Friday, October 22, 2021

Two Code Compliance motions shot down



City Council Chairman Frank Recker made what Councilor Joe Batte called “an eloquent presentation”, speaking in favor of the city’s hiring a paid magistrate to replace Marco Island’s current seven-person volunteer Code Compliance Board. Only Councilor Kiester, who said he had always been “appalled by the punitive nature of code board members more concerned with punishment than compliance” agreed with Recker whose motion failed, 5 – 2. Kiester, who has been at odds with his appointee Carol Glassman for the last few weeks, stated he thought he had appointed “a tough female” to counter that but it didn’t happen. Later in the meeting when Kiester asked the council to vote to force Glassman to resign, that vote was also defeated 4 – 3, with Recker, Kiester, and Batte casting the losing votes.

“Just wait until it’s your turn,” Kiester warned his colleagues. Code Board members are appointed by one councilor, then voted in by City Council. The statute states that members shall serve in accordance with ordinances of the local governing body and may be suspended and removed for cause as provided in such ordinances for removal of members of boards. (In order to remove a Board member, the Council must show cause based on the ordinance, or conviction, and not because the appointee did not vote the way the person that appointed him/her would like him to vote.)

In his plea to hire a magistrate, Recker said he had observed code board members trying to manage city staff and making inappropriate comments at meetings. He said within a small city, there is a perception that board members cannot possibly be fair and impartial when they are dealing with their neighbors, and pointed out “the perception” of alliances with respondents and city staff. Perception is most important he said, and the perception is negative. He stated that someone with a legal background, like an attorney, is needed as code board members are not equipped and lack the training to be judges. Recker said the law had already been broken as to the requirements: when possible, board members should be an architect, realtor, businessman, general contractor, or sub-contractor. He also stated that the November meeting was “ugly” and irresponsible and when board members, facing only three cases that had already been decided, voted to go home, “It showed a lack of fiduciary responsibility.”

Councilor Batte said a panel of fellow citizens would show more empathy than an impersonal magistrate and he felt it would be a huge mistake to disband the board. Batte pointed out the need to provide communications. Everyone wants want compliance, he said, recommending the chair of the Code Board meet with City Manager Jim Riviere to discuss the need to maintain good relationships between the appointer and appointee.

Councilor Bill Trotter, not in favor of a magistrate, said he had spoken with city attorney Alan Gabriel who had written the ordinance and learned it had cost the city $7,000 of extra legal hours for this report. Trotter voiced the opinion that this is not a needed expense at a time when tight budgets should be in practice. He said in order to keep the selection of one person who could remain impartial, it would have to be someone from off-island and it could seem like a whim. Trotter said, “We all need to sit down in a workshop to discuss compliance and what is fair and equitable.”

Councilor Jerry Gibson, who attends most code compliance meetings, said “It wasn’t ‘ugly’ that day: board members were hurt and upset that they were not allowed to do their duty. I think most people would rather face a jury of their peers and I think of the code board more like a jury than judges. You have seven fresh viewpoints. The city manager would hire and fire a magistrate – one person. If things go wrong with the code board and they’re not doing their job, it’s our fault – we need to educate them. There were no new cases on the day the vote was taken to leave, only a few cases that had already been decided. I saw what happened – there was a lack of communication with staff.”

Gibson said he did not expect his board appointees to be parrots and claimed a paid attorney would never work as well as “our own common folk”.

Councilor Wayne Waldack agreed, that he did not want a magistrate, nor did Councilor Larry Magel who said the volunteer board is a better choice.

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