The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: Town agrees to hire magistrate to handle code enforcement

By Rich Pollack

    Should Highland Beach disband its Code Enforcement Board and use a special magistrate to hear cases?
    Would the town’s Beaches and Shores Committee become a club rather than an official board appointed by the Town Commission?
    Could the Financial Advisory Board benefit from having its objectives better defined?
    These are questions the Highland Beach Town Commission grappled with recently as it set out to determine if the town’s boards are effective and reaching their objectives.
    In the end, commissioners at the May 2 meeting voted to disband the code enforcement board and hire a special magistrate to decide code enforcement cases. At the same time, they agreed to continue working toward better defining the roles of the Beaches and Shores Committee and the Financial Advisory Board.
    “We have wonderful boards and wonderful people on those boards, but they aren’t always doing what we need them to do,” said Commissioner Elyse Riesa.
    Riesa thinks increased communication with board members might be a way to better ensure the boards are fulfilling their missions.
    “We need to talk more,” she said. “We need to all agree on the roles and responsibilities of each board.”
    With that in mind, Riesa agreed to meet with members of the Beaches and Shores Committee, a group she recently chaired, to possibly refine the board’s mission and see if it needs to remain a town-appointed entity as opposed to a beautification club supported by the town.
    Commissioners also continued looking into how it could best harness the expertise of the Financial Advisory Board, made up of residents with strong financial backgrounds.
    In discussing whether to disband its volunteer Code Enforcement Board and replace it with a paid special magistrate, commissioners revisited an issue that stalled in January when previous commissioners deadlocked with a 2-2 vote.
    Since that tie vote, Riesa and George Kelvin joined the commission.
    During discussions of the issue last month, Mayor Carl Feldman and Vice Mayor Bill Weitz reiterated their support for bringing in a special magistrate. Riesa also supported the idea.  
    “I would rather not see a situation where one resident would be pushed up against another,” she said.
    Weitz said he thinks a certified magistrate — who has quasi-judicial powers and would be paid on an hourly basis — would be more likely to have knowledge of local codes and of municipal law than individual residents.
    “Sometimes certain boards require members to have a certain skill level,” he said. “Right now we have eight people doing the job of one, when you only need one.”
    Commissioners, in a 4-1 vote, agreed to move forward with a search for a special magistrate, reviewing the applications of three candidates who submitted resumes earlier this year when the issue was initially discussed.
    Commissioner Rhonda Zelniker cast the dissenting vote.
    While the town is searching for a full-time code enforcement officer, a newly created position, the Police Department is handling some code enforcement duties in coordination with the town’s Building Department.

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