Miami-Dade County

Joe Carollo made a big fuss about code enforcement. Turns out he broke the rules too.

Bill Fuller accuses Joe Carollo of having violations on one of his own properties

Bill Fuller, co-owner of Ball & Chain, says he is being targeted by city code enforcement at the behest of Commissioner Joe Carollo. On May 9, 2019, he accused Carollo of having violations on one of his own properties.
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Bill Fuller, co-owner of Ball & Chain, says he is being targeted by city code enforcement at the behest of Commissioner Joe Carollo. On May 9, 2019, he accused Carollo of having violations on one of his own properties.

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo has made it his mission to hammer his city’s administration on what he considers lax code enforcement in Little Havana. Now city inspectors have found he’s got violations of his own at one of his properties.

On Monday, a team of city employees went to Carollo’s longtime home in Coconut Grove — he still owns the house but now lives in a rented apartment in District 3, which he represents — and found five violations for work done without permits.

The violations were first pointed out by Bill Fuller, a little Havana businessman who is the frequent target of Carollo’s code enforcement crusade. The co-owner of the Ball & Chain nightclub held a press conference outside City Hall two weeks ago to accuse Carollo of doing unpermitted work on his own property and to make three bigger points: Many people have code violations on their properties, enforcement should be done fairly and Fuller should not be singled out.

Fuller and his business partners submitted documentation of his complaint, which included drone images, Google Street View pictures and permit history of the property. At the time, Carollo rebuffed Fuller’s accusations and said he didn’t need permits for the tree trimming and re-roofing of his carport that Fuller illustrated using timestamped images from Google Street View.

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Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo at a city commission meeting Aug. 14, 2018. C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

The city’s own professional staff saw it differently. According to an email obtained by the Miami Herald, employees from the code compliance, building and public works departments on Monday identified five violations at Carollo’s property. A wood lattice, rooftop deck, carports, trimmed banyan tree and concrete pavers all required city permits that were never pulled, according to the email.

“Based on our findings, we will be issuing a Notice of Violation for Work Performed without a Finalized Permit and Façade; and a ticket will be issued for Hat Racking/Tree Removal without a permit,” read the email by code inspector Genesis Troutman.

Troutman writes that the inspectors knocked on the front door twice, but no one answered.

Carollo learned of the violations from a reporter Tuesday. He said he was surprised that the city sent additional inspectors after an initial visit May 10, when he met one inspector at the home. The lone inspector did not report any violations after the first visit.

Regarding the violations found by a team of inspectors Monday, the commissioner insisted an attorney advised him years ago that under state law, he did not need permits for the pavers and the lattice, and he said he inherited the deck and carport issues when he purchased the house in the early 2000s. He grew aggravated about the banyan tree, which he said was diseased and losing limbs before he trimmed it years ago.

Taking a less combative tone, he said he would comply with violations he’d been given, whether it be pulling permits or removing structures.

“If it wasn’t permitted, I’d be happy to comply,” Carollo said.

Then he took a jab at his accusers.

“Are the people that are doing this going to comply with their violations?” the commissioner said.

The bad blood between the men has played out during City Commission meetings and in the media over the past year. Carollo admitted to prowling around Fuller properties at night to look for violations, and Fuller is suing Carollo in federal court saying he is the victim of political retaliation. The suit is still pending, though a magistrate reviewing the case recently recommended to a federal judge that portions of the case be dismissed.

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Carollo has insisted he has simply pointed out that Fuller, who owns or co-owns several Little Havana properties, is a frequent violator of the city’s code who deserves tough enforcement. After publicly presenting photographs and records that support his accusations of code violations, Carollo pushed the matter further by accusing top administrators of providing special protection for Fuller.

Mayor Francis Suarez and other top administrators have maintained city employees are not providing special treatment, and that Fuller, like anyone else, is entitled to due process on any violations. The due process includes the ability to ask a code enforcement board for leniency and time to fix violations.

Fuller has said he is being bullied by a commissioner who is using political power to steer city staffers to selectively target Fuller. City laws prevent elected officials from issuing direct orders to city staffers in order to protect public servants from political interference. Administrators have worried they are being directed to target Fuller, according to internal emails.

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Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He attended the University of Florida.
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