McIntosh Mirror: Reflecting news in the Tosh

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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.

01.04.07 -- REPORT: Great Wall of McIntosh, Fellman staying on in 2007

By CHER PHILLLIPS

The McIntosh Code Enforcement board met tonight to hear two cases and determine their board leadership for the next year.

With two board members, Spencer Clark and Chris Rath not present, the board nominated and elected that Harris Fellman would continue to serve as the chairman for the next year. Fellman served as the board's chairman for 2006, as well.

The Code Enforcement Board's second order of business moved through procedural advice given to them by their attorney Eric Gifford.

Though the board did not actually vote on these changes, they ended up adopting Gifford's suggestions through the practice in the meeting He advised them that they might eliminate some of the back and forth argument that's come up so often in the past year by adopting more formal periods of the meeting. In addition, audience members testimony and comments would no longer be heard. If someone wanted to make a comment about a case, he would have to be sworn in and could be cross-examined by either the attorney representing the town or the respondent defending a code complaint.

It didn't take long for this to prove a problem for Town Councilman Lee Deaderick.

Deaderick wasn't able to make the organizational meeting after getting off of work but was present for the case presentation of code violations written against Melinda Smith and Doug Henderson. The Smith-Henderson's own the house with the Great Wall of McIntosh on U.S. 441 that has been a matter of contention between the town and the couple since last May.

Deaderick raised his hand twice, attempting to be called on for comment. The second time he asked Fellman if he could make a comment, Fellman said the code enforcement board had decided before the meeting they were taking no comments. Deaderick stood up and left.

Outside the Civic Center, Deaderick said that everyone in the center should be fired.

"I just watched them spend $1,000 of the town's money and didn't help a single person," Deaderick said.

The respondents in the two cases heard did not pay fines, nor were they asked to compensate the town for damages and attorney's fees. Looking back at cases heard since the code enforcement board hired Gifford, no case has justified the respondent in paying the town back for the fees incurred by the two lawyers and the code enforcement officer.

Last February, the town council brainstormed ways to increase funding for the town. One method was proactive code enforcement. The cases coming before the board now are cases that were filed last spring by former Code Enforcement officer Art Davis, who was removed from office by the council later that summer after the mayor testified he treated her badly.

Other residents complained, too. The Smith-Henderson's were among them at meetings. Last May, Smith informed the board that Davis' behavior was "crusty" and publicly said to the council he was difficult to deal with during a site approval process.

Davis, acting as in proactive code enforcement, filed complaints on May 1 of last year that the Smith-Henderson's fence was on the town's right of way, that their septic system was too close to the swale, the block fence was not up to code, and that their garage door was not approved and had no permit. Smith said that Davis also put a stop order on their property halting all construction and improvements.

But at tonight's meeting, the complaints still held against the Smith-Henderson's were that their garage was on the town's right of way and that their wall violated the town's land development code.

Code Enforcement Officer Phil Howell testified that he researched all of the complaints and violations. Records show that the Smith-Henderson's applied for a certificate of appropriateness for their wall in Feb. 10, 2005. It was granted. A permit was given to them on Nov. 14, 2005.

Then, six months later, after their wall was nearly completed, Davis stopped work on it.

As it turned out, the wall was not on the town's right of way.

Howell said he contacted the Department of Transportation and by their guidelines, the wall created no public safety issue. Howell said the DOT's guidelines were based on traffic engineering. But he said the wall does violate the town's 50-foot rule, which states that someone should be able to see 50 feet around corners in McIntosh. He also said he could not determine on what they town's code's were based.

The code enforcement officer said that trick, for him, was figuring out whether or not the wall should be considered existing or not. Since a permit had been issued, he said the wall could be considered non-conforming and remain.

He and Fellman differed over whether the town was in violation of the code. Smith agreed that this was the town's fault for allowing her to build the wall, and then writing code violations against her for building the wall. She said that safety was foremost in their minds, and if that had been the issue, they would have taken it down.

