Code enforcement talks in Hendry gathering momentum

LaBELLE — Hendry County Planning and Development Director Margaret Emblidge and County Attorney Mark Lapp were ready to present a lengthy report to the commissioners late in their meeting Dec. 11 regarding options they’d been seeking to make the code enforcement process work better.

The problems are that it’s very involved and time-consuming with all the work and documentation required, yet not getting enough tangible results, including return on investment for the county. Commissioner Karson Turner, who’s been very vocal on the issue, asked his fellow commissioners if they could delay a deep discussion on the topic until the first meeting in January, considering they’d already been there for two hours that Tuesday night.

“I have a write-up I’m dying to go through with you all, and he’s going to hit me,” Mr. Turner said, nodding toward Mr. Lapp, “because it’s going to be so long, my responses back on things. And I’d just like to sit with you all privately to get through all this.”

“We would really appreciate (that),” Ms. Emblidge said, “to go through not only what all we’ve put together but any of your other ideas. We do have some recommendations for some land development code (LDC) changes that could improve the process, that I don’t want to hold on to too long, but let’s have the discussion and then we can figure out the timing.”

Mr. Turner responded: “I want the board to give staff direction on this. Do you all feel that we are or are not going to be moving to the special magistrate process?”

Ms. Emblidge replied that she thought they needed more time to work with the new circuit judge sitting in Hendry County and that she was recommending they don’t do so at this time. “Wait and let us make some improvements through the LDC and also give us more time to work with the new judge.” She added that she thought a special magistrate, “from what we’ve seen, doesn’t improve the process.”

She stated that on two matters, they’re tinkering with timing on moving forward in prosecuting violations. “On the mowing and the unsafe structures, (if) we don’t go to a special magistrate, don’t go to the court, we can make the resolution to those happen sooner.”

“I will tell you I still am a huge proponent of the special magistrate process,” Mr. Turner said. “I know that it’s costly, I know that’s one thing that you’ve made clear.”

He suggested the Hendry commissioners should talk it over with other local governments, too. “I would like for us to engage in a conversation with Glades County. I know that they’re in the process of vetting that to see how cost-effective it would be, and then I’d like for us to also sit down with the cities of Clewiston and LaBelle. I’ve heard that they’re interested in having this chat with us as well, because I think we all need to move forward as much as we can on the same page, us being LaBelle, Clewiston and Hendry.”

He asked Ms. Emblidge when they would have some reaction from the judge. “The court will not hear the cases that we had thought for the 13th (of January),” she said, not until the 31st because of a timing issue. “I still say we move forward with our conversation and then we’ll react off the judge,” said Mr. Turner. “We’ve always done it from a reactive standpoint.”

“It doesn’t help to speak to the judge and tell him what we want, because that’ll backfire. Having said that, I’m open to the special magistrate if we’re willing to spend the money,” she answered.

Mr. Turner said he was going to propose a process of placing liens on property “and not being reactive from a standpoint of waiting six months or however long it is, that we have a tendency to do, I think, on some of these worst properties.

“We’ll have a great discussion,” he promised, complaining that “we’re expending dollars from an overhead perspective and not receiving anything back.”

“We will,” answered Ms. Emblidge, adding that Mr. Lapp has to be included.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Turner replied. “We’ve already done two or three things differently from the time of when this conversation originated to where we are today that we weren’t doing, so there’s momentum that is happening. It’s just a question of, are we going to acknowledge it and build upon it, or are we going to say we’ve always been doing that and look at how many locations we’re closing out?”

“We don’t want to do it the way we’ve always done it,” she stated. “We’re open to making changes as long as they’re positive and have a good result.”

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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