REDINGTON SHORES — A local investigation into allegations that a town employee has been inspecting buildings without proper licensing will not happen. The Town Commission has decided that a state probe into the matter is all that is needed.
The 3-2 vote at the Feb. 13 Board of Commissioners meeting reverses a decision last month to conduct a separate investigation, using a local attorney specializing in labor law.
That action had been recommended by Town Attorney James Denhardt, who said it would be important to have a labor attorney involved, especially if the town planned to terminate or take any disciplinary action against Joseph Walker, the building inspector, or his boss, town Building Official Steve Andrews.
Questions about Walker’s status as a building inspector surfaced last month when Andrews began an extended medical leave. The town contacted a contractor services firm that provides help with building inspections. An official of that company informed Mayor MaryBeth Henderson that Walker did not have proper licensing to inspect buildings. Henderson called the state licensing authorities to find out more.
An investigation into the matter by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation was begun. The town appeared ready to hire its own attorney, based on the commission’s consensus at their January workshop session.
At the Feb. 13 regular meeting, where the commission can vote on matters, Henderson made her case to move forward and also hire the local attorney, at a cost of around $5,000 or less.
Henderson recounted the events that had occurred regarding Walker’s licensing and his qualifications to do building inspections. She recalled an official from the contractor services firm saying that he would be unable to use Walker for inspections because licenses he needed were either expired or never issued.
Andrews, Henderson said, had stated it was not necessary for Joseph to have an active inspectors license as he fell under Andrews’ license.
The independent contractor took exception to this, and said a building official’s license does not cover the unlicensed activity of an inspector.
Henderson said the town needs to do its own investigation into the matter, because it is much quicker, an estimated two weeks versus three to six months for the state DPBR investigation. Also, it is an important and potentially serious case, she said. Andrews is also expected back from medical leave, and his and Walker’s status needs to be decided soon, Henderson has said.
“This involves two longstanding employees of the town, and the decisions we make now have longstanding impacts on their career. We are also mindful of our greater responsibility to the town’s residents and their safety during the building inspection process,” Henderson said.
She also reminded commissioners that Denhardt had recommended a limited-scope investigation with a local attorney. She said it would “provide the commission with information necessary for us to make a decision on how we should handle the matter.”
Commissioner Jeff Neal said he had been contacted and interviewed by the state DBPR as part of its investigation. Neal concluded the state was best suited to conduct the investigation, using highly qualified people in the contracting business, and he said an additional investigation by the town was not needed.
Neal was joined in his opinion by commissioners Tom Kapper, a builder, and Pat Drumm, who voted for a motion by Kapper to not hire the local attorney. Mayor Henderson and Commissioner Michael Robinson were opposed.
Town policing: Indian Shores vs. Sheriff’s Office
A citizens committee will look at the costs and benefits of continuing the town’s longtime relationship with the Indian Shores Police Department versus joining the many other communities who use the Sheriff’s Office for policing services.
The commission agreed to set up the committee on the request of District 4 Commissioner Drumm. He said several residents in his district had wanted the town to take a look at policing options.
He did not mention if the recent turnover of police chiefs in the Indian Shores department was a factor in the request to consider a change.
Whatever cost the Sheriff’s Office comes up with to provide policing services to Redington Shores, the Indian Shores Police Department is virtually sure to be lower. That’s because there is a clause in their contract with Redington Shores that guarantees equivalent services will be provided at a cost not to exceed the Sheriff’s Office.
This past year, then-Chief Terry Hughes said the amount Redington Shores will pay is about $57,000 less than what the Sheriff’s Office is charging for similar policing services.
The committee will have two members from each district and two more from the town at large.
Gulf Boulevard undergrounding has begun
The long-awaited undergrounding of utility wires in the Redingtons “has officially begun,” Mayor Henderson announced at the meeting’s outset. The project, which places wires underground on the east side of Gulf Boulevard and crossing the road, started in Redington Beach and will be working its way northward over the next several months, she said.
Sewer project moving ahead
The relining of the town’s sewers to prevent rainwater infiltration “is moving ahead full blast,” after a couple month’s delay, said Commissioner Neal.
Neal also said a new sensor, to measure and monitor sewer flow, has been installed at the main lift station. It has been validated and is giving perfect readings, Neal added.
The assurance that readings are accurate was good news. Several months ago, a sophisticated sewer meter installed by the county, which uses lasers to measure sewer flow, was found to be giving false readings. The town was given a refund of nearly $100,000 for excess sewer charges.