Danger in the Redland

A legendary Dade building official battles a homeowner ... and his own inspectors.

In 1994, Rey Rubio and his pretty Puerto Rican wife Josefina bought a one-bedroom, one-bathroom shack at 19110 SW 128 Ct. in the Redland for $57,000. Since then, the couple has methodically transformed it into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom family spread accented with a beautiful stone-paved circular driveway.

"The original structure survived Hurricane Andrew," Rubio says during a guided tour. "We slowly added to it using our own hard-earned money and avoiding debt."

Aside from installing kitchen cabinets and marble floors, the 54-year-old Cuban American is ready to relax. That is, he would be — except for his dustup with local legend and county building director Charles Danger, who has labored for months to make it impossible for the Rubios to live in their home.

Josefina and Rey Rubio want to live legally in their Redland home.
LAM VUONG
Josefina and Rey Rubio want to live legally in their Redland home.

"He is worse than the tyrant in Cuba. I'd rather see him go than Fidel Castro," Rubio scoffs. "Charlie is the Almighty and he makes the rules."

Rubio's fight with the county has revealed claims of questionable judgment, seeming ethical lapses, and serious morale problems in one of Miami-Dade County's most important sectors. If some of the more outrageous claims prove true, Danger could eventually face fines or worse.

The building director says he's done nothing wrong and draws criticism every day. "We have people coming here yelling, screaming, and calling us names all the time," he says. "After [Hurricane] Andrew [in 1992], I had death threats and people throwing two-by-fours through the windows of my car. You can't go through life worrying about those things."

Danger, a 20-year county bureaucrat, rose to prominence in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, when he helped expose widespread shoddy home construction in Miami-Dade. He was appointed building director in 1998 after spending seven years as head of the county's Office of Building Code Compliance. An electrical engineer by trade, he's credited with strengthening the South Florida Building Code, which was the model for the current unified statewide code.

The building department is charged with authorizing all types of construction work, from large developments to small additions. It is also responsible for ticketing property owners who build without permits or whose homes don't meet standards. In the past 18 months, the department has experienced huge turnover. From July 2006 to June 2007, for instance, 19 of 40 positions in the building inspector division were vacant. What's more, Danger confirms that because of the real estate crash, he has laid off 36 employees since this past October and that he expects more in coming months.

Then there's an anonymous complaint filed in November with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, alleging Danger lied on financial disclosure statements from 1999 to 2005 by not revealing the value of his $452,000 Coral Gables homestead, a residence in Islamorada, and his retirement fund.

In addition, ex-inspectors Sergio Negreira and Victor Fuego provided signed memos to the ethics commission claiming Danger unjustly reprimanded them for "gross negligence" because they saw him having breakfast at Casa Alberto, a restaurant in Kendall, with then-Latin Builders Association President Charlie Martinez in 2003. Danger said they were taking an unauthorized break during work hours.

Silvio Silveira, another inspector who was with Negreira and Fuego at the restaurant, claims Danger gave special treatment to Martinez, who was then developing a project called Caribe Homes. "All applications on [Martinez's] homes never took more than five days and in most cases two or three days, when permits at that time were taking an average of two months."

Danger denies he withheld financial information or committed wrongdoing. He says the Gables home is owned by his son and that his meeting with Martinez was on the up-and-up. "He wanted to discuss ... lack of performance, poor customer service, and bad attitudes by building department employees," explains Danger, adding that he wouldn't know if Martinez's permits were moving particularly fast through the system without an analysis. As for the inspectors being disciplined: "They were congregating with other inspectors in a restaurant outside their inspection territory," Danger says. "This is forbidden for obvious reasons."

But Rubio isn't convinced. He says the building director treats average citizens like him with disdain while showing undue favoritism to big developers like Martinez. "Charlie Danger is totally against the American way," he says.

Rubio's face-off against Danger began June 26, 2006, when the building department fined the homeowner $510 for living in an unsafe structure and designated the house uninhabitable. Since then, Danger has threatened to cut off electricity to the Rubios' house.

Over the next few months, four building inspectors — John Beauchamp, Larry Gay, Ernie Smith, and John McLean — approved the work at Rubio's residence and allowed him to live there. Then Danger rescinded their approvals, alleging they had assisted Rubio as a favor for his nephew, Angel Perez, an electrical inspector for the City of Doral. "It gave me a bad feeling we were looking the other way," Danger says. "We cannot condone this family using a construction site as their living quarters."

Responds Rubio: "That is a blatant lie. I never met the inspectors until they came to my house to inspect it. And for sure they have never met my nephew."

Last March 5, Rubio wrote to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, seeking relief. "We have complied with all that the building department demanded of us," Rubio complained in his correspondence. "So I ask, why is it so many years into this project I am being penalized for remodeling my home?"

Three days later, Rubio and his wife went to the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami to meet with the mayor's representatives. But when they saw Danger was going to participate in the meeting, the couple left. "I don't trust Charlie Danger," he growls.

This past July, on different days, Danger reprimanded the four inspectors for insubordination and incompetence. McLean responded that he found no unsafe conditions at Rubio's house. He added that the building director blindsided him during their disciplinary meeting. "I felt humiliated and harassed as I was interrogated by Mr. Danger," McLean wrote. "[The Rubios] are just plain, hard-working folks trying to put their home and lives together."

Beauchamp, a big-bellied 69-year-old former plumbing inspector with a thick Southern drawl, worked for the building department from 1993 until his retirement this past July 25. Danger's reprimand for his approving the Rubios' plumbing was the only blemish in the inspector's personnel file.

Beauchamp claims Danger has created a hostile work environment for the inspectors. "Once he gets it in for you, you're a dead son of a gun," he rails. "I couldn't continue working in such a stressful, harassing, and depressing atmosphere. Employee morale is low.

"You gotta understand that salary isn't the problem," Beauchamp continues. "Heck, they give you shirts and shoes to wear, and they give you a car you can take home. I have never in my life had a better job than with the county."

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