Holmes Beach fires building inspector

Holmes Beach building inspector Bob Shaffer, under fire from commissioners and citizens looking closely at the city’s past building department practices, was terminated last week while on vacation.

        During a Sept. 18 interview with The Islander, public works superintendent Joe Duennes said Shaffer went on a planned vacation until Sept. 30, and that before Shaffer left, he told Duennes he was considering resigning.

        A letter Sept. 19, however, indicated Shaffer’s employment had been terminated Sept. 18.

        On Sept. 21, Duennes said, “Something happened between when I talked to you last.” However, Duennes said he could not discuss it further because lawyers may become involved in the matter.

        The termination letter to Shaffer is signed by Duennes. It states, “Pursuant to Section XIV of the City of Holmes Beach Employee Handbook adopted by Ordinance 07-20, please be advised that your employment with the city of Holmes Beach is terminated as of Sept. 18, 2012.

        “I previously advised you of this decision by telephone the afternoon of Sept. 18, 2012. In accordance with Section XIV, the mayor has concurred with this decision.”

        The section referenced by the letter is from the handbook’s discipline policy, which states discipline is to correct improper behavior to improve services and maximize productivity, and lists one of the types of discipline as termination. It also states a department head, with the mayor’s concurrence, has the authority to terminate an employee.

        During the Sept. 18 talk with The Islander, Duennes emphasized Shaffer had not offered his resignation and expected he’d make his decision upon his return, or call during his vacation. Shaffer scheduled the time off about a month ago, Duennes said.

        “Without him around here, I’m pretty much overloaded,” Duennes added. “If Bob leaves I’ll be disappointed. He’s a great guy. It’s really a shame. He’d give the shirt off his back.”

        Shaffer’s departure comes at a time when the building department has been deluged with public records requests and questioned about its practices by Commissioner Jean Peelen, as well as commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth and others.

        Resident Mary Buonaugura criticized Shaffer for a failure to note any information beyond “acceptable” on inspections, but provided no reasons for her criticism or documentation of any problems.

        After looking at nine properties under construction, Titsworth criticized the mayor and building department for failing to enforce the building code and suggested the city consider an outside consultant such as the one employed by Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach to be contracted for plan reviews, applications and inspections.

        Peelen released a report Aug. 14 claiming a “lax land development code” — not staff — had led to construction of large out-of-scale homes and illegal use of ground-level enclosures. In the same report she called for the demotion of the building inspector.

        Shaffer and Duennes have defended the accusations, saying the new construction has been in accordance with state and city codes. Duennes blamed the city’s problems on the burgeoning vacation rental market.

        Mayor Rich Bohnenberger defended the department in a Sept. 14 fiscal year-end report, saying the building department underwent two audits with positive results, one increasing the flood-insurance discount and a second rating the department above most in the state on staffing, plans review and inspections.

        Former Holmes Beach public works superintendent John Fernandez, recently retired from his Longboat Key job as a building official, is assiting the department as a consultant, and now is filling in for Shaffer, helping Duennes with inspections and plan reviews.

        Fernandez said he has worked about 37 hours per month for the city. He retired recently from his position with Longboat Key, and told the Islander he would decline a fulltime job if it’s offered by Holmes Beach.

        Neither Bohnenberger nor Shaffer returned calls for comment.

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