By Dan Moffett
Briny Breezes moved closer to finding a way to resolve nagging disputes over code violations when the Town Council voted Oct. 26 to use either a special magistrate or a citizens enforcement board to hear residents’ cases.
The decision, which came on a 3-2 vote, authorizes Town Attorney John Skrandel to write a proposed ordinance that allows the council to choose either method to enforce building rules. Voting for the measure were council President Sue Thaler and Aldermen Bobby Jurovaty and Chick Behringer. Christina Adams and Jim McCormick voted no.
Adams said she was concerned the proposed ordinance was “a little misleading” because it didn’t commit the town to using one option or the other, but most likely would be used to hire a magistrate.
“Let’s call it what it is,” she said. “Let’s be open with everybody.”
Adams, who has been reluctant to support a magistrate system, said, “Briny is different than anyplace else” and argued its corporation could play a role in resolving code disputes.
Jurovaty disagreed. “In the state’s eyes, we are no different than any other town,” he said, arguing that Briny has no alternative but to satisfy state requirements to enforce codes.
Skrandel said with the ordinance, the council would need only to approve a resolution to choose either the magistrate or citizens board.
“You can try one for a while and if it doesn’t work out switch to the other,” said Skrandel, who is expected to have a draft of the proposed ordinance for the council’s consideration at the Nov. 30 town meeting.
The council heard from Cosmo Tornese, a senior engineer with CAP Government of Coral Gables, the company that handles Briny’s building permitting and inspection work. Tornese said the magistrate approach is much more effective than using a citizens board because it is objective and eliminates personal relationships and biases that create conflicts.
“The magistrate is what you want,” Tornese said. “I don’t know of any town that uses a board.”
Every other municipality in Palm Beach County uses magistrates to settle code cases. A magistrate is a lawyer with special training in building codes and law. Skrandel said typically a magistrate charges between $200 and $350 per hour.
In other business:
• During a special meeting on Oct. 12, the council decided to postpone reviewing applications for the town attorney position until a new manager is hired. The council gave final approval to the job description for the manager position on Oct. 26.
Thaler said council members thought the new manager should have a voice in the lawyer’s hiring and agree with the council’s choice. She said the town has heard from a number of promising, experienced candidates who appear capable of handling Briny’s legal work.
• Citing personal reasons, Jack Lee resigned as the town’s mayor on Oct. 1, but said he would remain active in the town’s affairs.
“I’m resigning as mayor,” Lee said. “I’m not resigning as a resident of Briny.”
A 60-year resident of the town, Lee, 68, took over the mayor’s seat in April. He also served as Briny’s mayor from 2001 to 2007. Thaler said the council is hoping to find someone soon to serve out the remainder of Lee’s term, which expires in March.
• The council unanimously approved changes to the town’s building code recommended by the Planning and Zoning Board. Chairman Jerry Lower said the changes are intended to simplify the town’s code and bring it in line with the corporation’s.
Editor’s note: Jerry Lower is publisher of The Coastal Star.