While the duties remain the same, there’s no such thing as a normal day in Code Compliance.
Since taking over the department last November, Code Compliance manager Joey Forgione has been working hard to improve their relationship with the community.
“They had a very reactive approach last year,” he said. “But now, I’m trying to have a more proactive approach by educating the public.”
Standing in his office in the City Hall Annex, Forgione points to a large map of the city of Destin and explains the different zones he assigns officers to.
Each officer has a specific zone and specialty such as short-term rentals, long-term rentals, building compliance, the beach and the harbor. The zones overlap, enabling officers to help each other out as needed.
“Our Harbor Waterways officer is going to have control everything in the water and everything that boundaries the water,” he explains while moving his finger on a map along the harbor and coast line.
After introducing me to some of the officers and showing me around the office, Forgione and I hop in a Code Compliance truck and set off towards Crystal Beach. It’s a rainy day, which usually means everyone is inside, but Forgione hopes for some action.
As he makes his way through traffic on U.S. Highway 98, he tells how he’s planning on hiring a beach officer during peak season.
“It’s a full-time temporary position and we should have one by the end of May,” he said. “I’ll look into possibly hiring another one or two in the next year and if I see we need nights as I move forward, I’ll make that happen too.”
Forgione has already made some major changes to the Code Compliance department. The vehicles now have light bars, printers and the department’s email painted on the sides. He also hopes to add laptops by the end of May, effectively turning the vehicles into a mobile office.
“That way, they’ll be able to check the government database right there instead of having to call a specific department,” Forgione said. “It will also cut down on travel time because they won’t have to go all the way back to the office to put things into the system.”
Within five minutes of driving through the neighborhoods in Crystal Beach, he finds the first parking violation. A car with a Georgia license plate is parked in the right-of-way in front of a house. Forgione stops the truck and proceeds to write them a warning.
“The biggest thing is we want to educate them,” he said. “The visitors are pretty good but a lot of them just don’t know.”
Parking violations are the most common thing Code Compliance Officers see. Forgione said he’s written thousands of warnings and citations during his five years with the department.
“In one, eight-hour period, I wrote almost 80 warnings,” he said. “I was hustling that day.”
Within an hour, Forgione has written 12 parking warnings. He’ll check back in a few hours to see if the cars have been moved and if they haven’t, he’ll issue a citation. But Forgione tries to give people the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t write warnings at the flip of the hat.
As he passes a car that’s violating parking regulations, he says the owner always parks their car there for a while, but will move it into the driveway eventually.
“I think she has another car that goes in the driveway first,” he said.
And another has a U-Haul truck in their yard.
“They’re probably moving so I’ll just keep an eye on them,” he said.
When he doubles back to check on some of the warnings, Forgione stops at one of the houses when he sees people outside. He gets out of the truck, greets them with a smile and explains that one of their vehicles has a warning on it. The visitors apologize and are moving the car as he drives away.
“It’s actually fun talking to the people out here,” he said. “You get to learn where their from and the majority of them are pretty good, even when they’re drinking.”
After driving around the Crystal Beach area for two hours, Forgione decides to head to the west side of town. He talks about his days working with the Sheriff’s Office in Niceville and how he accidentally did doughnuts in his unmarked Mustang when it was raining. He believes his military and law enforcement training has helped him in his current position.
“I’m kind of taking it like a community policing approach,” he said. “I did some research on community policing and looked at some law enforcement agencies that also do code enforcement and I kind of meshed the two together.”
Although there are still some wrinkles to iron out within the department, Forgione believes they’ll just keep getting better.
“Whatever we didn’t do or could do better, we’ll fix by next year,” he said. “It’s going to help the city and their citizens once I get everything where it needs to be.”
He's in the west district now and the rain is coming down harder. He’s keeping an eye out for the same kind of violations he saw in Crystal Beach. After 20 minutes of driving, he comes up on a house that has two Jeeps parked in the yard, a boat parked on the wrong side of the house and random junk stored underneath multiple tarps and tents.
Forgione takes pictures of everything and calls the Code Compliance clerk, Sharon Gardner, to see if the house has gotten a warning before. They have but obviously nothing has been done, so he decides to mail them a notice of violation and give them a few days to clean it up. If they don’t, they’ll have to appear before the magistrate and accept any fines or penalties associated.
He finishes up in the west district and head back to his office. Each district has their own kinds of issues, Forgione says. But if his team can keep maintaining and educating the public, Forgione believes compliance will become second nature for most.
In a few months, I'll ride along on the beach and on the Harbor, to see what challenges the officers face during peak tourist season.