Code enforcement should not be hit-or-miss

Posted

 To the surprise of many, the city of Carrabelle does have code enforcement through a process called “complaint-driven” code enforcement. This is used to enforce all codes, ordinances, and laws been adopted by the city over many years. Complaint-driven means someone from the public must voice a complaint to administrative staff.

As required by law, a city employee must respond to all code complaints; but without a designated code compliance officer, staff must respond to and follow up on every code enforcement complaint. Staff are busy with routine duties as outlined in their job descriptions. They include meetings, priority work with deadlines, training, and serving the public at City Hall. Staff is also entitled to vacation and sick leave.

When administrative staff has the opportunity to leave their desks to visit the site of a code complaint, they must determine if enforcement is justified, and the severity of the violation. If a violation exists, staff will write and record the violation notice and a Carrabelle police officer will serve the notice.

Administrative staff must perform numerous follow-up site checks to ensure the violation is addressed within the notice’s timeframe. Many times this process is delayed because of the reasons listed above. When staff determines the violation has not been addressed, they write a citation, or notice to appear, which is served by Carrabelle police.

Code enforcement complaints have increased over the past year as well as administrative staff workloads. As a result, staff is unable to respond to complaints in a timely manner and sometimes follow-up site visits are few and far between. Unfortunately, the enforcement process becomes lost to follow up. Recognizing this, a recent initiative by myself and staff to address this problem led to proposing a part-time designated code compliance officer to respond to all “complaint driven” calls at little to no cost to the city.

The new part-time compliance officer proposal includes a job description for weekend boat ramp monitoring during the busy season; enhanced animal control for dogs running at large and animal abuse; identification and enforcement of building code violations; writing and serving code violations notices and citations; recordkeeping and data entry regarding code violation compliance; enhanced community policing for speeding, traffic, parking, noise, illegal dumping, illegal burning, bar closure, loitering, public drunkenness, and abandoned vehicle violations; and to serve as a part time police officer when needed.

Pushback to this proposed “complaint-driven” code compliance, animal control, and police officer was so pervasive that horrific false rumors spread, such as the city would require all dogs to be muzzled from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., a permit would be required to trim or remove trees, warming backyard campfires would not be allowed, and the plan was to hire a new police officer. All of this is not true.

Sadly, many in the public became enraged by this scuttlebutt. One citizen became so upset upon hearing these false rumors, believing her rights were being taken away and that the City intended to hire a new police officer, she came to the city commission to express her objections only to later find out none of it was true.

The following bullet points were stressed and outlined in the job proposal. Code enforcement would apply only to the adopted codes, ordinances, and laws already on books.

  • Code enforcement cannot and would not happen regarding items the city has not yet adopted.
  • Enforcement would continue to be “complaint driven.”
  • A designated “complaint-driven” compliance officer would streamline the code enforcement process, ensure complaints were answered in a timely manner, and the designated officer would be the person to conduct the ongoing follow up that is needed to accomplish compliance.
  • The new job description was proposed as an in-house transfer, and would fill the need for many unmet job duties throughout various city departments. 
  • There was no plan to hire a new additional police officer.
  • Salary funding sources for this new combined job description had been identified in the current budget.
  • A police officer responds to calls expecting to possibly arrest someone and/or issue a citation. A code compliance officer responds to calls to investigate, talks with property owners, starts the process of compliance, identifies problems leading to violations and assists with working through those problems.

Benefits of code enforcement are numerous including development of community pride and pride in ownership, promotion of economic growth and private sector investment, and enhancement of property values; this list has been reviewed ad nauseum during multiple public meetings.

I recognize there is a fine line between personal property rights versus that of a badly deteriorated property that poses a threat to public health, safety, and welfare as well as reducing surrounding property values. With this in mind, a compliance officer using community policing techniques would be proactive in addressing problems that may or may not result in violations. Some in our area lack the resources to address code compliance issues; this now goes unrecognized through the city’s current process. A code compliance officer would work with those unable to comply with city ordinances.

During the Nov. 4 city commission and the Nov. 16 Community Redevelopment Authority meetings, three city commissioners turned down the proposed new job description with in-house transfer of a currently employed police officer to that of community policing, code enforcement, and parttime police officer. Regrettably, for now the small town of Carrabelle will continue with its “hit-or-miss” code enforcement process. This not the fault of the administrative staff or police department.

If you are in favor of code enforcement and adding a code compliance officer as outlined above, please let city commissioners know. If you are against code enforcement, please contact me. It may be just a misunderstanding. I will always tell you the truth.

Brenda La Paz is the mayor of Carrabelle 

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here