enforcement, it wouldn’t happen again.

Commissioner Nancy Yetter asked why M.T. Causley appointed Strickland for the position if he lacked the training to do the job.

Murphy said past building officials managed the full scope of responsibility without problems.

Strickland received a vote of confidence from the commission Aug. 30, after the city learned he inappropriately signed off on a building permit without the necessary documentation.

Commissioners voted to retain Strickland, arguing that he had an otherwise-stellar record, but with a caveat that he take a public records course and FEMA training.

Seymour asked Strickland Nov. 30 if he had taken or enrolled in either course.

Strickland said he had not.

“It appears to me from history and the situation we’re in right now, you failed in your responsibility to look out for our city and our people and our rating system,” Commissioner Dale Woodland said, adding that he was “disappointed” with Strickland’s performance.

Call for applicants

      Murphy put out a request for proposals in October seeking applications for a new building official, bypassing the contractual provider for building department services, M.T. Causley.

He said 30 candidates responded to the application. Of the 30, three were qualified and one appeared to be a good fit for the city. Murphy said he would interview that candidate within the next few weeks.

Murphy said he was withholding the name of the candidate at the candidate’s request, to protect the applicant’s current job.

Tom Walsh, regional manager at M.T. Causley, told the mayor and commission his firm is prepared to provide a new building official that is trained in flood-plain management.

Murphy said he would consider the offer.

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