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In scandal's wake, Tampa mayor plans code enforcement sweep

TAMPA — In the wake of a slum-housing scandal that brought down the chairman of the Tampa Port Authority and embarrassed City Hall, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is launching an inner-city code enforcement sweep.

Buckhorn acknowledged Thursday that last week's resignation of William "Hoe" Brown as the port authority's chairman "energized our efforts to be proactive" on finding property owners who tolerate blight.

Several of Brown's tenants told the Tampa Bay Times they lived amid vermin and filth in unpermitted mobile homes crammed onto property Brown owns at the northern edge of Seminole Heights.

But while police records show there were illegal trailers and problems at Brown's properties for years, code enforcement never took serious action against him.

"I have not been happy this week," Buckhorn said. "What the Hoe Brown situation pointed out was we need to be far more aggressive, far more coordinated and far more proactive than we have been."

So starting Sunday, the city's Neighborhood Enhancement Division, which includes code enforcement, will go block-by-block in three areas of North and Central Tampa during the next 30 days and target "flagrant" violators of city codes.

Buckhorn said his orders were simple: "Be proactive and go after the worst of the worst."

Over the next 30 days, inspectors will focus on serious blight. Depending on what they find, they are expected to write property owners civil citations with fines or notices to appear in Hillsborough circuit court.

The areas to be targeted include:

• Florida Avenue east to 22nd Street between Busch Boulevard and Linebaugh Avenue.

• Central Avenue to Florida Avenue between Bird Street and Sligh Avenue.

• 50th Street east to 58th Street between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 4.

City officials say they will deploy six inspectors who will be in the community seven days a week, then evaluate the program after a month. Buckhorn said he expects the cost of the sweep to be minimal, with the city juggling schedules to do the enhanced inspections.

But Buckhorn said he will propose an expansion in code enforcement next week when he submits his proposed city budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

"There will be an increase in code enforcement staffing, that much I can tell you," Buckhorn said. Details are still being worked out.

City officials say the effort is modeled on a similar sweep in Sulphur Springs, where city teams have gone block-by-block and have picked up an average of three tons of trash a week since January.

Meeting for the first time since the scandal broke, the City Council on Thursday called for changes to prevent problems like Brown's rentals from staying under the city's radar.

Council member Frank Reddick won his colleagues' support for an Aug. 1 report from police, code enforcement and city attorneys on how to prevent "such deplorable conditions from occurring in the future."

With thousands of foreclosed properties in the city, code enforcement has its hands full, council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said.

Yet she added it's baffling that police, who were called to Brown's business office and rental properties scores of times, apparently never alerted code inspectors to the problem.

"No one said a word," she said. "That, to me, is letting these (tenants) down."

In scandal's wake, Tampa mayor plans code enforcement sweep 07/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 4:37pm]
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