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Wanted: a code enforcer who will stay

Oldsmar officials need someone to fill the post - and hang around longer than the past four employees who have left or been fired.

AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published March 27, 2004

OLDSMAR - The city is looking for a code enforcement officer, again.

For the fourth time in a little more than two years, Oldsmar's sole code enforcer has departed. The latest casualty, Brenda P. Haythorne, resigned Feb. 26 after less than five months. She said she didn't like the work, which includes making sure that people don't allow junk, tall weeds, illegal signs and other nuisances to clutter their property.

Community Development Director Greg Scoville said the city is struggling without someone to enforce the city's codes full time.

"Right now, we're doing the best that we can," said Scoville, who also oversees code enforcement. "We're trying to send some of the workload over to other building officials. I'm trying to handle some of the calls, but I'm not keeping up with those.

"We're coping."

Haythorne was the fourth person in that post to resign or be fired since December 2001. The code enforcement officer works alone now, so when the position is empty, much of the work cannot be completed.

Richard Massman, who serves as chairman of the Code Enforcement Board, said the city prosecutes fewer cases when there isn't a code enforcement officer. He said he hopes whoever gets the job will bring some stability to the position.

"We'd certainly like to see someone there who is dependable," said Massman, a board member since 1998. "When someone's not there, we don't have the level of code enforcement we'd like to see."

Scoville said he is asking for $36,980 to hire a second code enforcement officer in next year's city budget. That amount would cover salary, benefits and other personnel costs. Along with the ability to keep work moving, Scoville said, an additional officer will better prepare city officials to combat problems created by rapid growth.

As Oldsmar continues to mature, maintaining property standards will become more important, Scoville said.

"It requires more manpower and attention to ensure that things don't deteriorate," he said. "From my own experience, there is sufficient work for at least two people."

The city's code enforcement officer patrols neighborhoods looking for ordinance violations, which can range from illegal business signs to unruly grass and weeds. Residents can call to report a suspected violation, Scoville said.

When the officer finds a problem, he or she gathers information on the suspected breach of code. The officer, who is a full-time city employee and is paid about $13 an hour, then works with the city attorney, who in turn prosecutes the case before the Code Enforcement Board.

But since 2001, there have been times, including now, when no one is in charge of maintaining the city's code.

In December 2001, Code Enforcement Officer Doug Drummond was fired after residents said that Drummond, a former New Jersey police officer, used racial and ethnic slurs in conversations. Drummond denied the allegations, but a city investigation determined Drummond used derogatory words to describe the city's black and Hispanic citizens living at Westminster Apartments.

The city hired Drummond's replacement, Sandra A. Shannon, 11 weeks later. But Shannon, 41, resigned less than six months into the job.

A former Maryland police officer and University of Maryland graduate, Shannon asked to be transferred to the Department of Public Works in June 2002. She then left the city in August 2002 to become a police officer, according to her personnel file.

In October 2002, the city hired Denice Rigali as the code enforcement officer. According to Rigali's personnel file, she and Scoville clashed over the demands and time commitment of the position.

Rigali, who had lupus, an autoimmune disease, was often sick and missed nearly six weeks of work during her first eight months on the job. She was fired in August 2003 - but not before an exchange of heated e-mails.

"The position of code enforcement officer is a full-time position," Scoville wrote July 2, 2003. "Continued unreliability in attendance cannot go unmentioned because it is affecting your ability to perform your duties . . . Abuse of sick leave privileges shall constitute grounds for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal."

The next day, Rigali responded.

"I am sorry I have lupus (but) it is beyond my control," Rigali wrote. "I understand you want someone here full-time, but I cannot see why you want to make me look like I am a bad person."

And last month, Haythorne quit after less than six months on the job. Haythorne, who had several years' experience as a code enforcement officer, said in her letter of resignation that she was unhappy.

City officials said they hope to have Haythorne's replacement, the fifth code enforcement officer in less than three years, in place by next month.

Scoville, who interviewed a candidate for the open post this week, said he hopes the next code enforcement officer sticks around for a while. Although Scoville has been at his job for only a little more than a year, the new code enforcement officer will be his third.

"We always encourage people when we hire them to hopefully be long-term employees," Scoville said. "But I can't control them. It's a personal decision if they aren't going to stick it out."

- Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 771-4303 or asharockman@sptimes.com

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