The mayor talked Sunday about "kicking butt" with slumlords, telling reporters that Tampa is launching a battle against neighborhood blight.
"We're not going to take prisoners," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.
A little later, a sleepy Jonathan Perry answered a loud knocking at his door. A code enforcement officer told him the two derelict cars in the driveway — one without tires or engine — violate city codes. The 98th Avenue house's owner (Perry says it is his father) will be cited.
Buckhorn, flanked by code enforcement officials and city police, launched a 30-day code enforcement sweep Sunday morning with a news conference at 9806 N Brooks St. in North Tampa. The backdrop was a vacant duplex with a pile of illegally dumped debris in the yard.
The sweep comes in the wake of William A. "Hoe" Brown's resignation as the chairman of the Tampa Port Authority, following disclosures by the Tampa Bay Times that he ran an illegal and squalid mobile home park on his north Seminole Heights property.
Several of Brown's tenants told the Times this month that they lived in vermin and filth in unpermitted trailers crammed on property outside Brown's business office.
Buckhorn said Tampa residents deserved clean neighborhoods without properties that attract rats, drug dealers and, on Sunday at least, a crowd of reporters and camera crews.
"A house left in this condition is like a cancer in the neighborhood," Buckhorn said of the trash piled at 9806 N Brooks St. "We've got an obligation to do better. … People shouldn't be forced to live in these conditions."
This home is owned by a New York resident, officials said, noting the trash — broken furniture, carpeting and mattresses — would be hauled away by a city contractor at the owner's expense.
City officials said six of the city's 26 code enforcement officers would spearhead the sweeps in North and Central Tampa as they target flagrant violations. The sweep is focused on areas of the city that traditionally have been problem areas for code enforcement.
The areas targeted are:
• 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.
Code enforcement officer Linda Coomey, 59, led a pack of reporters as she began her examination of homes in her zone. She started on 99th Avenue, just west of N Nebraska Avenue, walking house to house in stifling heat.
She kept an eye out for badly overgrown lots, illegally dumped garbage, abandoned cars or houses so dilapidated that they would be deemed unsafe.
A few things about Coomey's job quickly become clear.
First, homeowners often keep quiet and don't answer the door to her knocks. At one home with a jalopy in the driveway, a woman peered out from behind a curtain, but wouldn't come to the door. This behavior is repeated several times elsewhere.
"Nobody feels like being sociable today," said Coomey, who placed a violation tag on the doorknob with her cell number.
The peering woman called a few minutes after Coomey walked away.
"Nobody in your neighborhood reported you," Coomey reassured her. "I don't want you to get mad at your neighbors."
Then there are the dogs. They bark at nearly every door. Coomey carries no pepper spray. But she might soon be issued an umbrella. Others at the office claim a dog retreats when there's an open umbrella in its face.
Perry, the man with derelict cars in the driveway, had a fairly typical reaction. He's mad.
Perry initially refused to give Coomey his name, though he provided it to a Times reporter. Coomey asked him for the name of the homeowner.
"I don't know if I want to help you out with that," Perry replied.
At an impasse, Coomey started writing a warning that could ultimately lead to a $75 fine if the cars are not removed.
"There's a crack house a half block away," said Perry, 27. "But I get hit for a hobby that has kept me out of jail half of my life" — the hobby of repairing cars.
He's not going to hurt Coomey's feelings. She's got a thick skin. What helps her endure this ego-battering job?
She answers, "Church."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]