Hearing officer, city work out differences

Hearing officer, city work out differences

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

On Jan. 10, City of Rockford administrator Einar Forsman and city attorney Ron Schultz hashed out differences between the city and attorney James Meason, the city hearing code officer.

In November, Alderman Ed Akre (R-11) expressed his concern over cases throughout the city in which he feels Meason failed to perform his job duties. But Meason said the city made the apparent mistakes.

At their meeting, Meason said he and Schultz and Forsman “cleared the air.”

They showed Meason changes the city made in the hearing process, but none specifically relating to his decisions.

“The city is changing the way it presents its cases to me,” he said. “From what I can tell, they were going to formally ask for admissions of liability at the very first court hearing instead of waiting until the alleged violations are corrected.”

The city council hired Meason in August over three other bidders, including Tom Meyer’s firm. Meyer also has been Mayor Charles Box’s campaign manager for years. Meyer is State Rep. Doug Scott’s campaign manager for Scott’s mayoral effort.

Meason has two years’ experience as a federal hearing officer for the U.S. Dept. Transportation of in Washington, D.C. There, he dealt with ways to interpret regulations as they apply to businesses and individuals.

The city council chose Meason because his bid was $15 less per hour than Meyer’s. Akre even said he initially pushed for the city council to hire Meason, who makes $65 an hour and works 20 hours a month.

“I think the way things look now, it probably would have been best to hire the Meyer firm,” Akre said. “A lot of people think I’m the bad guy, and I dislike the guy, and I don’t. I was just looking out for the city.”

The duties of the code hearing officer entail hearing cases based on findings of fact. Inspectors who find violations at properties report them to the hearing officer.

The property owners are sent letters that state they are in violation. If they fail to correct the problem, their cases are heard in front of the hearing officer.

Akre stated Meason overruled the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals in regard to a special-use permit a pallet company violated. The city asked the ZBA to revoke the permit, as Meason was overseeing the individual’s three violations. However, Meason delayed the decision on two of three violations and postponed the ZBA’s decision until he made his decision.

Akre said the hearing officer can’t overrule the ZBA, according to city codes. “They just can’t do that,” he remarked. “He has no ruling over what the ZBA does. He’s not a judge, he’s a hearing officer.”

Meason said the fact that the city revoked a permit on violations he hadn’t yet ruled on was inappropriate.

Another incident involved a resident who left a washing machine out in the back yard, which Akre also maintains is against city code. “He didn’t see a problem with it being in the back yard,” Akre contended.

Meason said the defendant read the accusations by Akre in the Rockford daily. The defendant himself told Meason that he never

told him he could leave the washing machine

Continued on page 6

From page 1

in the back yard, Meason stated. “The city dismissed that case,” he added.

Meason said that in 177 cases he’s heard, he issued continuances in seven and imposed 49 fines for a total of $149,525, for an average of $3,052 per case.

“That’s fantastic. That’s not indicative of letting people slide. The bottom line for me is that attack was political and wholly unwarranted. I wasn’t just going to roll over and play dead.

“It refutes the allegations that I’m ignoring—ignoring the ordinances and not fining people. I just wish this smear campaign would stop.”

Meason said he lacks knowledge of why the city has brought up these incidents. “The stuff about the washing machine and me clogging up the cases, ignoring the ordinances and letting people slide—it’s all a bunch of baloney,” he said.

Before the meeting, Forsman said he believes Meason possibly extended his authority in advising people who have been cited in lieu of using the findings of fact.

Forsman said that regarding the recent issues, he’s not close enough to the code process to provide an opinion on Meason’s decisions.

The Rock River Times made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Forsman and Schultz after the meeting.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!