By Dan Moffett
Briny Breezes is preparing to hire a special magistrate to resolve code disputes with homeowners when all else fails.
Though cases of noncompliance are rare, they have been troublesome for town officials and staff during the last three years.
On April 22, the Town Council gave unanimous final approval to an ordinance that defines eligibility for magistrates and clarifies their role.
Council members also accepted Town Attorney Keith Davis’ recommendation on whom they should hire: Kevin Wagner, who has worked as a magistrate in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Tequesta.
“I’ve worked with him, and I don’t know anyone who’s better suited,” said Davis, who also has served as a magistrate for West Palm.
In 2018, the council voted to authorize using magistrates to resolve code disputes, rejecting the alternative of appointed citizen review boards. But until April, the town didn’t have clearly defined qualifications or rules for how the magistrate hiring and use should operate.
Magistrates typically are retired judges or experienced lawyers who work as freelance, independent contractors on an “as needed” basis. They usually earn about $175 to $250 an hour.
Briny needs the services of a magistrate only a few times a year. The overwhelming majority of code cases are settled quickly without dispute or complaints, officials say.
In other business:
• Town Manager William Thrasher had a mixed report on replacing the town’s aging, leaky water mains.
The good news for the council is that the Briny corporation is willing to contribute as much as $80,000 toward the project.
But the not-so-good news is that the town likely will need to hire an engineer and probably won’t be able to piggyback onto an existing Gulf Stream contract because of legal complications.
Using the Gulf Stream contract would have allowed the town to cut through red tape and proceed with hiring a contractor to do the work quickly. Mallard Drive has had a rash of water main breaks recently and repairs likely are also needed elsewhere in town.
Thrasher said he’s confident the project will move forward despite the hurdles, and the council is expected to discuss the plan at its next regular meeting on May 27.
• The council unanimously approved the first reading of a new sign ordinance that officials hope better aligns the town with corporate rules and addresses concerns about protecting free speech. The ordinance restricts signs’ size, placement and hours of display, but steers clear of content.