By ELIZABETH SINCLAIR
DeFuniak Springs home owners, the City Council and Code Enforcement Officer Dusty Beck (the entire code enforcement department) agree there are no teeth in the city’s enforcement code and there is considerable frustration by all as how to fix it. At the request of Beck, the city council held a workshop on Feb. 28 to look at the issues.
Beck explained that Florida Statute 162 defines city and county code requirements for enforcement. A municipality should have either a code enforcement board or a magistrate to cite and fine violators of local ordinances. DeFuniak Springs has neither. Beck stated that he can write letters to violators, sometimes letter after letter, but is not able to issue citations.
A board requires volunteers and they may require certain qualifications. He said establishing a board is not likely the fit the community because of board requirements. If a magistrate is determined to be a more appropriate solution, the position would require putting it out for bid and hiring someone. The current budget does not have the funds. Beck stated that “after a while,” fines would pay. City Attorney Clayton Adkinson stated that an attorney would be needed to work with a board, if the city chose that route.
Beck also addressed the need to cite tenants, not property owners. Beck stated that the biggest concern is the large number of dilapidated and abandoned buildings in the city. There was consensus, including Police Chief Mark Weeks and residents who spoke to the council. Weeks that the problem is getting worse and is often related to “criminal justice problems.”
Councilman Ron Kelley asked if there was a way to revamp the process until a magistrate could be hired. Beck stated that he’d like to see yard and debris type violations enforced by citation, and more serious problems, such as abandoned houses, enforced through a magistrate. The council and Adkinson discussed the possibility of working with the county to share a magistrate, paying on a case to case basis. Councilman Mac Carpenter added that 50 out of the 67 counties use magistrates.
Carpenter recommended the matter be put on the next city council agenda, March 13.