Yes You Can Fight City Hall

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Did you know the town has a process to fight code violations and parking tickets? A special Magistrate meets on a somewhat regular basis at town hall where residents and business owners can dispute violations. That’s exactly what Sunset Grill restaurant owner Terry Persaud did.

The town accused the restaurant of discharging grease into the town’s storm water system back in May. Apparently there was a grease trap overflow or some sort of equipment malfunction between the time the restaurant closed one night and opened the next morning.

After initially working with the business to get employees to clean up the spill, code officer Eli Lee said he was called back to the restaurant when other business owners in the area said they could not open because of the spill. Lee also accused a restaurant employee of getting in his face during a heated discussion. 

At some point the town decided to call in a company to clean the spill, at a cost of $13,000. A $5,000 code violation was also levied on the business for “grease discharge into the MS4 system.”

Persaud’s hired attorney Mike Chionopoulos from Absolute Law to defend him.

During the hearing Chionopoulos asked code enforcement officer Lee if he tested the discharge for grease. He said he did not. He also flustered him with other questions he was not able to answer, at times ruffling through papers for minutes, looking for answers to Chionopoulos’ questions.

The long hearing before Magistrate Myrnabelle Roche got heated at times. When town attorney John Herin answered one of the questions posed to Lee, Chionopoulos’ jumped in and said, “I understand counselor but I’m not asking what you know, I’m asking what the witness knows. How about that. Thanks for your testimony.”

On more than one occasion, Chionopoulos asked the Magistrate to direct Herin not to give the code officer the answers.

In the end, after much back-and-forth, the Magistrate ruled that the discharge was unintentional and she waved the $5,000 fine. What’s left to be determined is who will pay the $13,000 bill for the cleanup. As of now, Persaud has to pay that bill, but he does plan to fight it.

Persaud said during the hearing that he did the best he could to clean up the spill as quickly as he could but the town wants to bully him. He said no grease went down the town’s storm drain.