“Nazis.” “Commies.” “Evil bastards.”
These were some of the epithets emailed to the city of Cape Coral after a story about the city’s treatment of a widow trying to live off the grid of electricity and the public water system drew national attention this week.
A city spokesperson says none of those insults hold water.
“It’s certainly not a Gestapo-like group down here at all – and to be portrayed that way is very frustrating to people, including those in elected office,” Cape Coral Public Information Director Connie Barron said Tuesday.
“We just had to make sure whatever she’s doing inside isn’t a life-safety issue and isn’t unsanitary.”
Cape Coral resident Robin Speronis drew attention from the city’s code enforcement when neighbors complained about mulch on the property Speronis owns. Then, Speronis was featured on Fox affiliate WTFX in a November report about people living off the grid.
The next day, a city code enforcement officer showed up at Speronis’ home and placed a “notice to vacate” on the door.
Speronis was outraged.
“Take my property away, take my rights away because I exercised my right of free speech in discussing living off the grid?” she asked during an interview with WTXF, which originally reported that the city was in the process of “evicting” Speronis.
Many who learned about the story when it was picked up by conservative websites like Glenn Beck’s The Blaze – and BizPac Review – were outraged, too, inundating Cape Coral’s city hall with complaints.
But Barron said the city was nowhere close to evicting Speronis. The notice to vacate, she said, was just the first step in a legal process to deal with troublesome properties. The last step in the process is eviction, which requires a judge’s order – and which Cape Coral has never reached, she said.
Barron said the city has no problem with residents trying to live off the grid, as long as it’s done safely for the residents and their neighbors.
“There’s a huge difference between evicting someone and a notice to vacate,” she said.
One of the big problems, she said, was the city had trouble contacting Speronis – or whoever was living on the property. She said the county property tax appraiser’s records show the property is owned by a corporation called “Off the Grid.” Given the recent housing market meltdown, she said, the city has encountered squatters living in foreclosed homes.
“We didn’t know if anyone was living here, if it’s a tenant, if it’s a squatter,” she said. Barron said the city didn’t know for sure what was going on with the property until the WFTX report.
“That’s the first time we’ve seen her – was on TV,” she said.
It’s likely the last the city will see of Speronis for a while – at least without the presence of her attorney.
“If you’re going to contact somebody with a complaint or an issue with their home, you don’t have them trespassed from their own home,” lawyer Todd Allen told WFTX. “Send someone out. If they don’t talk to you, continue to try, but you don’t threaten them with criminal prosecution.”
But Barron said the city isn’t prosecuting Speronis – just trying to do its job in code enforcement.
“We are probably the most easy-going of any code enforcement group most people will deal with,” she said.
“Our goal is to get people to comply.”
Check out the latest WFTX report on the Speronis story here: