REDINGTON BEACH — A verbal attack by a former mayor on the town’s building department as being “totally out of control” drew a strong response from residents at the Feb. 6 commission meeting.
Peter Farnum, who served as the town’s mayor in the early 1990s, told commissioners during the public forum portion of the meeting that he wanted “to give you some facts and figures that have convinced me the town of Redington Beach has a building department that is totally out of control.”
Because the building department is a private business that contracts services to the town, Farnum charged the department receives no supervision from elected officials, providing “incentive for them to require permits for every subjective reason.”
Farnum indicated his problem with the department arose when he attempted to replace a water heater in a house he was selling two days before the sale was due to close. Building inspector Darin Cushing of SafeBuilt stopped the work because a permit had not been issued.
While he understood that any construction or renovation valued at more than $1,000 required a permit, Farnum charged that Cushing had “no standard for evaluating the value of the project.”
“SafeBuilt is free to do whatever is in their best interest to generate money from you guys,” Farnum charged. “If he (Cushing) believes there is a violation, he can walk through your property, look in your windows and even walk in your front door without permission.”
SafeBuilt, which operates in Pinellas County as Florida Municipal Services, contracts with the towns of Redington Beach and North Redington Beach to provide building department services including plan reviews and building code inspections.
The former mayor told commissioners he was “a victim of the actions taken by you guys” because there was no process to appeal to the commission if a project was redtagged.
Farnum said the overflow crowd in the Assembly Hall should “demand accountability” from the commission and “take back your town.”
Speaking at the end of the public forum, Cushing defended the department’s work in general and his specific interactions with Farnum. Cushing said that in multiple conversations with Farnum, Farnum never let him “finish or complete a sentence” and that he “put words in my mouth, put words in the mayor’s mouth.”
“The bottom line is,” Cushing said, “he got caught working without a permit.”
He accused Farnum of lying about not knowing about the need for a permit to replace the water heater. Cushing said he had found records from Farnum’s time as mayor between 1990 and 1994 when he signed permits for minor renovations such as moving a sink.
Cushing said he had seen other building activity going on at the house, and “you (Farnum) knew that work had to have a permit.”
He also pushed back about Farnum’s statement that he could enter a home without permission from the homeowner. While he could not enter a home when the door was closed, Cushing said he was legally empowered to enter a building site when unpermitted work was visible from the street.
Cushing added that all of his building inspectors were “licensed professionals” who had at least 10 years’ experience working for cities and counties.
Even before Cushing spoke, however, several residents came to the dais to defend him.
Jeff Fuller told the commission that he and his wife had experienced “nothing but the exact opposite” dealing with Cushing. They bought their house in June, he said, and had been renovating it ever since.
“Our total experience has been nothing but wonderful,”he said.
During the period of renovation, he said they needed a permit for a gas line while Cushing was on vacation. Fuller said he texted Cushing one morning and received the permit that afternoon.
“I dare anyone, anyone, anyone in this room to find some public official, let alone not elected, who’s gonna respond to a text message while they’re on vacation and get my permit issued,” he said.
Another resident, Joy Drew, said she has bought a house with many code infractions and had found the people at Florida Municipal Services “easy to work with” and “helpful.”
David Schmaltz said his interactions with FMS had been “awesome” since he moved to Redington Beach in August.
“Darin has done nothing but help me solve my problems,” he said, adding that Cushing “has gone out of his way to help me understand the permit process.”
“You’re making a mistake if you get rid of this company,” he concluded.
Mayor Nick Simons noted that Redington Beach had its own building department from the late 1990s until about 2015, when Pinellas County took over responsibilities for building inspections because the town could no longer afford a full-time building department. The town contracted with the predecessor of SafeBuilt in 2015.
Commissioners took no action on Farnum’s complaint.