Harassment in Hollywood? Code Enforcement Wants Chickens Removed From Jewish Home


chickensThe South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports:
On one side of the battle in upscale Emerald Hills in Hollywood, Florida, is a Middle Eastern Jewish family who claims code enforcement is targeting their community for harassment. On the other, there’s a city still reeling from an expensive religious discrimination lawsuit.

In the middle, is Onyx the hen and her gaggle.The Orthodox Jewish Kohn family, citing the city code, calls them legal “small domestic” kosher pets; the city calls them illegal “fowl or poultry.”

“The real issue here is a government telling us what type of animals we can or cannot have,” said the family’s patriarch, Steve Kohn. “Our neighbor across the street can have a parrot, but we can’t have a chicken. Obviously there is no scientific research that shows that a pet chicken is more of a hazard than a pit bull or more of a nuisance than a screeching macaw.”

The city’s response is simple: You can’t have chickens within city limits, so chuck them or face the possibility of stiff fines.

A city-hired special magistrate, who can set the fines, is tentatively scheduled to referee the chicken fight on May 19.

But for the Kohns, it goes beyond cluckers. The Kohns, who are from Syria and Morocco, claim the city’s Code Enforcement Department is targeting them and other Jewish families of Middle Eastern descent. The complaints have captured the attention of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

City officials acknowledge they have some history with the Justice lawyer looking into the Kohns’ complaint. Sean Keveney partnered with the Chabad Lubavitch in 2003 to sue Hollywood over the city’s efforts to oust the synagogue from its Hollywood Hills neighborhood.

The city admitted no wrongdoing, but settled the case for $2 million in 2006. The city was ordered to keep prosecutors updated on efforts, such as employee sensitivity training, to avoid discriminatory practices.

City Attorney Jeff Sheffel, who went to work for Hollywood in 2008, admitted last week the city “simply forgot” to keep the Justice Department updated. He believes that’s the reason federal prosecutors are entertaining the latest complaint.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment, while city administrators insist there is no reason to be concerned.

“This is a city where the city attorney is Jewish, the mayor is Jewish and the commissioner who represents the district is Jewish,” said Sheffel. “I can guarantee you that any hint of anti-Semitism will be dealt with. My belief is that the Kohns are trying to create a big storm of controversy to distract everyone from the fact they have chickens in their property.”

The Kohns say they have proof, and have gone as far as launching their own investigation and filing a police report.

According to them, Irish Gardner, the code enforcement officer for their area, began harassing them before the chickens arrived in December, as far back as October. They say the officer parks in front of their home almost every day, warning and nitpicking about a wide variety of things. That includes chastising the family just two days after they moved into the house on North 51st Avenue for stacking empty moving boxes outside.

The family filed a police report on March 23 when the Kohns’ teenage daughter, who was sunbathing in the backyard, said she spotted two heads peering over a six-foot fence and taking pictures of the chickens.

City officials say it was Gardner and a supervisor acting on a complaint. They maintain case law allows officials to peer into yards looking for violations.

Soon the family began comparing notes with neighbors and members of their congregation. They began documenting cases they say unfairly target Jewish families with Middle Eastern surnames, while ignoring others.

Gardner declined to comment through city officials who cited city policy prohibiting employees from speaking to reporters. Clay Milan, his boss, rejects the family’s findings by pointing out Emerald Hills is predominantly Jewish.

On one occasion, Steve Kohn’s wife, Renee, saw and photographed Gardner citing the home of a Jewish neighbor who had just moved in. The home was cited for excessive mold on the roof, but two other homes across the street – with just as much or even more mold – went unchecked.

The Kohns have compiled similar incidents from other Jewish families. Members of two of the families did not want to comment, fearing retribution from the city.

Milan said he and Sheffel met with Gardner, who had received sensitivity training as required by the Chabad settlement, and saw no red flags.

“We found absolutely no proof that there is a problem,” said Milan.

{South Florida Sun-Sentinel/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}