After a statement this month by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to the Tampa Bay Times, it seems likely that a new partnership will soon be forming between the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board in an effort to crack down on unlicensed contracting in the area. See Tampa Bay Times Article for further details.
The agency is now down to one part-time investigator and running low on funds, according to reports. The new interim director, Gay Lancaster has reached out to the sheriff’s office for help.
Unlicensed Contracting Now Under Greater Scrutiny
The Licensing Board has been under fire recently after several investigations by journalist and county agencies into its practices. The investigations center around previous executive director, Rodney Fischer, who resigned in January of this year and whose office is now under investigation by a Grand Jury. See: Pinellas licensing board leader Rodney Fischer described as a “bully” and “suspicious” in clashes with employees and county officials
- There have been dozens of allegations of mismanagement of consumer complaints and imposed fines during his fifteen plus years as director.
- In one report, it was stated that Fischer sent correspondences to contractors who had complaints filed against them urging them to meet with him in private or face higher fines and license suspension. These meetings were held without the knowledge of the board or the property owners who filed the complaint and usually resulted in the complaint being dismissed.
- In another report, a contractor arrived for his hearing prepared with documentation to dispute the allegations against him. When he arrived, he was simply told the case was dismissed and sent on his way without explanation.
Many consumers have felt mistreated and left without resolution to their complaints. On the other hand, contractors with complaints against them have not been given any avenue in which to refute the allegations against them and to provide supporting documentation. Cases are simply either left unresolved, dismissed without any explanation, or sent to the State Attorney’s office for investigation.
Due to lack of transparency and an archaic record keeping system, the Board cannot account for all the fines issued over the past sixteen years. The agency is also unable collect the almost $2 million in past due fines.
With all these recent mishaps within the agency, it has left interim director Lancaster calling for help to clean up the mess and to ensure this does not happen again. Her answer is the help of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. And Sheriff Gualtieri is happy to have the discussion.
A Greater Risk of Arrest
The board recently met and reviewed how other counties, such as Hillsborough, are handling this same matter. Other counties’ licensing boards employ the use of specialized law enforcement personnel in handling unlicensed contracting complaints. The Sheriff’s Office then handles the complaint like any other police investigation. We believe Pinellas County could employ this same system.
Given these recent developments, we anticipate a heightened scrutiny from building officials, the department of business o f and the department of financial services. A “reading between the lines” suggest that the sheriff’s office will be employing additional assets and personnel whose directives will be to investigate contracting without a license matters.
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