Someone is targeting a gas station owner, but why?

Wayne Meadlin owns a gas station in Fort Worth, Texas that most folks know as the place where old cars are restored. He has worked at Meadlin’s Texaco Service Center for 56 years, sells full-service and self-service gas, and is an antique like the cars he fixes.

Proudly, he shows off his handwritten financial ledger, brags that he’s never used a computer and explains his billing system.

A customer calls and asks Meadlin to pick up her car, fill it up and check the tires and oil. Meadlin fetches the car, fills up the gas tank at what last week was $6.19 a gallon for full service and then drives the car back. He says he is popular with older customers in Westover Hills and Rivercrest.

At the end of each month, he goes through his ledger and writes a monthly bill for each customer.

Wayne Meadlin

He also restores antique cars. Now he’s working on a ’57 Oldsmobile and a ’48 Chevrolet flatbed truck. Yes, Meadlin is lost in time, but time has begun to catch up to him. Meadlin says that for eight months he has had three government agencies and Texaco breathing down his neck. Somebody has been repeatedly complaining about his property. He doesn’t know who.

The complaints have forced him to change some habits more than a half-century in the making. He began working as a 12-year-old in 1955 at what was then his father’s shop.

Last week, Meadlin pleaded no contest to a code violation in Fort Worth Municipal Court for parking too many cars outside his garage. The fine was supposed to top $1,200, but his lawyer got it knocked down to $800.

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Don Watenpaugh, a customer of Meadlin’s, asked The Watchdog to look into Meadlin’s plight. Watenpaugh told me that the Texaco station is a landmark that passers-by enjoy. He doesn’t like what is happening to his friend.

In several interviews, Meadlin told me that, aside from Code Compliance, he was visited by surprise inspectors from the Texas Department of Agriculture who measured the fuel coming out of his pumps. He says he passed. I checked with the department. Turns out his inspection was not triggered by a complaint but was routine.

Meadlin told me that Texaco was also called in to inspect whether the station met the corporation’s image. Meadlin showed me the results: He passed every category for appearance and standardization except one: He didn’t have the latest Texaco decal on the front door.

He also says police were called to his shop because someone complained that his cars were illegally parked on the sidewalk. He didn’t get a ticket. Police have no record of a call but say their records may not show it since no ticket was issued.

Meadlin’s biggest problem, it seems, is that Code Compliance has begun strictly enforcing a city ordinance that only two cars can be parked outside his garage for repairs in addition to two inside.

“If you raise a hood outside the building, they consider that repairing a car,” he says. He says he can’t change a tire of another car outside because doing so would violate the rules.

Meadlin told me that the source of his problems is someone in the new Liberty Bank branch across the street. He worries that an employee doesn’t like the appearance of his shop.

Bank President David Moore told me that his bank has not complained. He checked with his employees, and none of them had, either.

That’s correct according to what city staffers told me. “We see these types of cases regularly,” Code Compliance Director Brandon Bennett says. “Almost all of them, like this one, are initiated by a citizen complaint from a nearby resident.”

His inspectors gave Meadlin several months to comply before the matter went to court, Bennett said. Auto repair shops near neighborhoods must be monitored for possible release of hazardous fluids along with unnecessary noise and blight.

“In this case, it is clear that the code enforcement officer recognized the personal attributes of the operator and gave him an exceptionally long time for compliance,” Bennett said.

Moore said of the inspectors: “It does sound like they are starting to nitpick and really check things close.”

When a code officer told Meadlin that he could be fined $1,000 a day for each violation, Meadlin says he replied, “You should have told me what I should do.”

The inspector replied, “You should know the law.”

Meadlin recalls answering: “Well, I’ve been doing the same thing for 50 years. How would I know the law changed?”

As the antique man told me, “This is all new to me.”

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

A man fights for his right to have a garden

Mark D'Amico's garden before picture

Mark D’Amico doesn’t keep a conventional front lawn resembling the manicured look favored by his neighbors in Fort Worth’s Handley neighborhood. D’Amico created his own cottage garden.

He was so serious about the 150 different plants and flowers in his garden that he registered it as a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” with the National Wildlife Federation.

“It saves on water,” the artist says. “It’s big, bright and colorful. Flowers and hummingbirds and butterflies just swarm it — or used to.”

After a neighbor complained, D’Amico got into a scrape with Fort Worth’s code compliance department. He received a violation notice in 2006.

D’Amico says he told code compliance officer Robert Chambers that his plants and flowers were hard-to-find examples of exotic varieties. He had purchased seeds and traded for them for a decade to assemble the collection.

Several of the species are extinct in the wild, D’Amico says he told the code officer. Cultivating them and spreading the seeds helps keep the species alive.

The code officer said he understood and asked D’Amico to send him a list of all the plants, D’Amico says. Because he never heard from anyone in the city again, D’Amico says he believed the matter was settled.

But one day while he was home, D’Amico says he heard heavy equipment outside.

“I came out into the front yard and everything was gone,” he says.

“Not just mowed. They scraped it to the bare dirt with a big riding lawnmower. I was horrified.”

D’Amico’s home is not part of a neighborhood association where deed restrictions can enforce a neatly mowed lawn. Fort Worth code only states that grass and weeds cannot grow taller than 12 inches. No mention is made of shrubs and flowers.

“We called and sent letters and e-mail to both the mayor’s office and the city councilman who represents Mark’s neighborhood,” says Tom D’Amico, Mark’s father and the listed property owner. “Both offices ignored our calls, letters and e-mail. That’s pretty sad.”

Mark D’Amico says, “They can destroy anyone’s garden at any time for any reason, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

Or is there?

Father and son answered that question step by step. First, they filed an $8,000 claim against the city. But that was rejected because the city said it had immunity when it came to actions of its employees, Tom D’Amico says.

They next filed a small-claims court lawsuit for $4,500. In a hearing, Mark D’Amico testified that he had no idea the city would destroy his cottage garden because neither Chambers nor anyone else informed him that the garden was in jeopardy.

In turn, a city lawyer argued that Chambers was carrying out his duty as a city employee and was immune from any legal vulnerability.

The justice of the peace decided in favor of the city, based on the city’s invocation of the doctrine of governmental immunity.

Father and son appealed to Tarrant County Court. Once again, the city pleaded its case for government immunity, court papers show. But in that courtroom, it didn’t work.

Tarrant County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Jennifer Rymell ordered both sides into mediation.

I left a message for Chambers at work, but he didn’t return the call.

He now works as a field operations supervisor in the water department.

A city spokeswoman said that because the case is in court, the city cannot comment.

Mediation was held last week, but no settlement was reached.

Meanwhile, another hearing is scheduled in Rymell’s court Monday because the city is contesting that court’s right to hear the case.

Tom D’Amico offers this advice to avid flower gardeners and collectors:

Anyone targeted by code compliance should “aggressively act and defend your rights as a property owner.”

He says, “Document all contacts [e-mails, notes, letters] with code enforcement and send any correspondence to them by certified mail requiring signature confirmation.

“Don’t be afraid to question their authority and take them to court if you feel your rights were violated. We cannot let governments automatically invoke governmental immunity and assert domain. They need to be held accountable.”

Final note: Mark D’Amico is growing back the garden.