Listen, we have a lot of sympathy for the City of DeBary. They’ve got a difficult situation at 12 DeBary Drive, where 68-year-old retiree William Mantz is taking a stand for natural Florida by not mowing his lawn.
And, not watering his lawn. And, not using pesticides, nor the fertilizers that are known to be the No. 1 problem starving manatees to death and destroying the water quality of Gemini Springs, Blue Spring and other Florida springs and waterways.
DeBary, like most cities, has a responsive code-enforcement system, not a proactive one. They don’t send workers out looking for problems, but respond to residents’ complaints.
In the Mantz case, asked to provide all the complaints about 12 DeBary Drive since 2015, the city provided documentation of eight complaints over the seven years. City officials said there have been a lot of phone calls from frustrated residents, too.
So, like we said, we understand the city has to do something. The question is what.
In response to Mr. Mantz’s refusal to manage his lawn like so many others do, DeBary resorted to the mechanism of the code-enforcement fine. In this case, the fine is $500 a day, and it has grown over about eight months to more than $135,000 — even higher by the time you read this.
This fine has been accruing since September 2021, but the disagreement between William Mantz and the City of DeBary has been going on for at least six years. The city has tried fining Mantz before, and when the sum reached nearly $20,000, settled for a sum roughly equivalent to two months of Mr. Mantz’s retirement income.
The stick didn’t work before, and it’s not going to work this time, either. The more punitive the city gets, the more passionate Mr. Mantz seems to feel.
And, Mr. Mantz’s point is an important and very valid one. All of us who have lawns in Florida need to reconsider how we’ve managed those green spaces, because lush, green, well-fertilized and well-watered lawns are definitely not Florida-friendly.
All cities — not just DeBary — need to scrutinize their landscaping ordinances and land-development regulations to make sure they aren’t encouraging, or even requiring, environmental destruction.
DeBary city officials have told us repeatedly that they don’t expect Mr. Mantz to pay the full $135,000 — or whatever the total is when this is finally resolved.
That’s nice, but the city is missing something important: DeBary has still used its governmental power to impose this stress-inducing, credit-score-endangering fine on one of its citizens.
Choosing when to “really” enforce a law and when to wink and nod isn’t good government. Granting favors to one citizen when you might not to another is unjust.
Good government, in this case, probably looks something like the city manager and the mayor paying a personal, lengthy visit to Mr. Mantz and listening to his ideas about what a compromise might look like.
The hand-wringing and power-flinging at City Hall need to end.