In order to help Island Sand Paper readers learn more about Town Council candidates, we have asked them to answer a series of questions in their own words. We present their answers in reverse alphabetical order this week. This is our second question:
Please share your opinion on the current state of Code Enforcement in the Town of Fort Myers Beach. Too little, too much or just right? Would you advocate any changes and why?
Bill Veach’s response:
Most of these regulations are from us being on an over-developed, environmentally sensitive barrier island with one two lane road in an active hurricane zone. Take for example dogs on the beach. The Town ordinance states that dogs are allowed outside of county parks and bird nesting areas when under their owners control on a 6 foot maximum leash. Those retractable leashes that are common here and are technically illegal. How many visitors aware of this regulation. There are short term rentals next door to working people, and there are children playing where e-bikes race by.
In my career, that lack of communications is the cause of many conflicts and inefficiencies. People sell houses with active code violations to unwitting buyers; people buy houses with expectations and are not aware that restrictions conflict with those expectations. We are failing at educating home buyers, visitors and residents of not only our rules, but also about our facilities and services. Compassion with enforcement is good in principle. In practice, allowing Staff to independently determine who should be warned and who should be fined creates potential for abuse and subjective enforcement. A better plan would be to create policy guidelines regarding when grace periods are appropriate. That would be a policy decision that should fall on Town Council, not individual Staff. Better yet, develop a comprehensive information program that would help visitors and residents understand the regulations and where services, like public bathrooms, are available.
David Drumm’s response:
Code Enforcement is doing just fine. They have recently made some changes and we need to evaluate the effect.
Our enforcement plan and function is not unique to our beach and frankly is a structural copy of hundreds of towns and cities across the country. In this light I will encourage thoughtful implementation of procedures now in place nation wide that offer community based free assistance to residents. The assistance involves a voluntary non-government assistant to walk the resident/home owner through “getting in compliance”. This is what our beach can do and should do immediately.
Forrest Critser’s response:
I am sure many of you have been driving somewhere and either talking to your passenger or daydreaming and you look up and see a police officer sitting in the medium or along side the road. You immediately look down to see that you are cruising over the speed limit. Your heart starts beating faster and your palms get sweaty and you start watching the rear-view mirror to see if the police car pulls out. You know the law and you know you were speeding. Could this be a lucky or and unlucky day?
Well the same is true about our local code enforcement. The people they deal with either know the law(code) or should know the law(code). Be it illegal or overtime parking or illegal construction or landscaping or whatever; they probably know they have bent or broken the CODE. I am sure you have all heard the adage “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Well if you park at a parking meter without paying or park too long or maybe park where you are not supposed to park you probably know it.
Since 1995, the governing body of Ft Myers Beach has passed volumes and volumes and volumes of rules and regulations meant to make our beach safer or neater or more organized. Some are good rules and some are; shall we say Not. That of course depends upon your position in town (visitor looking for a parking space or a permanent resident trying to improve their living space or even tear down an eyesore).
Now to paraphrase your question: Is Code enforcement fair? Are they doing their job? Are they overzealous? Do they improperly interpret the volumes of rules? If they are honestly doing their job. You can’t fault enforcement, you can only fault the lawmakers.
Bruce Butcher’s response:
Code enforcement has certainly created concerns from time to time. Sometimes we get complaints that code enforcement is too tough and other times to weak. An example is the noise ordinance.
Sometimes the ordinance may not be clear and enforceable and other times people blame the enforcement staff for being aggressive.
We have a new director for code enforcement. The department has been recently reorganized and a new philosophy is being implemented. The goal is compliance and to not be seen as punitive.
Nevertheless code enforcement is important to achieving the quality of life we should desire for Ft. Myers Beach. Personally I think contractors that do not follow the permitting process should be held accountable. I believe it is critical to follow the permitting process to protect current and future property owners.
Robert Burandt’s response:
I know that this issue has resulted in at least one resident filing a federal lawsuit against the Town but personally I have never been the subject of any interaction with them except for representing my Clients and have always found them to be accommodating. As a former Municipal Police Officer who was required on a limited basis to handle Code Enforcement complaints I can tell you that it is not a very appreciated position and people can be rude and in some cases that escalates the situation which may result in the Officer being a little over bearing.
So my response is that they are doing just right, it is a thank less job but a necessary job (provided they don’t go over board) and it takes great patients to walk the line between getting the job done and not offending residents or business who know at least one person at Town Hall and let them know that.
James Atterholt’s response:
There is currently a climate of fear and frustration in our Town with respect to the dramatic increase in fines from code enforcement. We must solve this by directing the Town Manager to issue fewer tickets, fines and penalties to our residents and businesses. Instead, there needs to more notice, education and cooperation. The Town must partner more with our citizens instead of being adversarial. As a candidate for Fort Myers Beach Town Council, this is one of my key positions. It may surprise our residents to learn that the amount of money being collected by the Town in the form of fines and forfeitures from our residents and businesses have more than quadrupled in the last three years. This trend must not continue.
The Town Manager needs to better communicate with all residents and businesses on where and why these fines are being levied. An education campaign must begin so residents can better understand the problems that are occurring so fines can be avoided long before they are even considered. The Town should issue warnings to first time offenders and work with residents in a spirit of cooperation in order to encourage compliance. Our code enforcement personnel should be evaluated by the town, not by how many fines or tickets they issue, but by how many folks they bring into compliance. I understand we must have strict enforcement when public health and safety are at risk and I am not arguing against compliance with our ordinances. We just need to go about code enforcement in a way that partners with our citizens to solve problems together, in a cooperative way, instead of taking such an adversarial approach.
Dan Allers’ response:
Code enforcement policies and actions should be proportional to the severity of the violation. Violations which don’t create a significant health or safety issue should be educational with a warning issued detailing actions required to comply. More severe violations, that present an immediate threat to people or repeat offenders, would require more severe or progressive actions. Ordinances were created to protect people and property, and they should be enforced. Increasingly I’m hearing negative comments on our current practices. We need clear communication, consistency and transparency to moderate the perception that enforcement actions are being taken for revenge or to generate revenue. Town codes can be complex and the average resident should not be expected to possess an intimate knowledge of each because one day they may impact them.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know where to go, or who to talk to when questions arise. To begin there should be direct access to Code Frequently Asked Questions, a search function by activity and the ability to communicate digitally with a Town expert.
We expect our government to work with its residents, to protect them, their neighbors and their investments. Protecting us does not have to start with punitive actions, often education and a remedial game plan is all that is needed. Making easily accessible and understandable information available to the public is a proactive means to help prevent violations. Our goal is compliance, to protect people and property, not punishment and revenue generation.
As our town evolves, so should its code enforcement. It’s important to have a process that regularly evaluates existing ordinances in context of today’s community standards and construction techniques. Revise where we can, remove what we don’t need and implement ordinances informed by future trends.