RICHMOND -- Faced with mounting criticism from colleagues and city staff, City Councilman Corky Boozé on Thursday backed off his attempts to waive $9,500 in code violation fees slapped on a property owned by his former girlfriend and campaign worker.
Boozé, 69, pulled the item at the beginning of the three-member public safety committee's Thursday morning meeting agenda after the backlash culminated with an email from City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller on Wednesday declaring the item should be withdrawn because the proper process for appealing fines had not been followed.
"In no event, in my opinion, should the committee take up this item, let alone purport to act on it," Goodmiller wrote.
Boozé had sought to overturn fines on an industrial property at 801 Hoffman Blvd. that is owned by Laura Baker, whom court records identify as Boozé's former domestic partner. Baker also owns several other properties that have been linked to Boozé and have come under fire for code violations and unkempt conditions.
The fenced property contains several dump trucks and piles of building debris.
Goodmiller's memo, which was sent to the City Council and city staff, said the committee could not legally hear the appeal because Baker had not exhausted "her administrative remedies," a conclusion Boozé disputes.
State conflict-of-interest laws preclude council members from voting on items with which they have a direct financial interest. Goodmiller sidestepped that point in his memo, writing that "we need not reach those issues and I, therefore, express no opinion on that point."
Earlier in the week, Boozé brushed aside criticism, denied any conflict of interest and vowed to fight to wipe out the fines.
But that changed at Thursday's meeting, when the item was pulled from the agenda at the outset and not broached again.
After the meeting, Boozé sounded a different note.
"Maybe I was too close to Ms. Baker; that's what everybody thinks," Boozé said. "It's a little bit close to me, so I need to back off."
But the controversial councilman did not back off his claims that rival council members and top city officials, including Goodmiller, Code Enforcement Director Tim Higares and City Manager Bill Lindsay, are using fines as "retaliation" against him.
Boozé said Higares is cracking down on Baker's properties, which some suspect are controlled by Boozé, in response to the councilman's efforts to take away perks like city-owned vehicles being provided for Higares and other employees to commute to and from work. Higares has denied those accusations. Boozé has clashed repeatedly with Higares and other city officials since his 2010 election.
"I know it's retaliation," Boozé said. "This is retaliation for me protecting the people of Richmond from department heads with cars for personal use coming out of the budget."
Thursday's meeting is unlikely to spell an end to Boozé's troubles. The councilman is set for a showdown with his own city government in January over allegations that he has violated court orders in maintaining a hazardous junkyard at 22 Carlson Blvd., another site owned by Baker.