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Retaliation has no place in code enforcement work

Port Richey gadfly Delores Felske endorses the idea of a full investigation of the city's current and past Building Departments. She detailed why in a letter published Monday in the Times.

Thursday morning, she discovered the city's code enforcement officer, a member of the Building Department, outside her home.

Coincidence? Felske doesn't think so.

Felske said Enforcement Officer Lou Barba was told the RV she and her husband just acquired was parked illegally. Felske maintains the RV is allowable because the lot is zoned as C-3 commercial. Because the Felskes also live there, the city said the property must adhere to residential rules, which prohibit RV parking. Why the city allowed a residence to be built on commercial property in the first place is something we'll likely never know.

Felske's feuds with the city are well known. The code enforcement encounter came the same morning she butted heads with City Hall over public records regarding property across the street from her Leo Kidd Avenue home. After inquiries from the Times, intervention by the city manager and an agreement from Felske to reduce the scope of her inquiry, the records were made available Thursday afternoon, eight days earlier than previously stated.

That it took outsiders to mediate the records request is indicative of the acrimony between Felske and some members of the city staff. Regardless of Felske's frequent protests and conspiratorial theories, she is within her rights to view city records in a timely manner.

Felske suspects the code enforcement warning is retaliation by the city for her criticism of the Building Department.

"I can assure you it has nothing to do with retaliation," answered City Manager Vince Lupo.

We hope not. Even if Lupo surmised incorrectly that the officer was responding to a neighbor's complaint. Felske said Barba told her he noticed the alleged violation on his own.

Hunting for code violations at specific residences isn't a good idea. Port Richey needs only to check with its neighbor on the pitfalls of selective enforcement.

In 1988, New Port Richey spent more than $300,000 in settlement costs and legal fees on a lawsuit from two residents who had been stymied in public records requests and who charged the city violated their civil rights by targeting them for a code enforcement crackdown.

More recently, Port Richey had its own disputes with another resident, John King, over access to public records. The frequent flare-ups inspired an unsuccessful legislative effort to dissolve Port Richey as a municipal entity five years ago.

"We've learned," Lupo stressed.

They better have. Otherwise, the debate about a Building Department investigation might have to include questions about intimidation.