GULFPORT — The City Council has hired an enforcer of city codes.
Now, it just has to decide which codes will be enforced.
In a 4-1 vote, with representative Jennifer Salmon dissenting, the council voted Tuesday to hire a special magistrate to hold hearings and assess fines against violators.
The magistrate — an attorney —will allow the city to deal with problems in-house instead of citing and sending violators to Pinellas County Court.
City Manager Jim O'Reilly said other cities, including Seminole and St. Pete Beach, have adopted this procedure and have found it to be a very effective and efficient means of adjudicating code enforcement cases.
The magistrate is expected to cost about $8,400 a year. The city is also prepared to hire a staff assistant to handle paperwork at an annual cost of $28,000, if necessary.
This hiring comes as the city tries to find a happy medium between those who want the city to be more aggressive in getting nuisance properties cleaned up and those who want the relaxed code enforcement of the past.
"It's a weapon against property owners who don't want to get pushed around by the city," said Bryan Hilbert of 54th Street S.
After a resident accused the city of trying to drive out poor people with more stringent code enforcement, Bev Newcomb of Fremont Street S. said, "I don't think keeping property neat is a rich-or-poor subject."
Exactly which codes will be added and enforced will be decided after council hears from residents at a public forum Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Gulfport Senior Center.
Mayor Mike Yakes suggested holding a forum after a meeting in October at which some residents spoke out against such proposed ordinances as: limiting the number of vehicles parked in a yard, banning the use of indoor furniture as outdoor furniture and requiring garbage cans be stowed out of site.