Special Magistrate to Begin With Few Violations

Gulfport is ready to name a Special Magistrate this month, but the city's vocal crackdown on code violations seems to have an effect on the number of cases to hear.

Maintaining Gulfport's curb appeal may be a little easier than first thought. The city's new code enforcement system seems to be coming along without too much trouble, officials say.

When the Special Magistrate begins hearing code violations—by the end of March, according to Community Development Director Fred Metcalf—he or she may not have much to do, or at least as much as originally assumed.

Although he didn't specify the exact number of tickets written to violators since Gulfport made their code changes, Metcalf did indicate that increased awareness of the special magistrate program had the intended effect.

"We haven't had to give many citations," said Metcalf. "People are more knowledgeable about code enforcement."

Since the Gulfport City Council has begun cracking down on code violators—changing ordinances and creating the Special Magistrate—the community seems to have heard the news.

"People have been more cognizant of keeping their lawns clean," Metcalf said.

That shouldn’t come as much surprise, since the Gulfport City Council recently changed several ordinances for addressing issues like high grass, trash-filled yards and visible debris.

Last year, board members approved a new code enforcement system that is an alternative to the county courts. The new program established a Special Magistrate, judging code violations and assessing fines.

Since then, the board made some significant changes to both enforcement and the codes.

At the Feb. 7 Council meeting, members voted to change the mandate to address upholstered furniture and building material outdoors, in people's yards. In a 4 to 1 vote, city codes now require indoor furniture to stay indoors. In addition, trash cans now have to be "placed out of sight or adjacent to a structure."

The most significant motive for residents to keep their property looking clean may be the tougher system.

In November, the Council decided to eliminate the early warnings to violators. They voted to ditch the warnings—"love letters" called by some—and take violators directly to the magistrate system.

With the new system, code enforcement starts when officers act on a complaint. When an inspector finds a residence to be in violation of one of the city codes—excessive grass height, for example—a ticket is issued and the alleged violator must appear before the magistrate.

By the date set for the hearing, if the violation is not fixed, the city then may assess a fine. Fines will be up to $250 per day for a first offense, up to $500 per day for a second or multiple offenses.

If the property remains in violation, the city has the option to put a lien on the property. In the case of a property not homesteaded under Florida law, after three months, the city can foreclose on the lien.

Homesteaded properties will continue to be levied daily fines, but the case will then go to the county court system.

"We changed the procedure," said Metcalf. "It's now going straight towards legal, with only one notice."

Even though the warmer, summer months are when the city sees a spike in the number of code violations—like unmowed grass and visible debris—Metcalf sees the handful of citations as a good sign.

"It's a combination of time of year and awareness," Metcalf said.

As for the search for a Special Magistrate, Metcalf feels the new official should be in place soon. He added that there are some strong candidates for the job – all attorneys or legal professionals.   

When the magistrate does begin hearing cases in Gulfport, the low number of cases may make the job smoother.

"So far," Metcalf said, "we haven't had any problems."

"It is encouraging," he added.

