Outrage pours in to Florida city over ‘off the grid’ widow’s story

“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.

offthegrid1218A 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:

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed
About Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders, a 25-year newspaper veteran, is a staff writer and editor for BizPac Review who lives in Tallahassee and covers capital and Florida politics. Email Joe at jpjsaunders@gmail.com.

  • Nov-cubed

    “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,”

    2FN bad. The shoe appears to slip on with ease and great comfort.

    • Alice

      They claim they could not contact her; but, they contacted her after they saw the TV program. Liars and bureaucrats. Liberal if you want to bet.

    • Doug

      Outrage is easy to fire up. Rational thought is much harder to come by.

      • Nov-cubed

        Thanks. Let us know how it goes.

        • Doug

          I always strive for rationality.

  • Donna E Turner

    Who the hell do these jackasses think they are? This is America, not Nazi Germany. The city has no business putting homeowners through crap like this, and this is her private property.

    • NoCrud

      They are afraid that if a lot more people did this, some of the goobermint moles in local offices would have their jobs fall in question as to whether they were really necessary. In fact, there are a lot of people in Florida, and elsewhere, that live in boats and are left alone. I even saw a guy in a suit chain a bike to a tree in the Cape Canaveral area, take off his suit and ball it up and belt it to his head and the swim out to his boat to stay overnight. No doubt it was a daily thing with him. He was completely “off the grid.”

    • jsteele98

      Wrong, NAZI Germany is beginning to look good compared to where we’re headed.

  • Front Toward Enemy

    And Cape Coral has no real problems to address, so they trample on this woman’s right to live? Shame and scorn on the city officials and Gestapo is not a strong enough analogy to apply to them. Get your pitchforks.

  • NoCrud

    LAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS

    1. You are in a game you are losing,
    2. You cannot change the rules of the game, and
    3. You cannot even get out of the game.

  • Eddie Butters

    This is happening across America. You can blame your own neighbors who vote and run for City Council. The bureaucratic power grab is all around us. From D.C. all the way down to your local building department, they want to control everything you do. Peeling paint? A stack of plywood in the yard? A downspout out of place? A shingle or two missing from the roof? Your shrubs higher than window level? Your grass too long? Weeds along the fence in the alley? Overhanging branches? Shall I go on??? It’s anything and everything in the name of “keeping our cities safe and protecting property values.” What it really is are ways for the bureaucrats to invade your property and your life without a warrant. They trespass on your property and your life willy nilly. But it starts with your own neighbors who put them in office, and are the ones touring in their citizen watch group buses and vans and sending the ordinance officers out to “do their duty”. The City or Village isn’t going to waste time finding you or calling you on the phone or extending you any courtesy. Instead, they’ll waste your tax dollars and YOUR time with a “vacate” notice, and threaten to turn your life upside down, knowing you will act, and they sit back and wait for your phone call, forcing you to comply, and giving you little time to do so. Unless of course you call your local television station or your City Council rep and tell them what for!

    • NoCrud

      Very good comment. Right on the mark…

  • SRQTad

    “Our goal is to get people to comply.”… With a bunch of “codes” that are as unconstitutional as they come and give a meddling, miserable, control-freak neighborhood nazi, with nothing better to do than watch what somebody else is doing, a reason to complain about something… “…when neighbors complained about mulch on the property …”… You mean “a neighbor” who hasn’t either the guts or even the common courtesy to speak directly to her about the “problem” of a pile of freakin’ mulch.

  • Doug

    They all kissed and made up.

  • Tookie CLothespin

    Local governments have the responsibility to make sure that homes are not a health hazard to the inhabitants nor their neighbors. I can even see where they may require her to be connected to water and sewer just in case she does not have enough stored rain water to keep things sanitary. Years ago some friends chose to heat their home by wood stoves. They did not want to install a furnace. But because they lived in a cold climate and would have a mortgage on the home, the lender required them to have a furnace. Not too many years later, they sold the home to someone with no desire to feed a stove so the furnace was a real selling point. It is for the benefit of society to make sure someone is not making a big mess on their property that would impact others nearby.

  • Spicy Ray Swinehart-Patrick

    “Our goal is to get people to comply.” What a strange statement.

  • James hegarty

    What does she think “Vacate” means. It means get out. At Publix today in Greenacres,Florida. Workers were putting down mulch. What’s illegal about mulch? Not much.