Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Attorney to Enforce Code in North Port

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Attorney to Enforce Code in North Port

Article excerpt

ROBINSON: Transition happens over objections of a city commissioner

NORTH PORT

City Commissioners on Monday voted to disband the volunteer board that has enforced code violations and turn enforcement over to a special magistrate, who city leaders have indicated will be former North Port attorney Robert Robinson.

Robinson's billing practices have for years been a point of controversy in North Port.

The Herald-Tribune reported in 2011 that North Port spent more than double on legal fees than similar cities in Florida. A failed plan advised by Robinson to sue property owners for $1 million in fines connected to code violations backfired on the city, even as the city paid hundreds of thousands in legal fees to Robinson's firm.

Despite that backdrop, the commission voted 4-1 to disband the volunteer board. That follows a previous decision by commissioners to appoint Robinson to be the new special magistrate, without a bidding process.

Commissioner Linda Yates was the lone dissenting vote Monday. Yates said she does not have issues with converting to the new system, but she does not want Robinson to fill the special magistrate role.

Robinson, the contracted attorney for the city, is being replaced by Mark Moriarty, who commissioners hired to establish the city's first in-house legal department.

Yates asked fellow commissioners to postpone voting on the ordinance until it is reviewed by Moriarty, who will begin work Monday. They rejected her request.

"This sets up and creates challenges that may come forward due to lack of due process," she said.

Yates questioned the legality of several phrases in the contract, saying wording conflicted with the city charter. She said it also is against state law for Robinson to serve in two new city positions, zoning hearing officer and special magistrate for code enforcement.

Robinson retorted, "I couldn't disagree more with the learned opinion of Commissioner Yates. …

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