Rainbow Energy March 05, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Which is it? The number of tickets written for city-code violations is down because the citizens are now obeying the new codes ...or is it because the tickets are just not being written? Some folks are still smoking on and littering our beach, so where is the list of violators who have been ticketed?
Mr. Fish March 05, 2012 at 04:29 PM
The city is probably leery of writing tickets for codes that are in violation of state and federal laws.
Rick Boze March 05, 2012 at 05:29 PM
let's say I own a 2nd home there, my lawn guy gets sick and I don't know about it, after 3 days the city puts a lien against it, after a week lawn guy gets well and doesn't inform me of the notice on the door(to hide his failure to cut the grass). Not being homesteaded because it is my 2nd home after 3 months the city can take my house? No wonder I've seen more houses for sale at really cheap prices, gotta love the city government now.
Mr. Fish March 05, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Well at least you won't have to pay the lawn guy after the city takes possession of your property.
Gina Burke March 05, 2012 at 07:08 PM
To anyone who owns property in Gulfport but does not live here, you might want to try and do what the owners of the old BofA property do. They have their lawn guys take before and after photos of the property each time they cut the lawn and send the pics in accompanied by their bill. They do not get paid without doing this. I do not know personally what kind of checks and balances the property owners and the lawn people have in place, but it seems to work. The property always looks well kept. Also, please check with the City code. I know that it takes more than 3 days to process anything with the City, and I am sure that it would take more than 1 or 2 missed mowings for code to even notice. Code would notify you, several times before it would even get to a magistrate. It is not up to the City to provide you with checks and balances on your property, but your responsibility as the property owner.
Lynda March 06, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The before and after pictures are a great idea for absentee property owners. Thanks, Gina.
Michael O'Toole March 08, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Just curious. I walk frequently, and yes, while smoking. I stay on the sidewalk so I am not on the beach itself. But my question is that I thought I had read or heard that the city had ordered and would be installing butt recepticals. Are these still in the works or did I misinterpret what I thought I had read or heard? Thanks, Michael
Mr. Fish March 08, 2012 at 05:56 AM
Butt receptacles!. Some of us have been asking the city for these for years. The city would rather pay for no smoking signs then have to put out butt receptacles that city employees would have to clean out.
Michael O'Toole March 10, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Thanks Jim, so I guess if the city is not going to install the receptacles I'll have to keep depositing them on the ground, altho I try to flick them into the parking lot to keep them away from the true beach. Michael
mtober March 10, 2012 at 05:51 AM
@Michael - the receptacles are on the way. I asked City Manager jim O'Reilly about them last week. Your comment about flicking them on the ground is a bit disconcerting. As Councilmember Sam Henderson stated, the City has no obligation to provide garbage cans and/or butt receptacles. We should all be responsible enough to ensure that our litter is disposed of properly.
Mr. Fish March 10, 2012 at 06:27 AM
I hope you are kidding and are one of those courteous smokers that carries their butts to the nearest trash can or carries them around till you can find a proper place to dispose of them.
Lynda March 10, 2012 at 02:51 PM
@Michael and other walking smokers. The small metal containers that mints (Altoids is one brand) are sold in are perfect for walking smokers to use for their butts. And smokers can use the mints first!
mtober March 10, 2012 at 03:39 PM
@ rick- no the city will not take your home. The current process is that they will have someone cut the grass and bill you for it. If you don't pay the bill, they may lien the property after going thru the appropriate process.
mtober March 10, 2012 at 03:39 PM
@ rick- no the city will not take your home. The current process is that they will have someone cut the grass and bill you for it. If you don't pay the bill, they may lien the property after going thru the appropriate process.
DSS March 10, 2012 at 11:59 PM
To other smokers. If you smoke a cigarette with a filter, you can easily tear the filter up before you scatter it in the wind. Yeah, it works - I learned about this back in the Viet Nam era, while active duty in the military.
Mr. Fish March 11, 2012 at 04:17 AM
I'm sorry , tearing the filter into tinier pieces does not keep the toxic chemicals out of the environment. And that is the goal of not littering with butts. Thanks for being considerate of us.
Michael O'Toole March 11, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Thanks, everyone, for the information. Always enlightening! Mchael
Mr. Fish March 11, 2012 at 05:08 PM
After doing the Pink Flamingo tour at Stetson yesterday, I noticed that there were more trash cans around the pool at Stetson then there are on the entire strip of Beach Blvd. (yes I know I have a perverted way of looking at things). Also there were more butt receptacles around the area then there are in the entire Downtown of Gulfport. I think we can see who is more concerned with the environment, can't we. We have four people running for city council and they all proclaim to be pro Gulfport environment. And yet in the last few years the issue of trash cans and butt receptacles has turned into an anti-smoking campaign, but no extra places to throw unwanted trash or butts. Will it change? WILL IT?
DSS March 12, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Good point on the toxins, Mr. Fish. However, better to tear one's butt apart than carelessly flick it onto the community's beach. Given the harmful effect of even second-hand smoke, though, I don't mind keeping my butts away from the beach altogether if smoking. I may have a right to smoke but no right to possibly inflict harm on others while doing so.
Mr. Fish March 12, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Throwing them on the beach or tearing them into little pieces should not be an option whatsoever. Throwing them into trash cans, putting them in your pocket and taking it home, or swollowing like they are illegal to possess are all better options.


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