A Fine Mess

Why does handyman Timothy Williams owe more than $34,000 in fines? Because he broke the rules in Dania Beach.

Amid much gavel-banging by Cali, Mikes addressed Williams and others who have suffered stiff fines. "You people happen to be the first guinea pigs for this new attempt by this new commission to raise money," he snorted on November 11. "It makes no more sense to do this than it does to take a parking ticket and make it $34,000 after two years. What you've got here is some commissioners, mainly this mayor, who needs money for this city because of other things he's done, and you're going to have to suffer for it."

Mikes also accused Cali and his colleagues of indiscriminate application of the code laws, a charge they deny. And he pointed out that Williams had torn the fence down several days before throwing himself on the mercy of the commission.

"This is ridiculous!" Mikes intoned. "$34,000 for a fence? The intent of code enforcement is to achieve compliance, to resolve the problem, not to be one inch short of the death penalty. Maybe that's next. Maybe we can amend the code, and if they don't pay, we can impose the death penalty."

Hyde, the commissioner who voted with Mikes to soften the fine, says he's still in favor of strict enforcement but couldn't go through with it in Williams' case. Like Mikes he's worried that the fines have become a tempting new source of revenue for a cash-strapped city. "It was gut-wrenching," he said later. "This gentleman got due process. Maybe he was being defiant. But sometimes you gotta make the punishment fit the crime, and this one was just so far over reality I couldn't do it."

Late last week Mikes sent a letter on city stationery apologizing to Williams for the outcome of the vote. He called the $34,500 fence fine "more appropriate for true criminal activity such as drug dealing, robbery, etc." and claimed Williams has been "caught up in a municipal system that can be highly arbitrary and unfair." Meanwhile, Kahn the lawyer says he's filing a lawsuit against Dania Beach in state court as early as this week, seeking to overturn or reduce the fine.

Williams says he's now unable to sell a second property he owns because of the lien on his duplex and therefore faces foreclosure. "I'm gonna be thrown in the street," he says. "I'm gonna lose everything I ever had, everything I worked for, and it's all because of a stupid fence. I don't feel like this is any form of justice at all.

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