ANNA MARIA – Building Official Jimmy Strickland has been terminated for inactions that could result in higher flood insurance premiums for property owners in the city of Anna Maria.
City officials are awaiting a final determination on whether corrective actions taken by City Engineer Lynn Burnett and others will prevent the loss of the 25 percent flood insurance premium discounts given to policyholders in Anna Maria.
The discounts were earned during the city’s 20-year participation in the Community Ratings System (CRS). As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program, the CRS is a voluntary incentive program that provides flood insurance discounts of 5 to 45 percent to communities that exceed minimum requirements for reducing flood damage and encouraging floodplain management.
Burnett anticipates a determination from CRS reviewer Chris Carpenter within two weeks. Carpenter has already recommended to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA that Anna Maria lose its CRS discount.
If the discount is eliminated or reduced, rates would increase for policyholders when their policies are renewed.
“We’re kind of at the mercy of FEMA at this point.”
Dan Murphy, Anna Maria Mayor
On Oct. 30, Carpenter sent Strickland an email addressing his failure to produce documents requested during the CRS compliance review that began in December 2016.
“This is to advise that I am recommending to DHS/FEMA that the CRS classification for the city of Anna Maria retrograde from Class 5 to Class 10 effective May 1, 2018,” Carpenter wrote.
A Class 5 community receives 25 percent flood insurance discounts. A Class 10 community receives no discount.
“To date, I have only received material relative to two CRS activities. This score alone will not be sufficient to document at least 500 points needed to remain in the program,” Carpenter wrote.
Carpenter’s email caught Mayor Dan Murphy by complete surprise and prompted an email to Strickland that said, “Please advise in our meeting tomorrow as to how this happened.”
Murphy then suspended Strickland and asked him to appear at the Thursday, Nov. 30 City Commission meeting. That appearance resulted in a 4-0 vote to terminate the services Strickland provided the city as a contracted employee of the M.T. Causley engineering firm.
Strickland became the building official in 2015. He was suspended in August after he issued a building permit without requiring the FEMA-mandated significant improvement appraisal that determines if the proposed work qualifies as renovation or new construction. The commission gave Strickland a vote of confidence that allowed him to return to work, but stipulated he attend FEMA training and Sunshine Law training, which he failed to do.
In response to Carpenter’s email, the city requested additional time, and staff was given 20 days to submit the documents needed to establish CRS compliance.
Murphy praised the efforts of Burnett, Pam Gibbs and Angela Albrecht, and said to the commission, “We’re kind of at the mercy of FEMA at this point.”
Drainage and stormwater improvements made in recent years produced the CRS rating city officials hope to salvage.
“We have followed the guidelines and improved the city, but we did an inadequate job of giving FEMA that information,” Murphy said.
“For this to come up is shocking. Why didn’t you go to the mayor and say we need help?” Commissioner Doug Copeland asked Strickland, noting that staff did in 20 days what he failed to do in a year.
Commissioner Brian Seymour agreed that Strickland should have brought this to the mayor’s attention. He later made the motion to terminate Strickland.
“I didn’t realize the sheer volume of the all the information needed,” Strickland told the commission.
Strickland cited a heavy workload and acknowledged he had no experience or expertise regarding FEMA compliance. He suggested the city hire a fulltime FEMA/CRS coordinator.
“You failed in your responsibility to look out for our city, our people and our rating system,” Commissioner Dale Woodland said.
“Causley knew we needed somebody with those requirements. I take exception to someone being put in a position this important and not having the skills,” Commissioner Nancy Yetter said.
Causley regional manager Tom Walsh said, “I just looked at the contract. It does indicate the building official should be the FEMA coordinator.”
Walsh offered to “make things right” by providing a new building official with FEMA expertise. Murphy said he would consider this, but he later told the commission he was leaning toward directly hiring a fully qualified building official.