Henderson said it was ironic that safety was an issue. He said they built the wall for exactly that reason. He recounted a story from when he and Smith purchased the house. He said Mrs. Walkup told him that a drunk driver had lost control on U.S. 441 and ended up in what was his new front yard. Henderson said he was concerned an the 18-wheeler barreling down the highway would lose control and run into his property. Their home is on the southern part of McIntosh, at a place where the highway jogs to one side at the base of a hill.

The Smith-Henderson's other issue was that their garage, which had been there for some time, was on the town's right of way.

Ironically, as the wall they recently built was deemed a non-conforming, existing entity, an old garage was found to be in violation of the code. As with the Great Wall of McIntosh, the Smith-Henderson's had been dealing with the garage issue for some time. They sent former Council President Danaya Wright a letter July 12, 2006 requesting an agreement with the town that they would be responsible and carry insurance on that land.

The board voted to close that part of their case The couple will be able to keep their wall, too.

Board members Georgia Farmer and Jim Winters voted to allow the wall to stay without violations and close the complaint against their garage as long as the encroachment contract the Smith-Henderson's e-mailed to the town's attorney last August was signed within this month. One board member opposed the vote --Fellman.

Initially, Fellman was asked, as he has been in previous meetings, to recuse himself from the proceedings because the Smith-Henderson's had publicly filed a code complaint against him and his wife. Fellman refused and insisted he had nothing against the couple.

Even after the proceedings, Smith, who's paid about $1,200 in legal fees to ligate her wall, remained unsure about that matter.

She also said that she and Henderson plan to sell the property in the future, citing that there was just so much anger in McIntosh. She said both she and Henderson have other properties and they bought the place in McIntosh to visit and spend time looking at the horses in the county.

"I don't understand what happened in the last year," she said.

She said the council in 2005 was not perfect, but they had at least tried to work with people. It seemed to her that all of that changed, and she said that she didn't understand some of the ill will she'd experienced in town. Smith said she's not been to recent meetings since three council members have resigned and new members have stepped in.

Henderson said that he's lived in Reddick 32 years and always wanted a place in McIntosh. He lamented that he'd cleared all the overgrowth and done so much work on their place on U.S. 441.

"It's a beautiful piece of land. It's a beautiful wall," Henderson said.


***

Debby Olliver's case involving a septic tank which has a drain field that may or may not be on the town property. Olliver, who lives in Sarasota, drove hours to get to McIntosh for the meeting.

Olliver's case was held over until she can provide a survey of her land. The property lines are vague making it impossible to tell if the septic system and drain field she had installed per the property appraiser's maps was installed on her land or the town's. Almost 30 years ago, the previous owners of Olliver's property struck a handshake bargain with the town -- a land swap.

Since the swap happened so long ago, Gifford and Fellman pushed to have the agreement formalized.

Walkup, who was allowed to address the board -- unlike his fellow councilman Deaderick, said he thought the original agreement should be honored.

"We just can't state that we want to be good guys, we have to be good to the code," Fellman said. "That's the law."

posted by Cher @ 9:37 PM,

11 Comments:

At   January 05, 2007 7:19 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Harris is a McIntosh nightmare in my opinion. He can't just deal with things in an easy manner. And Harris, you know you work under the pleasure of the council and you will not even let them make comments in the meeting. This is TOTALLY messed up. I hope that the council gets rid of you!!!!!!!! Your such a bitter, mean old man!

 
At   January 05, 2007 1:15 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Only a matter of time Harris, only a matter of time.

 
At   January 05, 2007 1:22 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Is this man and I use that term "man," loosely Mr. Fellman for real. Obviously he didn't pay much attention to codes while working on his house. Oh I must of forgotten Mr.Fellman is the almighty law maker.

 
At   January 05, 2007 4:22 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

Harris, why don't we run you out of town? That would be great!

 
At   January 05, 2007 8:04 PM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

Gee, running out of town is a bit much, don't ya think?

In my opinion, I just thought a new chairman for the board might not be a bad idea.

