Council Votes to Let Independent Panel Hear Fuhrman's Appeal

Tom Fuhrman's Wooden Nickel Ranch has been the source of frequent discussions over possible code violations.
File photo
The Menifee City Council Wednesday agreed to a request by one of its own council members to remove itself from an appeal process and allow a three-person panel to hear the case.

Councilman Tom Fuhrman stepped out from behind the dais and came to the speaker's podium to represent himself in the latest round of a battle with the city that has dragged on for years.

Fuhrman, elected to the city council in 2010, notified the city in January of his intention to appeal almost $9,000 in fees he paid related to an application for a conditional use permit in 2009 for his Wooden Nickel Ranch -- a 25-acre working ranch on the west edge of town. Most of the issues related to the CUP have not been resolved, including many that city officials consider code enforcement violations.

The Wooden Nickel Ranch includes a wooden "pavilion" and Old West style buildings Fuhrman reconstructed from the ruins of the old Audie Murphy Ranch adjacent to his property. He has previously been denied permits to host Civil War re-enactments on his property.

According to a city document, Fuhrman paid an initial deposit of $7,516 in 2009 when applying for the CUP. That amount was later exhausted and, according to city records, costs to the city increased the total due to $8,754.18. Fuhrman didn't respond immediately, the document said.

According to the same city document, Fuhrman was not informed until this January of his right to appeal the fees. At that time, he paid the balance and filed an appeal, asking for the entire amount to be returned or applied to a new application.

Fuhrman and city staff, represented by attorney Steven Rosenblit, both requested that the city council recuse itself as the hearing body and allow for the appointment of an independent third party. In addition, Fuhrman requested from the speaker's podium that a three-person panel be appointed -- to which Rosenblit agreed.

Cost to the city of such a panel could be in the neighborhood of $5,000 per person, said city attorney Julie Biggs.

"We're into this thing for $100,000 already," said John Denver, the only council member who voted against the motion to allow the three-person panel.

"It's been a long process," said council member Wallace Edgerton. "I think things have been misunderstood and there are hard feelings. We all want to feel like we've done our very best to resolve this. If Mr. Fuhrman wants three people to hear the appeal, I'm in favor of him getting that."

City manager Rob Johnson is now tasked with finding three impartial arbiters who will be agreeable to both sides. There is no date for a future hearing.


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