tampabay.com

Neighbors sue to be rid of child

By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published April 4, 2007


Kimberly Broffman is a vivacious red-haired thrill seeker who loves to watch NASCAR on TV.

But at 3 1/2 years old, the only vehicle Kimberly operates is her Big Wheel.

Her grandparents don't let her cruise it down the streets of the Lakes subdivision, off 49th Street near U.S. 19, because the neighborhood association is aware that Kimberly is living in the 55-plus community and has sued to force the child out.

Kimberly lives with her grandparents, Judie and Jimmy Stottler, on Great Lakes Drive N. Jimmy Stottler, 51, is disabled and receives no disability pay.

Judie Stottler, 59, a dishwasher at an assisted living facility, earns about $18,000, she said.

She and her husband understand the Lakes has rules prohibiting permanent residents younger than 18. The child, her daughter's daughter, has lived with them three years.

Soon after they took in Kimberly, the association objected. In April 2005, Judie Stottler signed a mediation agreement saying her family would comply with the Lakes' rules by Oct. 1, 2006.

The Stottlers' plan was to give Kimberly back to her mother, but her mother took off, said Judie Stottler. So they decided to try to move and take Kimberly with them.

They priced their two-bedroom home at $189,000, but got no serious interest. Six months ago they dropped the price by $10,000. Still no takers.

"We just want a chance to sell our house for a decent price so we can afford to move," Judie Stottler said.

A month ago, the Lakes sued her.

A struggling mother

The Stottlers took custody of Kimberly when she was 6 months old. Her mother, Melanie Broffman, was a doting single mom during the first few months of Kimberly's life. But then Broffman, who has an arrest record of drug offenses and fighting with boyfriends, slipped.

Broffman, 30, told the Times she has a drug problem and "personal issues." She has two older children who live with other relatives.

Now that the Stottlers have cared for Kimberly for three years, they no longer allow Broffman into their home, Judie Stottler said.

Despite that, Broffman is rooting for her parents in their fight with the Lakes.

"Kimberly doesn't cause any problems," Broffman said. "They have no respect for my parents."

Stottler said she and her husband adore Kimberly and enjoy taking her to the park.

On work days, Stottler drops off Kimberly at day care at 8:30 a.m., then goes to her job. She picks up Kimberly at 6 p.m.

Her husband has liver disease and heart problems among other health conditions, and cannot work.

Stottler said she inherited her house at the Lakes four years ago from her parents.

Stottler refuses to put the girl in foster care just to get the homeowner's association off her back.

The homeowner's association has hired lawyer Bennett L. Rabin. Rabin declined to comment.

So did homeowner's association president Everett Conger. "I'm not going to discuss this with you," he told a reporter. When asked why, he said, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?

"This is going to be decided by the courts," he said, before hanging up.

Next move is unclear

Judie Stottler's friends are worried. "It is so ridiculous that this has gone so far," said Keith Tinsley, a cook at the Freedom Inn at Bay Pines where both work. "It's like they are trying to force her to put Kimberly in foster care."

Stottler said she can't afford an attorney, and doesn't know how a judge would rule.

She said she is terrified of losing her house before she can sell it. "We don't have any family to take us in," she said.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.