Bush names health department attorney as new condo ombudsman

Article Courtesy of Gainesville.com

Posted June 4, 2006


The nation's first condominium ombudsman was fired this week amid criticism that he refused to comply with state oversight.

Virgil Rizzo, 69, a retired doctor and lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, was replaced as Florida's state condominium ombudsman Friday by Danille Carroll, 39, an attorney with the state's health department.

The job - which the Legislature created two years ago - entails working with condo unit owners and board members, mediating disputes between them and recommending necessary legal changes.

Gov. Jeb Bush's office referred calls Saturday to the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The agency has administrative oversight over the ombudsman, but Rizzo refused to acknowledge their authority, spokeswoman Meg Shannon said.

"He's refused to acknowledge our oversight," Shannon said, citing examples of botched timesheets, travel forms and a delay in responding to a public records request that has resulted in a lawsuit against the department.

"It just became clear that a cooperative relationship was not going to be possible," she said.

But others say Rizzo was fired because he did his job too well, creating a stir among condo boards and their attorneys in his effort to be fair to condo unit owners.

"The fight went on from day one," said Jan Bergemann, president of the DeLand-based Cyber Citizens for Justice, which represents unit owners. Bergemann said several of his members have called and e-mailed Bush to complain about Rizzo's termination.

"The condo ombudsman's office was created because DBPR doesn't do it's job," he said. "We lost the person who was doing an excellent job."

Rizzo, who is recovering from surgery, did not immediately return messages left at his home Saturday.

While Carroll has no condominium experience, her legal background and leadership skills make her a good fit for the job, Shannon said.

Bush appointed Rizzo to the position in December 2004. At that time, the only state with a similar position was Nevada, where an ombudsman serves mandatory homeowner associations, not condominiums.