Local War Hero Facing Injustice by the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills
Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink Harassing American Hero
In December 1950, Army Sergeant First Class Gene Chaput was on the front line in North Korea fighting back a massive bloody counterattack by over 300,000 Chinese Communists in some of the fiercest fighting in the Korean War. The men who fought in this battle are considered some of the bravest to ever put on an American military uniform and Sergeant Chaput earned three Bronze Stars for his heroic actions. Gene Chaput is a real American Hero.
66 years later, this 89-year-old Korean War Veteran and American hero is in another battle for freedom with the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills, because he trimmed two trees on his property after receiving permission to trim them by the town. There is clear a case of abuse of power by Howey-in-the-Hills and the town’s Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink, who is also a Corporal of the Howey-in-the-Hills Police Department. They are trying to make an example of this war hero. The very freedom that Gene Chaput fought so hard for in 1950 is being threatened today by an overzealous officer whose actions border on harassment.
The facts in this matter are very clear and indisputable. Gene Chaput has lived in his home on Lake Shore Boulevard since 1983. At the time, he planted two laurel oak trees in his yard. Over the last 36 years, these two trees grew to a point in which the limbs became a hazard to his home. In the 44 years that Chaput has lived in the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills, he has planted hundreds of trees in the town including oaks, cypress, and pine trees—he understands the importance of trees.
As summer ended, Gene Chaput decided that the two laurel oak trees needed to be trimmed in the fall to protect his home. Before he started trimming the trees, he went to the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills to find out if he would need a permit to trim the two trees. He spoke with Dairian Burke and Brenda Fisher who told him a permit would not be required to trim the trees and that a permit is only required for the removal of trees.
After verifying he was not required to obtain a permit, Gene Chaput arranged assistance to have the trees trimmed on a Saturday. At some point, someone called the Town of Howey-in-the Hills and reported that Mr. Chaput was cutting down trees without a permit. Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink went to the Chaput home. He instructed them to stop cutting down the trees. At that time, Chaput explained that he was only trimming the trees and had gained approval from the town. Hamelink told them to stop and get a permit.
Subsequently, Gene Chaput went back to the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills and explained the situation again to town officials. He was told again that a permit was not required and there were no restrictions for trimming his trees. Mr. Chaput went back to his home to finish trimming the second tree. He was once again approached by Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink who instructed him to stop and to speak to Police Chief Rick Thomas. Chaput finished cutting the last two limbs and cut the tree debris up in the size required by the town and put it on the side of the road for pickup.
On September 13, 2016, Gene Chaput received a notice from Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink that the town would not pick up his debris on the side of the road, despite him following the town’s requirements. Mr. Chaput hired a private firm at a cost of $500 to remove the debris. Mr. Chaput followed the rules, yet Hamelink and the town decided to arbitrarily punish him.
On October 25, 2016, Gene Chaput received a Notice of Hearing on the alleged violations from Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink and the town stating he committed three violations by removing two trees. Two violations cited are for “hat-racking” two trees and one violation cited is for not obtaining a permit for cutting down the trees. The two trees in question were not cut down and at no point when Mr. Chaput inquired did the town give him any information of code requirements for trimming trees.
A hearing was held on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, with Special Magistrate Heather Christman, who was hired by the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills and who has worked on other cases for the town. Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink represented the town’s positon and they accepted testimony from an arborist who admitted that the trees are not dead and that the limbs will grow back. In the hearing, the town admitted that Mr. Chaput did inquire about a permit and code requirement information for tree trimming. They also admitted that they told him there are no code requirements for trimming trees. Despite those devastating admissions by the town, Special Magistrate Heather Christman ruled in favor of the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills. There is no doubt about it, the fix is in and it is being led by John Hamelink.
On Tuesday, December 13, 2016 at 10:00 a.m., in the Commission Chambers, Town Hall, 101 N Palm Ave., Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, Gene Chaput will have to face a Special Master in a hearing to consider an Order to Impose Fines and Liens. This Notice of Hearing was also served by Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink. Should they choose to do so, the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills can impose fines up to $5,000 per tree, put a lien on Mr. Chaput’s home, or who knows what—given the grudge that Hamelink has for this war hero!
Click here to view the letters and Notices of Hearing served on Gene Chaput by Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink.
Gene Chaput has lived in the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills for 44 years, raising his two sons Jim and Jerry. In 2010, Mr. Chaput lost his wife Gayle after 52 years of marriage. The Chaputs are good people who, just like many reading this column, try to follow the rules. Mr. Chaput tried to follow the rules of the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills and this attack on him is a perfect demonstration of a local government bureaucracy that has gone amuck. On another note, the two laurel oaks in question have only about a 40-year life expectancy, unlike live oaks.
Would you please stand up for this American Hero? Call Code Enforcement Officer John Hamelink at 352-324-2030 (office phone) or 352-638-0524 (cell phone) and ask him why he is harassing Gene Chaput. Also contact Mayor Chris Sears by phone at 352-227-0772 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask him if he supports what the Town of Howey-in-the Hills is doing to this American hero.
66 years later, Gene Chaput is still fighting for freedom. Will you stand with him?
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