When you want to be the top cop in town, you've got to have enough respect for the rules to set an example for the community by living by them.
Apparently Sandy Carpenter hasn't gotten the memo.
Here's the story:
Truth is, Carpenter can live anywhere in Florida and still run for office here, but electing someone with roots in the community is important to many voters.
Carpenter used to own property in Montverde until the bank foreclosed on his $425,000 mortgage. He sold the house in 2010 for $249,000 in what's called a "short sale," leaving the bank to write off the loss.
After that, Carpenter said, he and his wife, LeeDawn, lived for a while with her parents at their home in Clermont. Then, he said, they moved to a nearby house that his in-laws also own. That is where he is registered to vote today.
But does he actually live there — as in sleep there at night and keep his clothes in the closet?
Carpenter said it may appear that he doesn't because he splits his time between the house his in-laws' bought in August 2011 and an apartment in a barn he owns through a corporation on 30 acres just south of Howey-in-the-Hills.
"I've got a little room that I built to where I can sleep and stay — nothing spectacular, trust me," Carpenter said when asked about an apparent satellite dish attached to the second-floor.
He said he likes to spend weekends at the Howey property and that he keeps dogs and cattle at the rural retreat.
Just one problem: Carpenter's living quarters at the upscale barn were constructed without a building permit, in violation of the rules that everyone else must follow to erect structures.
Folks putting up barns on working farms don't need a building permit, and Carpenter applied for and received a routine exemption from the county to construct a 36-foot by 60-foot pole barn with what he told the county would be "an 8 x 32 shed roof" to cover tractors and mowers, according to the document.
However, such an exemption specifically forbids housing even livestock in the structure because sheds on working farms don't have to meet county codes. Structures that house people and animals do.
Carpenter's permit was issued in late 2009, but the fancy barn and apartment still aren't on the tax roll, which means the Republican challenging Sheriff Gary Borders in the Aug. 14 primary has avoided paying property taxes on them. On Friday, Property Appraiser Ed Havill said he sent out an appraiser, who put the barn on the tax roll for about $80,000. That figure could rise more, said Deputy Appraiser Frank Royce, if the office later can show that the barn has living quarters. The office didn't know of the existence of the barn before a Sentinel inquiry.
Asked about ignoring permit rules, Carpenter would say only that he and his family do not "live" at the barn. Rather, they only "stay" there "from time to time." He did not explain why he failed to get a building permit, pay the fees and submit plans, like anyone else.
Brian Sheahan, the county's chief planner, said residents who build without permits are taking a chance. When caught, they have to have their structure's plans certified by an architect to meet the county's building code, and they usually have to hire a forensic engineer to prove that the structure was built according to the plans. Of course, toilet facilities have to be properly hooked up to septic tanks that have drain fields built to Florida's specifications.
"You know that old saying about how it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?" Sheahan said. "That's not the case in these situations."
Assistant County Manager David Health said inspectors will visit the property this week now that they know about the building.
For a candidate for public office to evade taxes and defy building codes is troubling at best. What's worse is that Carpenter's actions speak of open contempt for playing by the same rules as the rest of us.
Such an attitude is not what Lake needs in an elected official. Rather, the county needs leaders who understand how important it is to set an example in the community. After all, a person who presumes to enforce one part of the law cannot view himself as above another part.