Bradenton 'flag house' found to be in violation; owners given 90 days to comply

myoung@bradenton.comJune 18, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Bradenton Code Enforcement Officer Mark Runnals used words like "maybe" and "this is hard to see" in describing his photographic evidence against Brent Greer, who painted his Riverview Boulevard home like an American flag to protest the city's treatment of his family during a code enforcement process that all began with a fallen Christmas tree in February.

The Greer family, complete with their seven adopted children, appeared Tuesday at a code enforcement hearing to determine whether the

city would place a $250-a-day lien on the house until needed repairs are made, allow an extension or exonerate the Greers.

After sometimes-emotional testimony, the board concluded that the home remains in violation, but gave the Greers an additional 90 days from the day of the hearing to bring their house up to code.

The Greers were cited with nine other violations during Runnals' visit to their home in March. The photos used as evidence were taken from several dozen feet away. However, Runnals said during the hearing Tuesday that it was his expert opinion that the home still did not meet the city's minimum standards, despite several of the original violations being addressed.

In his testimony about rotting wood on the house, Runnals said, "This is hard to see (in the presented photo) because it was taken early in the morning," and later described the rotting wood violations as "maybe a little bit of rot."

Other photos showed neatly stacked lumber in the family's backyard, which Runnals called "debris."

Greer said it was interesting that code enforcement used that photo as evidence because the wood is being used for repairs being undertaken on his home and not from the initial violations.

The two prevalent accusations were rotting wood in various areas of the home and an exposed wire coming from an outside air-conditioning unit.

Greer testified the exposed wire was actually an extension cord running to his backyard for his landscaping saw, and the photo proves code enforcement never came close enough to his home to do an actual inspection. He also said he has had two separate roofing contractors inspect the areas where the city said there was rotting wood and they could not find any.

Guardian Angels of Southwest Florida, the agency that licensed the Greers as foster parents, has rallied local contractors like Bruce Williams Homes, which is donating labor and materials to help address the city's concerns.

Floyd Price, a Guardian Angels board member, testified that many of the city's issues have been resolved and that the remaining few items could be completed within a month's time.

"All of the people helping are doing it for free," said Price. "They all have very busy schedules so we have to work on their time availability."

City staff recommended a 30-day extension. Price asked for 60 days and after listening to Price's testimony, the board gave the Greers 90 days.

Greer said he is grateful to the community for their help, but remains unhappy with the code enforcement process.

"The process, at best, is open to vengeance and corruption," said Greer. "My concern is how and why it was handled this way."

How the family has been treated by city employees is the biggest concern to Catherine Greer, who gave an emotional and tearful testimony at the hearing's conclusion.

"It has been very poor communication with the city," said Catherine Greer. "I'm generally someone that gets along with everybody."

She said the initial conversation with Runnals was unpleasant and hurtful.

"After I took the tree down, he said there are a few more things and I told him it's a 110-year-old house," she said. "He told me, 'Yeah, and it needs 110 years of maintenance.' I told him I would need some time because I have seven children. He said, 'They aren't my seven kids.'"

She testified she has been threatened by a sanitation employee who told her he is starting a new job in code enforcement and will remember her. The confrontation occurred after a run-in with the employee while she was helping out a neighbor with yard debris.

Through tears, she said, "I would like you to train your city employees with a heart."

After the hearing, Brent Greer said he is staying out of the way of those who are graciously helping him, because if it was up to him, he wouldn't fix a single thing on the house because "they are all lies and the photos they presented as evidence shows they lied."

Outside of City Hall stood Bob Heminger, a Vietnam veteran waving an American flag.

"I'm here because code enforcement is messing with a man who has adopted seven children," said Heminger, who noted he was afraid to enter City Hall for the hearing because "code enforcement might ticket me for waving an American flag."

Tim Polk, director of community planning and the department head over code enforcement, said he understands emotions come into play when a code enforcement officer pays a visit to a homeowner due to a complaint.

"We try to get people who are very diplomatic, but people don't like to be told 'this is what you have to do,'" said Polk. "Our code enforcement officers do go through training with senior officers before they go into the field. But we tell them that code enforcement is the 800-pound gorilla. No matter what we do, all we can say is this is the issue and then say, 'Have a nice day,' and walk away.'"

Polk did not address the Greer case specifically, but said, "If we have someone that is going beyond the call of duty, we counsel them. We don't tell the public what kind of action we take, but we do counsel them."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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