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Light-up McIntosh December 15

Light-up McIntosh will begin at the Civic Center at 6:30 p.m. The event will host Santa Clause and an area choir from six local churches will sing.

11.02.06 -- REPORT: Code board resolves long-standing complaints


In a complete reversal of tone from meetings in the last few months, the Code Enforcement Board cleared three contentious cases from its agenda, freeing residents and the town to move forward.

Board members removed a 10-month-old lien from Pedro Molinas' house and agreed to waive the remaining attorney fees, and agreed to waive pursuit of two other code enforcement board cases against Sportsman's Cove owner Casey Girardin.

With the case against Pedro Molinas's shed dragging out longer than a year, Code Enforcement Board member Jim Winters said he thought it would be a good will measure for the community to waive remaining fees against Molinas.

Lien lifting

Molinas built a carport on the town's right of way more than a year ago. Even though he had two permits in the building of the structure, which are available for download through the county court system, the code enforcement board took Molinas to court in January for noncompliance with McIntosh's codes and fined as much as $250 a day. Ultimately, the code enforcement board put a lien against Molina's house until he was in compliance.

Molinas agreed to tear down the shed. Molinas declined to say how much tearing down the shed cost him when he was cross-examined during a September meeting. He did not appear at last night's meeting. The town's attorney, Scott Walker, who prosecutes cases on the part of the town for the board, provided documentation that Sam Mutch, Molinas' attorney, had been informed of the meeting.

At the September meeting, the code enforcement board ordered that Molinas had to clear a concrete pad where his shed once stood of metal bars that had once anchored the shed. The board gave him a week to take care of this and then come back before the board when they would meet to hear six cases against Girardin. But in the meantime, the board canceled its meeting. But no one told Molinas. He showed up to the Civic Center last month and waited with other residents who thought there was going to be a Tree Committee meeting.

Phil Howell, a planner and arborist, testified as the acting code enforcement officer last night that Molinas had removed the remaining metal.

"I found the railings that were fastened along the outer edge of the concrete slab, those rails had been removed," he said.

Howell said before the last meeting the rails remained, which would allow for easy reconstruction of the shed in the future. He testified that currently there are some materials in the yard and on the slab being stored but they are not affixed to the property.

The board voted unanimously that Molinas had met the boards rulings and the lien and the compliance fees The other issue that the board needed to decide about the Molinas property was whether or not to charge Molinas for fees and court courts incurred in pursuing his case.

"In the past, we had decided that the eighteen-hundred-some-odd dollars was valid," said Code Enforcement Board Chairman Harris Fellman. "We do have documentation from the State's Attorney's office, which allows the community to collect those fees. My point is, if you release the lien at the present time, then we'll have to put another lien on to collect those $1,800. We would have no way of collecting unless we refuse to let the lien go."

But the Code Enforcement Board attorney Eric Gifford said that boards are limited to using liens to collect fees related to non-compliance, not attorney's fees.

In the past the code enforcement board had discussed charging Molinas for the attorney's fees which came to $1,882.75, comprised of a $1,332 attorney fee and $550.75 for transcription and court costs.

While the board unanimously passed a motion to remove the lien against Molina's property, on the other point, they were divided. Fellman was the lone board member who did not agree to waive the fees.

The board decided to waive the attorney's fees for two reasons.

"We've been going through this for a very, very long time and he's gone through a tremendous expense," said Jim Winters, code enforcement board member. "In an effort to have good relationships, I suggest that we waive those attorney's fees."

Winters made a motion to waive all fees and board member Spencer Clark seconded it.

"I'd like to make a comment. The $1,882.75 comes out of the pockets of the 400-and-some-odd people in this community," Fellman said. "The stubbornness, in my opinion, shown by Mr. Molinas -- and his attorney -- caused these fees to jump dramatically. Had this been taken care of much earlier on, there would have been insignificant fees and this community would not have to pick up these fees. I, personally, an in favor, I mean not in favor of releasing, I mean doing away with these fees."

Clark agreed with Fellman but still pushed to waive the remaining fees.

"I'm looking at a greater cost in putting another lien against the fee," Clark said. "I totally agree with you Harris, we've messed with this thing for a long time, he did show good faith. I don't know how far we want to drag this thing down the road."

"The philosophy of people blatantly doing things as they wish and costing a community, a small community like this, a great amount of money, is something that I'm opposed to," Fellman said. "Apparently, I'm in the minority, which I can accept. But that is my feeling."

"I want to be on the record stating that I believe when the community prevails when an individual has been found more or less, the term is guilty, in non-compliance, and an action has been brought against them, the community has the right, in fact, the duty to collect these fees," Fellman said.

The board voted 4-1 for waiving Molinas fees. Fellman voted against waiving the remaining fees.

Screen room setbacks

The next two matters involved Casey Girardin's property on Sportsman's Cove.

At last month's meeting, Girardin's attorney brought code complaints made by another client of his, the Smith-Hendersons, against Fellman and Bill Glass.

