Shake up at the city: Marco's chief building official resigned shortly before Hernstadt
Marco Island’s Chief Building Official Joseph Berko resigned effective Feb. 3. His resignation comes after a citizen’s recent allegation of misconduct by the building services department.
Marco Island resident and real estate broker Kent Hedrick wrote an email to City Council Chair Larry Honig and Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni on Jan. 18 complaining about the wait time to receive a permit for a minor home repair.
“This is not rocket science; six plus weeks for a permit is just crazy and stimulates the non-permitting activity on the island,” he wrote.
Hedrick also alleged that a representative of the building services department “entered the home without an invite, and insisted that a permit be pulled for such a minor repair.”
Grifoni forwarded Hedrick's email to then City Manager Roger Hernstadt and asked about the possibility of creating an expedited permitting process for minor work. He also wrote that he has serious concerns regarding the alleged unauthorized entrance of a city employee onto private property.
“The fact that someone, whether a city or county employee, conducted a walk-through at a home without consent, without any prior permitting requests for the specific location, and that the action ... didn’t appear to raise any red flags indicates that this behavior was not seen as out of the ordinary,” Grifoni wrote in a Jan. 27 email to Hernstadt.
However, according to the police report that Marco Island Police Department Captain David Baer emailed to Berko on Jan. 27, John Sellers, the code enforcement officer who investigated the situation on behalf of the building services department, was invited into the home by one of the construction workers; it was then that he “observed potential violations and recommend(ed) securing permits.”
Still, at the heart of the matter is the fact that it took more than 49 days for Hedrick to receive a permit, which Hernstadt said was unacceptable.
“After reading the report and discussing the matter with Mr. Berko, I have concluded that our building services staff made a mistake that caused this unacceptable duration,” Hernstadt wrote in a Jan. 30 email to Grifoni. “I have a meeting scheduled for Friday (Feb. 3) with the entire Building Department team to review this case as well as team goals and objectives.”
Berko resigned within the next two days. He served as the city’s chief building official for just under a year.
“This change will afford us a new opportunity to examine how the city provides building services and implement changes that will facilitate more timely service with the goal of enhances user satisfaction," Hernstadt wrote in a Feb. 1 email to the City Council.
He further wrote that he planned on launching a new permit program in March that will include expedited permitting and permit fee refunds if the building services staff “does not timely issue a permit upon receipt of a completed application. By staff reporting the number and amounts of refunds, the City Council and public at large will have a snapshot view (of) exactly how the building services department is operating.”
Hedrick’s case isn’t the first time the city’s building services department has come under fire; in 2014, Marco Island residents Tim and Regina Dayton won $150,000 from the city in a dispute over an inspection of their home, and on July 18, resident Barbara Young informed the city council that she filed a complaint with the Fla. Department of Business and Professional Regulation regarding the building services department.
According to Young, the building services department applied “double standards” with regards to an inspection of her home, and she made the council aware of “repeated acts of negligence and violations of statutes and ordinances (by) the building department’s employees.”
Honig took Young’s testimony to heart, and recommended that the city increases its transparency with regards to the building services department’s operations.
“I think it would be worth having the city explain: what is the issue? Why do we keep getting emails? Why do … citizens (keep) coming up talking about the building department? I would like to see us respond in a formal, public way through the city staff,” he said.
Raul Perez will serve as interim chief building department official.