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Wilton Manors Commissioners passed a new city ordinance moving lien reduction requests from the commission to a special magistrate.

After more than a year of consideration, the new law was passed unanimously. On first reading, under the leadership of former Mayor Justin Flippen, the proposed change to city code passed on a 3-2 vote with former Commissioners Julie Carson and Tom Green in the opposition.

The idea behind the change is to remove political influence from code violation negotiations by handing over authority to a special magistrate.

“The process didn’t have sufficient integrity,” said Vice Mayor Paul Rolli at the March 23 commission meeting. Under the old rules, Rolli said, property owners would fall out of compliance and could not sell or refinance their properties and then come to the commission for relief.

“I’m not as lenient with that stuff because there were plenty of opportunities for these people to come in,” Rolli said. “I just want to see the process have integrity.”

Commissioner Gary Resnick agreed with the vice mayor.

“The process that we had really lacked not just integrity but also predictability,” Resnick said. “There were really no factors that were applied by the commission. It was very political.”

Resnick noted former Commissioner Carson said there was a policy that automatically reduced fines by 25%.

“We’ve never had such a policy and that’s what was misunderstood and to some extent thought of in the community,” Resnick said. “So as much as we tried we didn’t apply our authority to reduce fines to any type of predictable, factual manner which really bothered me because I just didn’t think it was fair.”

A special magistrate, Resnick said, has more knowledge of cases, sets fines and can determine if property owners have been responsive or not. After the special magistrate’s decision, property owners who are not satisfied can then appeal to the city.

City Attorney Kerry Ezrol said after a lien is recorded for more than 90 days, the city can initiate foreclosure proceedings. Wilton Manors, Ezol said, is in the middle of a foreclosure action with Hollywood, Florida-based LLIJMASG, LLC. and secured a $1 million summary judgment on five liens. Ezrol reminded the commission the city cannot foreclose on homesteaded properties.

Presently the sum total of liens in the city from May of 2016 to September of 2019 is $2,151,300. Of that total, $980,753.54 was reduced. Of the reduced amount, $769,696.46 has been paid.

Commercial properties saw an average reduction rate of 54%. Homesteaded properties were reduced by 61% and non-homesteaded properties were reduced by 60%.

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City Debates Special Magistrate to Handle Liens; Commission Divided