The section violated, according to Longboat Key Code Enforcement officials: 96.01, General regulations: Health and sanitation — maintenance of premises. The case was one of seven violations related to weeds and grass in excess of 12 inches on the agenda at the Monday, Oct. 11 Code Enforcement Board meeting. Code Enforcement Officer Heidi Micale testified that the property in the 600 block of St. Judes Drive had been in violation for eight days and told the board that it was a repeat violation. But Robert G. Smith, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, challenged those statements.
Micale’s testimony was based on the notes of Code Enforcement Officer Ben Bailey, who did not attend the meeting because he was at a training session.
“Heidi does not have personal knowledge of my case,” Smith said. “That is not due process.”
It was just one of multiple objections to the code-enforcement process brought forth by three residents at Monday’s meeting, which stretched more than two hours.
Smith, who said he has extensive code-enforcement experience in Chagrin Falls, said that Code Enforcement does not have the right to issue a repeat violation.
“Each offense of a code must be treated the same way each time,” he said.
He also challenged Code Enforcement’s authority to issue a health violation, saying that is a county health department authority. And he took issue with photos taken that were submitted into evidence, saying that the pictures of a measuring tape in his yard showing grass and weeds at heights exceeding the 12-inch mark did not show the bottom of the tape.
“The oldest trick in the book is not showing the bottom of the tape,” he said.
Assistant town attorney Kelly Martinson told the board she has confidence that the town’s code allows the town to enforce problems such as excessive grass and weeds and issue repeat violations. She also said that Micale could testify based on Bailey’s notes, because they are town documents. But, at her recommendation, the board voted to hold off until next month’s board meeting before assessing Smith a fee because Bailey hadn’t signed an affidavit stating that he had taken the photos.
Joseph Wolfer, whose company, Bay Isles Acquisition, owns a vacant property in the 500 block of Bay Isles Road, said that he doesn’t dispute Micale’s notes for two cases involving weeds and grass in excess of 12 inches on the property. But he told the board that he wasn’t notified during the summer, when the first violation occurred, that he was being charged $110 per hour in administrative costs for staff time, which typically occurs after a property has gone into violation. Wolfer, who at Monday’s meeting was also assessed $418.04 in administrative costs and $10 a day for the property’s 20 days in violation for a second case involving grass and weeds, told the board that he didn’t learn of the costs for the initial case until he incurred nine hours of staff time. He asked the board to consider lowering the staff-time charges.
“Never once had I been aware of the costs,” Wolfer said.
But Micale’s supervisor, Monica Simpson, director of Planning, Zoning and Building Department, told the board that administrative costs often don’t reflect the true amount of staff time spent on a violation.
“It is a lowball estimate,” she said. “I have spent a lot of time with Heidi on my own for which no time has been billed to this gentleman.”
During the right-to-be-heard phase of the meeting, resident James Armstrong challenged the $110-per-hour cost of staff time. Armstrong is appealing the board’s August ruling to fine him $2,117.50 for administrative costs, along with a $50-a-day fine that has been accumulating since Aug. 7 related to work on his home in the 2900 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive that Code Enforcement officials say was done without permits. Armstrong said that he was not speaking only about his case when he told the board that, as a taxpayer, he was concerned about legal liabilities to the town.
“I asked my town commissioner, I asked the town attorney and I asked the Code Enforcement Board to cite the statute that gives them authority to pass through payroll expenses as administrative costs for code violations,” Armstrong said after the meeting. “No one can answer my question.”
But Martinson said that the ordinance that calculated staff time was based not only on an employee’s salary, but also on benefits, taxes and the total cost to the town of that employee and that Armstrong’s questions would be addressed in court if he pursues an appeal.
“We feel confident that the town is properly administering its costs,” she said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].