Since Girardin made the same complaint as the Smith-Henderson's and Girardin filed complaints against Fellman and former board member Bill Glass. A separate complaint that went before the code enforcement board that Fellman read into the record said that Girardin felt she was in fear that she could not recieve a fair and impartial hearing from the board if Fellman or Glass were judging her.

Glass resigned after the last meeting, in which he argued with the attorneys, the chairman and residents. Fellman read the memo into the record. As with the last meeting, he refused to recuse himself from judging Girardin's case. Gifford, the code enforcement board's attorney informed the other board members they could recuse him if they saw a reason to and they declined to make that motion.

Walker passed out a memorandum to the board and several audience members detailing the
history of a complaint about one of her tenant's screen rooms.

On May 9, Jame Rouston, a resident of Sportsman's Cove applied for a permit to screen in his covered patio. A day later, Art Davis, former code enforcement officer, wrote him a letter turning down his request because he was a tenet and not a land owner.

Girardin amended the May 8 permit application and wrote the town a $75 check for a permit on May 23. The town cashed her check but on May 30, Davis wrote Girardin a letter informing her that she would have to provide setback information and mark the lot lines.

The problem for the board members was that the roof and the cement already existed. The request was to screen in an existing structure. Girardin said she called Marion County and was told that a permit wasn't needed since the structure already existed. Since the improvements cost less than $500, Girardin said she was told that she would not need a permit and Rouston screened-in his porch. On June 26, Davis wrote a notice of violation against Girardin for screening-in the porch with a deadline to comply by the code enforcement meeting July 13.

Girardin said that she spray-painted the markers orange to no end because Davis inspected her property without her and her attorney as agreed, he skipped out of a meeting to look at the lot lines. Walker said at last night's meeting that he advised Davis not to meet with her without others present because emotions had been running so high in July.

In July, Girardin was circulating a petition to asking the council to consider removing Davis from the position of code enforcement officer. The council did, in fact, remove him after Mayor Marsha Strange informed the council that Davis treated her unprofessionally at Walker's office for a meeting where they were trying to work out an agreement with Girardin regarding her code violations.

"I was wondering if you needed setbacks to put up screens. It doesn't make any sense to me," Winters said.

Howell said that after looking at the paperwork, he felt that the permit applications met the town's requirements.

"Without requiring the property owner to hire a surveyor and go out and survey each lot, that's pretty much where we're at using the existing application. This appears to have been in existence for some years," Howell said.

The board unanimously voted that there was no code violation and that a site plan isn't required to screen in an existing structure. They also recommended the town return the $75 payment to her, though they had no authority to refund money.

"I think this went a little too far," Winter said. "I'm also wondering about the $75."

Shedding light

On the day that former town council president Joe Phillips resigned, all heck broke loose in town because a new resident living near Sportsman's Cove moved in a shed without a permit. It caused enough drama that morning to rock the town clerk's office, resulting in at least two arguments between town officials and residents with the sheriff being called in for one of them. "The Shed Event" even carried angry conversations over into the next council meeting.

And it left most people mystified. Because, it's just a shed, right? Why the drama? Because several people in town thought the shed was going down to the Cove. To understand one Shed Event is to understand the other.

The final case before the board dealt with a shed in Girardin's RV park.

Davis wrote a violation against her for a shed that she said was on her property when she purchased it.

Walker read a letter into the record from the previous owner of Sportsman's Cove owner Jerry Harris that said the shed was given to Casey at the time of purchase last year.

Howell said that he could find nothing in the paperwork from the case that indicated when the shed was purchased. He said that her contention was the shed had been there for some time and there was no evidence to suggest it had not been.

"I've been to the town three times to get a permit for this. The first time was this
February. When I went to get the permit I was told by [Town Clerk] Julie [Musselman] and by Beverly Dodder that I didn't need a permit because it was there. The second time I went I was told I didn't need a permit because it was there. The third time I went, I was told I didn't need a permit because it's on skids. It's not permanently affixed to the ground. I spoke with Phil and I spoke with Julie previously. Julie suggested I get a letter from Jerry, who I bought the property from. That's what I did. I got the letter today after I spoke to Phil." Girardin said.

She also said there were a total of 10 sheds in her RV park, which she has permits for none of them.

"They came to me with the property," Girardin said.

June Glass, a resident from the audience, spoke out during comments without being sworn in.

"I don't care either way, but if it were on the property when she bought it, it would be in inventory," Glass said.

Audience member and resident Susan Phillips raised a question to Girardin about the sheds. Fellman asked that Phillips be sworn in but she interrupted him and said she was just asking a question.

"If the building was already there, why was she trying three times to get a permit?" Phillips asked. "Was it on the inventory?"

"I did it for the obvious reasons," Girardin said. "I could have spent $75 in February and this would have been finished."

Phillips interrupted her.

"Why did you apply for a permit when it was already there? It's all I'm asking," Phillips said.

"Because I was told by Jim Strange that I need to get a permit," Girardin said. "So I went down and I applied for a permit and I was told when I went to the permitting department that I didn't need one. So I let it go and then all of this started."

