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Editorials

Judicial focus on code cases

Published:   |   Updated: August 20, 2013 at 06:33 AM

Establishing new courts devoted to municipal violations should add needed muscle in Tampa’s fight against urban blight.

We expect the arrangement approved by Hillsborough Chief Judge Manual Menendez to add speed and accountability to the process.

Flaws in the city’s code enforcement were exposed by the case of Hoe Brown, a prominent Republican activist who resigned from the Tampa Port Authority after it was revealed he ran an illegal and debilitated trailer park on his property.

A Tribune reporter found Brown had at least 58 citations on properties in the past 10 years but had never had to pay a fine because he eventually addressed the citations.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and his team have been on the warpath since the incident, aggressively pursuing violators whose deteriorating properties ruin neighborhoods and promote crime.

Buckhorn sought the judges’ help in dealing with chronic code violators, and they thoughtfully complied.

Under the new system, one court will handle municipal violations that are punishable by jail time, including chronic housing violations.

The other docket, as the Tribune’s Kevin Wiatrowski reports, will handle civil infractions that include noise, open-container and housing violations.

Buckhorn correctly says this “common-sense” approach should expedite the handling of municipal violations that can range from piling trash in a yard to aggressive panhandling.

Previously, such municipal ordinance offenses were lumped with all misdemeanor offenses that were heard by six different judges, which could result in delays and inconsistent penalties.

The special municipal courts will place greater importance on these cases and should result in swifter resolutions.

The state Legislature still needs to revise indulgent housing laws, which can allow violators months or more to respond to citations.

But having local courts with a tight focus on municipal offenses should help Tampa maintain cleaner, safer neighborhoods.

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