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Flordia's former head of state licensing agency investigated
Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Former DBPR head facing inquiry
Tallahassee lobbyist Cynthia Henderson once headed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that licenses construction contractors. But the agency, acting on an anonymous complaint, is now investigating whether the remodeling of Henderson's kitchen for the upcoming show "Capital Dish" was done by contractors not licensed to practice in Florida...Just three months after Gov. Jeb Bush first appointed her to head the regulatory agency in 1999, she flew to the Kentucky Derby on a corporate jet owned by a restaurant chain her office regulated, and she was later criticized for firing four lawyers and an investigator who were probing complaints of poor workmanship by a construction company run by the head of the Florida Home Builders Association.
DEMOCRAT CAPITOL

Former DBPR head facing inquiry

Remodeling show led to complaints

Tallahassee lobbyist Cynthia Henderson once headed the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that licenses construction contractors.

But the agency, acting on an anonymous complaint, is now investigating whether the remodeling of Henderson's kitchen for the upcoming show "Capital Dish" was done by contractors not licensed to practice in Florida, spokeswoman Meg Shannon said.

Compounding Henderson's woes: There were no permits for the electrical work that was done to accommodate the kitchen redesign, according to Tallahassee Deputy Building Official Glenn Dodson.

It's unclear whether Henderson or the show was responsible for ensuring that licensed contractors did the work and that all permits were acquired. Both Henderson and Capital Dish producer Bill Heiss declined to say.

But several days after a city code inspector, also acting on an anonymous complaint, went to Henderson's Waverly Hills house to investigate, Henderson applied for and received a permit for electrical rewiring.

She said Friday that the permit was for continued work on her home, rather than an indication she needed one earlier.

"I'm in full compliance, and I have been in full compliance with state and local licensing laws," Henderson said. "I only used people who were licensed just as they are required to be licensed."

The complaints followed a Sept. 29 article in the Tallahassee Democrat promoting the Fox-TV 49 show, which is scheduled to air at 11 a.m. Sunday. The newspaper did not identify whose home it was in the feature, but the article triggered tips that it belonged to Henderson and that she was out of compliance.

After-the-fact permits can cost twice what the original permit would have cost, and if the permit is not applied for and paid after a period of time, local and state licensing boards can levy fines of up to $250 a day. But Henderson was required to pay only the original $44 permit fee, as is common when homeowners, rather than contractors, get the permits.

"As a general rule, we don't charge them double the fee, even though we could," Dodson said, when asked why Henderson wasn't charged double as is allowed by the law.

Dodson said his office has closed its investigation now that Henderson has obtained the electrical permit an inspector told her was required during a visit last Friday.

He said he doesn't know how common it is for people to do home repairs and remodeling without getting the permits, but added, "It's a regular occurrence that a homeowner will get started doing something and then realize it's more complicated and needs a permit."

Shannon said she didn't know how long it will take for the state agency to investigate and determine that all contractors on the project had necessary licenses. The design professional, Brandy Diaz of B.A.D. Interiors, was not required to have a state license to work on residential remodeling, but she is required to have a county occupational license.

The Leon County Tax Collector's Office had no record of a license under either Diaz' name or that of her business, but Diaz was able to furnish proof of her licenses to the newspaper late Friday. She said she had also given them to a state official.

It's not known what contractors were used for the electrical and plumbing work, as both Henderson and Heiss refused comment.

A handyman at the Henderson home when the Democrat visited Tuesday was duly licensed by the county, according to the tax office. The Democrat visited in order to speak to Henderson and verify that the address in the anonymous complaint matched the photo that had appeared earlier in the newspaper.

The remodeling show is the first attempt of a televised home redo for "Capital Dish," a Tallahassee production that combines gourmet cooking, local celebrities, a smattering of local happenings and political banter. "Capital Dish" began airing in April.

The remodeling show will take viewers through the process of turning a ho-hum '70s-style kitchen into a 21st-century chef's dream. The homeowner paid for the remodeling, but she was to receive discounts from local vendors who wanted to appear on the show.

Henderson paid $335,000 for the 2,760-square-foot cracker-style home with wood siding in June, according to Leon County Property Appraiser records.

Controversial figure

The flurry of complaints to the newspaper and regulatory agencies is an indication of how much a lighting rod Henderson remains, two years after leaving public office to become a legislative lobbyist with a fat list of state and national clients.

Just three months after Gov. Jeb Bush first appointed her to head the regulatory agency in 1999, she flew to the Kentucky Derby on a corporate jet owned by a restaurant chain her office regulated, and she was later criticized for firing four lawyers and an investigator who were probing complaints of poor workmanship by a construction company run by the head of the Florida Home Builders Association.

Shortly after that, she was sued by a terminated employee who charged she choked him and yelled at him so forcefully that she spit on him. That lawsuit was later settled for $7,500.

Bush moved Henderson to head the smaller Department of Management Services the following year. While there, she received a "letter of advice" from the grievance committee of The Florida Bar for hiring as her general counsel an attorney who was not licensed to practice law in Florida. The disciplinary committee decided Henderson didn't violate legal rules "but came real close."

Bush did not bring Henderson back after his second-term transition, when he fired all of his agency heads and asked some of them back. She had indicated she wanted a role in his second term as governor.

Henderson was not happy the Democrat questioned her.

"People have made up stuff, and you are going to write lies and you should be prepared for the consequences of that," she told a reporter.


 
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