Then, Glass interrupted her.

"It should at least be on an inventory," Glass said.

"I've got plenty of sheds listed on my inventory. I've got 10 sheds on that property," Girardin said.

Howell said that he'd spoken with the town clerk but there was no way to know when the shed was brought in because no one had any paperwork.

Another resident, Cher Phillips, raised her hand and asked to be sworn in by Walker. (** see below)

"I remember that shed there at least a year ago. I live down in the Cove. I can't tell you when it appeared and I can't tell you why because I'm very busy and I'm not part of everything that goes on in the camp and everything, but it's been there for some time," Cher Phillips said.

Spencer pointed out that there was a lack of evidence to prove that the shed was not there when Girardin bought her property. Winters said the only evidence that was offered was Harris' letter and residents' comments.

The board passed 4-1 that all the evidence presented supported that there was no violation.

Fellman voted against the motion.

The Fish (Camp) that got away

One of the issues that Fellman brought up dealt with the Board of Adjustment's recent meeting where they moved to grant variances for Casey Girardin's four trailers on the Old Hudson property.

The variances meant that the code violations against the four trailers would not have to come before the code enforcement board since the variances brought Girardin's trailers into compliance.

Fellman asked Gifford at the end of the meeting about the Board of Adjustment's taking "an end run around" issues that had been on the code enforcement board's agenda.

Before the BOA meeting, there were six cases on the code enforcement board agenda against Girardin.

Gifford explained some of the smaller scope of the roles of the citizen boards in town.

"Within the town of McIntosh, no other board established by the land development board can usurp or take away your authority but there is some overlap that exists within any municipality or town when a committee is established dealing in certain areas," Gifford said.

He explained to Fellman and the board that the code enforcement board's scope is broad and they have the authority to enforce the entire land development code. But he also pointed out that other boards have broad powers, too. This gives residents more than one option for resolving issues. Some violations can be "cured by an owner going and getting a special exception."

"While it may seem frustrating when you have something on your agenda, and the Board of Adjustment does something that solves it, that resolves the issue," Gifford said. "The Board of Adjustment are there and they're doing their job. In all fairness, that may interfere, or seem to interfere, or cross over into areas you have authority to go into, as well."

Walker interrupted at this point and said that, as the town's attorney and not the prosecuting attorney, he thought there was a larger question at hand in the community.

"The idea behind this board is for there to be compliance with your rules and regulations," Walker said. "It's not necessarily the idea that we're trying to be punitive to our neighbors."

Walker said that the point of the code enforcement board was to state the in some instances the codes are not clearly defined but the town has to try to get everyone to follow the rules, to comply.

"Hopefully that compliance is done on a neighborly basis, as well," Walker said.

The point when residents encounter the code enforcement board is when they've run out of other options and won't comply with the rules.

He also said that it is important for the town to process these issues in a timely manner.

"We've gone through a heavily contentious period of time, in my history with this town," Walker said.

He said he thought it was important that they get these things resolved quickly and not just for the benefit of the town, but also from the citizen's point of view as well. One solution he was bringing before the code enforcement board was a systematic monthly schedule. Girardin and the Smith-Hendersons have been agenda points for the code enforcement board most of the year.


Other code enforcement business:

Fellman said he thought the code enforcement board should have its own transcriptionist. He said he wanted to make it clear to the two council members present, Howard Walkup and Eva Jo Callahan. He said he did not have the minutes from the last months meeting. He only had a tape.

"I don't believe that it's my job to sit and put those to paper," Fellman said.

During the search for the new town clerk, council members have been clear in their comments that they expect citizen boards to keep and maintain their own minutes.


** The shed in question is less than half a block down the street from where I live. I
recall seeing Brenda and Jerry Harris moving things in and out of storage in that lot. Had there been someone else who lived in the Cove in the audience last night, or someone who was aware of the Cove for a longer period of time than this current year, I would not have stood up to testify while reporting on this at the same time. This is one of the particular challenges to both living in a community and being the only person documenting public meetings in a forum like this. Do I stop being a resident because I am a self-appointed record keeper? That doesn't seem right. I would have made a far, different choice if this were a different kind of publication. I feel the ethical thing to do since I walk this line is to point it out.

posted by Cher @ 10:55 AM,


At   November 04, 2006 5:00 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Kudos to attorney Walker for stating the board is there to judge compliance of rules rather than to punish citizens. Pay attention Mr. Fellman, this point seems to have eluded you.


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I'm Cher From McIntosh, FL I'm a graduate student at the University of Florida working on a master's degree in Mass Communication. While I was finishing my undergrad degree in journalism last year, I reported on McIntosh, Fla. for an in-depth reporting class. I figured that the reporting and the public record files should go somewhere people can access them. Reporters don't report to keep the information they find to themselves. Some of that reporting is included here in a forum that allows response. McIntosh suffers because with no news coverage, the local government and the rumor mill have too much potential to run rampant over residents. I moved to McIntosh in the fall of 1999. My profile

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