I mean, these are cases from last May that the town is *finally* settling. Why sign on for another year of the same kind of leadership?

 
At   January 05, 2007 10:20 PM     ,    Blogger fisherwife    said...

Dealing with people who are unreasonable is bound to cause frustration.

It is a shame to make people who have followed the law to wait and pay legal fees while you twiddle your fingers and wax eloquent on the law.

I do not understand why a few people are casting a pall over the name McIntosh. It is my beloved home and I do not care to have it maligned.

 
At   January 05, 2007 11:17 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

"Leadership"??? Controlling is more accurate. Maybe we all need to just take a good hard look at our own property and stop trying to control our neighbors. I TOTALLY understand why people would reconsider moving into this community.

 
At   January 06, 2007 11:40 AM     ,    Blogger Sheila Winters    said...

Fisherwife, I do understand how and why you love McIntosh. It's not just about trees and big front porches..it's about people who are nurturing and fine. I can also understand that people who have recently tried to move into the "fold" have been rebuffed and in some cases have recoiled by leaving. It may be somewhat on them because perhaps they didn't ask enough questions before they came into our community...I also believe it's somewhat "on us" (speaking of town leadership and the all-too-silent majority) for talking too much and not listening enough, for panicking and fearing that "newcomers" want to change too much, to intrude on our tranquility, to threaten our peace. Maybe if we were better listeners we would find out that these "newcomers" want the same things we want, and are only questioning our processes of law and government. As Dr. Phil says, "we can't change what we don't acknowledge". I think we should at least recognize the fact that our town does not always leave a good impression on those who wish to join us.

 
At   January 06, 2007 12:55 PM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

I can't help thinking of another Dr. Philism, "How's that working for you?" If our current form of leadership isn't working, it needs to be changed. Personalities have figured into the decision making around here too much of late. Hopefully the current council can pull us out of the ditch.

 
At   January 10, 2007 11:01 AM     ,    Anonymous Anonymous    said...

We all can talk about Dr. Phil, but every bit of his advise is based upon COMMUNICATION and the interchange of ideas. That is the problem here - has anyone really spoken with Harris? Has anyone told him to his face that they disagree with his opinions? Is it really fair to go and call him names and injur his character without the benefit of a face to face? If you dont have the fortitude to do that, you really shouldnt have the right to do the above... were any of you at the meeting? what is wrong with this town???? people shoot into occupied buildings without knowing who is in them...havent enough people been injured on speculation? Go talk to the man before you talk behind his back!!!!

 
At   January 10, 2007 11:58 AM     ,    Blogger Cher    said...

This last comment is a good arguement.

However, I do think we are experiencing an exchange of ideas right here. People are expressing concern about a public board. Fellman, as chairman of quasi-judicial board in this town, is a public figure, and residents who are impacted by that board's decisions have a right to say what they think without asking him first. He does what he does in public, and it's a matter of public interest. Given the nature of the code enforcement board decisions and behavior of some members in the last year, I can easily see where a number of people in McIntosh might be afraid to talk to him directly. Some one-on-one conversations in this town with code enforcement board members have come to blows and resulted in police being called. Further, in the last year, some people have been scared to directly contradict him because they don't want to be targeted for code enforcement.

As for being at the meeting, public comments were not welcome at that meeting. I was there. Harris Fellman had a VERY long, private talk with the code enforcement board attorney before the meeting. When the organizational part began, Eric Gifford brought up even further limiting citizen input. Interesting? I think it was.

This lack of communication is not a new phenomena with Fellman. I did not see ANY resident of this town bring concerns about the Lord's Prayer or Howard Walkup's comments to the council before they went to an outside watchdog organization who is now demanding the council answer for these issues.

I don't personally condone the name calling. I'd rather see someone make a good arguement against or for an issue. I also keep my commentary and editorial to his actions as a code enforcement board chairman. Short of making people sign their names, which I notice that the last person did not choose to do, I can't control what people say, nor would I want to.

Fellman is certainly welcome to comment here, if he wants.

 

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Editor and Publisher:

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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