This Bad House

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Dawn Hamm and her sister, Kimberly Hamm, vociferously argued against the restriction on their brother, claiming that their grandfather suffered from Alzheimer's disease and required him as a caretaker. Dawn Hamm disputed a police report that she had been uncooperative with police. The board would have none of it. As the two women muttered to themselves, Hyman said that another hearing could be held if they wished and that the appropriate police officers would be called to testify. "In the meantime, there's an order requiring that both these guys -- YOU CAN'T HEAR ME IF YOU'RE TALKING!" Hyman snapped at the pair. "The order requires that both of them be off the property, OK? We're not going to argue about the situation."

That stance had softened considerably by the next month's meeting in November, when Sergeant Ghianda informed the board that he'd visited with Menge and decided that the grandson's presence was "essential for the well-being" of the elderly man and that the 18-year-old had been only "peripherally" involved in the illegal activity. The NAB amended the order to allow the young man to stay and waived the $100-a-day fine that had accrued for his violation.

The NAB can be swayed by the cooperation offered by property owners. That, however, can be paradoxical for owners or their attorneys who might consider mounting an aggressive defense. With cases involving the NAB, it's not better to have fought and lost than to have never fought at all.

More confounding still are instances when the property owner actually initiates police action. Consider, for example, the boarding house at 117 S. Rosemary Ave., owned by an elderly couple, Jean and R.P. Philips. "This piece of property, being so close to CityPlace, is a major concern to the mayor and Police Department," Officer Brad Emmons told the board in May. Jean Philips, whose husband had died in March, not only had cooperated in the case but had requested police help. The irony that she was now confronted with signing a stipulation giving the NAB jurisdiction over the property was not overlooked by her attorney, William Broome.

"I was here last month and realized the broad range of cooperation you seem to face with owners," Broome said calmly. "Some are very cooperative, and some don't turn out to be. I wanted to be sure that if we wind up back here again because of that property that you remember that we were so cooperative that we started this. The owner's representative actually went to the law-enforcement officers to ask for help with the two guys who were a problem. They arranged controlled drug buys with them which created the three instances that made the nuisance."

On the other hand, in July, when owner James McCarthy objected to a proposed NAB stipulation as the result of undercover drug buys at his apartment building at 318 N. Sapodilla Ave. -- police action with which he cooperated fully -- the case was dropped.

Broome argues that the city's ordinance should be amended to raise the threshold for activating NAB involvement, specifically exempting owner-initiated cases. "It would promote self-policing," he says.

Indeed, some attorneys privately question whether three police-orchestrated buys can even be deemed a bona fide nuisance, given that the problem wouldn't exist without police involvement.

Frankel Enterprises, a Jupiter-based real-estate development company, is about as far removed from the tired rental properties in West Palm Beach as one could imagine. The company's digs are on the fourth floor of the golf clubhouse at Admiral's Cove, a posh development just off Alternate A1A. The ornate clubhouse is bedecked with mahogany woodwork and brass fixtures. Sherry Hyman works full-time as in-house legal counsel for the company, and her large office window overlooks a serene marina and rolling green hills. Hyman is petite, with curly, dark-blond hair. She smiles sparingly and exudes the same aura of authority here as she does chairing the board. Still, sitting behind her desk this day, she seems somewhat uncomfortable answering questions about the NAB, perhaps because the board draws little attention from the local press. (She later denies a request by New Times to send a photographer to an NAB meeting.) At times, she pages through her files while she replies.

Hyman was appointed chairwoman of the NAB in 1996 by Mayor Nancy Graham. The unpaid post must be filled by an attorney, and Hyman, a real-estate lawyer and long-time resident of West Palm Beach, seemed a good fit. The remaining four members -- Dean Marlin, Scott Addlesberger, David Smith, and Emerald Smith, the board's only black member -- are also mayoral appointees. Board members are allowed to serve up to three consecutive two-year terms.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson