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County revamps code enforcement process

In the wake of the Apalachee Regional Planning Council’s summary report of a series of workshops on code enforcement, county commissioners have agreed to revamp how the county handles complaints, while stopping short of hiring code enforcement officers.

“I’m not saying that at some point in the future we don’t need a code enforcement officer,” County Coordinator Michael Morón told commissioners prior to their unanimous approval March 1 of his plan to have county departments handle the majority of code enforcement issues.

“At this point they (complaints) need to be dealt with by the county staff you already have. It was also obvious that improvements to the process that acknowledges and updates the public regarding complaints was needed,” he said.

Morón summed up the process put in place, which entails having a dedicated county staff member, supervised by the building official, responsible for receiving, verifying, and tracking all complaints. 

“We cannot investigate an anonymous complaint,” he said.

This staffer will have the task of notifying “all concerned parties” related to complaints, and once they are deemed valid, the responsible party will be notified of the violation.  

“If the responsible party fails to comply, either by ignoring or refusing to respond to the violation notification, the matter will be sent to a magistrate for a ruling. Based on the ruling, the county will proceed with enforcement,” Morón wrote.

Complaints, or even a concern or suggestion, can be submitted by the public at Franklincountyflorida.com and under “Quick Links” selecting the Report A Concern/Complaint or Submit A Suggestion links.

“This is the recommended option as the online form contains the information required by Florida Statute…, which requires staff to verify the name and address of the person complaining before proceeding with an investigation,” Morón wrote.

Members of the public also can email concerns@franklincountyflorida.com, with the required verification information.  A third option is to call (850) 653-5779 and provide the necessary information.

Commissioners agreed to advertise to fill the vacant budgeted building inspector position, and to make the part-time permitting clerk into a full-time position, which also will help provide administrative support for building code violations. 

The county’s building official will supervise the zoning department, with Cortni Bankston, the zoning administrator, handling the complaint process. “With this move, part of (her) salary will be paid from the building department budget, however, she will no longer be able to provide administrative support to the Board or myself,” Morón wrote.

The county coordinator will now advertise for Request for Qualifications for a magistrate to hear the violation cases. 

Erin Griffith, the county finance director, said the county will have a better idea of the magistrate’s costs once negotiations begin, and that money will come out of the professional services budget.

“We can use building fee revenue for enforcement of complaints, but only for enforcement of the Florida Building Code,” she said.

“I think this will streamline it, this is a good start,” said Commissioner Jessica Ward. 

“We got codes now on the books,” said Commissioner Noah Lockley. “You just have to leave the buddy-buddy system out. This country is going to grow; it’s not going to get no smaller, it’s going to get bigger.

“You got to build these things (structures) right or it’s going to fall back on the county,” he said. “The word’s going to get out that we’re not playing in Franklin County. It’s a new day.”

Commissioner Bert Boldt said that the new plan “shows an immediate response to the needs of people. I can see huge benefits long-term where insurance rates may be mitigated a bit.”

Commissioner Smokey Parrish observed that complainants will have to provide their names for the record.

“A lot of times it will be the next door neighbor,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how many of these complaints cease.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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