Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel
Posted June 3, 2006
than two years after naming him as the nation's first condominium ombudsman,
Gov. Jeb Bush has fired Virgil Rizzo and replaced him with a Department of
Health attorney with no known condo law experience.
Danille Carroll, 39, of Tallahassee, on Friday took over the job of educating
unit owners and board members, mediating their disputes, monitoring elections
and making recommendations for new laws to make life in condominiums less
stressful than it has become. She will be paid $80,800 a year.
termination letter, dated Thursday, simply told Rizzo, "This is to advise
you that your appointment as ombudsman is rescinded effective June 1,
Rizzo, 69, a retired medical doctor and lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, had become
a thorn in the side of both the state Department of Business & Professional
Regulation, which enforces condo law, and attorneys who represent condo boards.
In a 2005 report, he said half the 4,000 queries his office had received during
a three-month period involved mismanagement by boards, and a quarter involved
alleged abuse by directors.
Rizzo is recovering from surgery and wasn't available for comment.
"Dr. Rizzo consistently demonstrated an unwillingness" to work within
the system "and at times refused to be held accountable to the department
and to taxpayers," said Meg Shannon, spokeswoman for the business
He regularly complained that the department had no authority to supervise him.
And in April 2005, he called procedures used by the Division of Florida Land
Sales, Condominiums & Mobile Homes "not only confusing, obsolete and
impractical, but also ineffective, inefficient, antiquated and in serious need
of complete revision."
Rizzo's position was specifically designed to stir up the bureaucracy, said
state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who in 2004 helped create the job after condo
residents statewide told "horror stories" about the way boards treated
them and the department's indifference.
When he first got the job, Rizzo had to fight for money to run his office. He
worked without pay for at least six months after his December 2004 appointment
and recruited friends to work as volunteers answering phone calls, e-mails and
letters from unit owners.
At one point, the department agreed to fund the office but provided so little
money that Robaina said it is "apparent they want him to fail."
The state eventually did come through with money, which he used for help
answering thousands of phone calls and e-mails and creation of Web sites to
answer questions and provide a link to his office.
He also worked with Broward Community College on pilot classes for condo
residents, opened an office in Fort Lauderdale to be closer to the heavy
concentration of condos in the South Florida area, held town meetings throughout
Florida and provided Spanish speakers in the South Florida office.
The ombudsman's office now has a staff of six and budget of $417,000, Shannon
Robaina didn't agree with Bush's decision to fire Rizzo.
"I think it's a shame but the office will go on and I hope and pray that it
doesn't become just another bureaucracy in the state of Florida," said
The new ombudsman, Carroll, has been an assistant general counsel for the
Department of Health since 2003. She has been responsible for several boards,
including those that regulate osteopathic medicine, chiropractors, psychologists
and metal health counselors.
In 2002 she worked for the state Department of Environmental Protection in West
Palm Beach and previously worked as a consultant or attorney for private
industry in Houston and Miami.
She is a 1992 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. She received
her bachelor of science degree in criminal justice at Florida International
University in Miami in 1988.
"She is accomplished, experienced and coming from a leadership position in
the Department of Health," said Shannon. "She is ready to hit the
ground running and ready to work cooperatively with the department for the
betterment of the millions of Floridians living in condos."
Jan Bergemann, president of Deland-based Cyber Citizens for Justice, which
represents unit owners and supported Rizzo, said Bush should have done something
about the department rather than the ombudsman.
"The governor removed the only person in the Florida government who
actually cared for the welfare of Florida's condo owners," Bergemann said.
"People who work hard are removed while those who mess up everything [in
the department] get to stay."
Wechsler, a resident of the Plaza East condo in Fort Lauderdale, agreed.
"Unit owners all over Florida have lost a valiant champion," Wechsler
said. "He wasn't doing it for the money, certainly. He was doing it for the
people. But the department couldn't have an agency working alongside it that it
perceived as a threat."
But Rizzo was strongly opposed by the Community Association Leadership Lobby, an
arm of the Becker & Poliakoff law firm that represents more than 3,500
boards in Florida. Its executive director, Donna Berger, couldn't be reached for
comment on Friday and the public relations firm that generally speaks for CALL
CALL opposed Rizzo because he supported changes that boards and their lawyers
didn't think were necessary. Among them: term limits on directors, mandatory
safety inspections of condo buildings, mandatory education for directors, a law
to make it illegal for directors to abuse owners and creation of an ombudsman
for homeowner associations.