Thursday, September 1, 2011
7 News Investigations: Fighting City Hall
Tax money has always been precious. Now it's precious and hard to come by. So why is one South Florida city is spending tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight a man who may have the law on his side and has vowed to give up. Its a question Patrick Fraser brings in his special report "Fighting City Hall."
WSVN -- Take a look at these legal documents. The result of a battle between the City of Miami and a Coconut Grove resident that started over art.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "This is ridiculous. This is an absurdity, this is an asininity."
Meet Jobie Steppe who we first talked to in the summer of 2008 as he created his art in his front yard.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "Around 27 or 30 I went whoa, maybe I am an artist."
Jobie considered this art the people who saw it called it art, but a Miami code enforcement officer disagreed.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "My art they are calling my art debris."
The city cited Jobie claiming he was running a business out of his house and fined him for hanging his art on his van calling it a commercial vehicle.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "Is a mobile easel it ain't a commercial vehicle."
Jobie argued he was not running business, that he created the art here and sold it online. Federal courts have agreed with Jobie's argument. The City of Miami disagreed so Howard gave Jobie some advice.
Howard: "Jobie has a good chance of winning but he may have to take the city to court to do it."
Before he sued, Jobie tried to convince the city code enforcement board that he had a right to create and display his art in his front yard. The board turned him down.
Jobie still didn't give up parking his van in front of Miami City Hall with a display that read: "Miami City Hall Nazi Party."
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "So I don't like the City of Miami the way they do business. I think they are corrupt."
The city then responded by slapping a lien on Jobie's house and so he went to court and sued the City of Miami.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "It's an asininity, its just the worse thing there is a federal and state law that prohibits the cities in the state of America of wasting tax payers money for this asininity."
Jobie has been in court for three years with the City of Miami. Currently suing them in state court and in federal court. Jobie represents himself, the city has used their staff attorneys. And hired an outside law firm to battle the artist Jobie estimates the cities attorneys have spent 800 hours doing this legal work. Possibly costing Miami taxpayers dearly.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "A rough estimate would be anywhere around $225,000.00 to $800.000.00 but I think realistically probably right around $325,000.00."
The city told me they paid the outside law firm nearly $14,000 and that staff attorneys have put in 52 hours costing about $5,200. And while the city attorneys fight Jobie in court, the city's code enforcement office is going after him. Now recording three liens against Jobie totaling nearly $300,00. Even though the city sent Jobie this letter in 2008 saying the violations were cleared up.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "Its a vendetta, be sure its a vendetta."
Patrick Fraser: "You probably know that the City of Miami is in deep financial trouble facing either layoffs of firefighter and police officers and unable to balance a budget to make it to next year. So why spend $20,000 as they claim or hundreds of thousands of dollars as Jobie estimates to fight a case some courts think they will lose?
The city told me they could not comment on an active lawsuit their only statement. The city has not sued him. He sued the city."
Jobie says he will give the city something, free advice to make the case go away quickly and easily.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "They should stop filing all this paperwork. They should quit stop defending against this. And we made a mistake will take the lien off your property."
Cause if you haven't guessed by now it started over art. Jobie has now drawn the line and the vietnam vet is not going to give in.
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "I'm not giving up."
Patrick Fraser: "How is this going to end?"
Eugene Jobie Steppe: "I'm gonna win there is no way Im gonna lose."
Maybe Jobie will win. Many taxpayers will see this in Jobies front yard and hope he does lose. But the city will also lose, having to spend thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars that they cant afford to spend.