August 2, 2018
April 28, 2018
April 29, 2017
April 27, 2017
November 2016 – January 2017
Code Enforcement Updates – Followup on the 9/26/16 Event with Mesa
Work on improving code enforcement proceeded through the November to January period, especially with efforts by Tucson’s Environmental Services Department, City Manager, City Attorney and Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik. Notes from these activities are here.
October 24, 2016
TRRG – Ward 6 Co-sponsored a Meeting as Follow-up to the 9/22/16 Event with Mesa Code Compliance Staff – Notes
September 22, 2016
TRRG – Ward 6 Co-sponsored Meeting – How Mesa, Arizona Does Code Enforcement
Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik introduced the panel of guests from Mesa and the staff from the City of Tucson who were present. Ruth Beeker, chair of Tucson Residents for Responsive Government (TRRG), spoke briefly to thank Ward 6 for addressing the issue of code enforcement and for arranging this opportunity to hear about how another city addresses the challenges of code compliance.
Present from Mesa, AZ were Eloy Garza, Code Enforcement Administrator for the City of Mesa and two of his staff, Dan Jensen and Adelita Smith. Notes from the meeting. Mesa presentation. Mesa inspection notice. Mesa Code Enforcement.
TRRG-CE Meeting – Ward 6 East – August 29, 2016 – 6:00-7:30 PM – Agenda
July 6, 2016
Code Enforcement Item at the July 6, 2016 ESAC Subcommittee Meeting
Notes from Margot Garcia: As part of a Waste Diversion, Collections and Education Subcommittee meeting of the Environmental Services Advisory Committee (ESAC) on Wednesday, Environmental Services (ES) Interim Director Pat Tapia gave us a long and detailed report on the Tucson Code Enforcement Division (CE).
1. CE has moved over organizationally to ES as of July 1. Pat is trying to find them room down at Park and Ajo with the rest ES (CE is still at Public Works). He feels that will help them feel part of a department that is there for them. He reported CE is excited about this move. They are happy to have someone care about them and understand their work. They have felt like orphans kicked from one place to another.
2. CE focus groups are complete and a draft report is almost done. There were three groups: one of the groups was of people who made code enforcement complaints, one was of people who had been complained about, and the third was for CE inspectors. ES reported learning a lot from the groups on the issues that are on the table.
3. All the inspectors have laptops and are delighted to be able to write up their reports on the laptop in the truck when they have finished an inspection. It saves time when they return to the office because they just have to upload, not rewrite. A few of the inspectors are still handwriting reports.
4. The inspectors are empowered to pick up a drawer or small furniture if it is in the right-of-way and put it in their pick-ups, therefore no letter, etc. A rolloff dumpster is being set up just for inspectors to drop stuff into. It will be chained to prevent others from using it. An inspector will call in when the dumpster full and ES will go and pick it up.
5. They are still working out priorities for inspection. Weeds are about 25% of the complaints. Pat asked us to review Chapter 16 of the code and see what changes can be made. ES is encouraging trash/recycling truck drivers to call in addresses where they see a problem.
Additional from Margot Garcia:
- Interim CE Administrator Michael Wyneken was not at the subcommittee meeting on July 6
- ESAC meets next Thursday – July 14th at 5 PM at Ward 6
- There will be another report by Pat Tapia for sure about CE.
Contact person for TRRG’s Code Enforcement group is now TRRG board member Kris Yarter.
May 12, 2016
Code Enforcement Item at the ESAC Meeting – Thursday, May 12, 2016
Margot Garcia is a member of the City of Tucson’s Environmental Services Advisory Committee (ESAC). During their 5-12-16 meeting, Code Enforcement Division Interim Administrator Michael Wyneken was scheduled for 15 minutes on the agenda. Here are some notes from Margot, with her permission and slightly edited:
Mike Wyneken gave a very uninspiring talk. I prompted him to talk about postcards and he talked about how they saved work for the inspectors, but not the CSRs (office staff). He mentioned the problems with the Permits Plus computer system and how they are ready to go to all paper if the system crashes. (That hardly seems the way to go. Why not a spread sheet?)
I prompted him about the consultant that was hired to see what kind of system they wanted and how close they were to getting an RFP written for a new system. (Editor: This effort has been shelved – no money.)
He talked about the long time to take a citation to court, the cost of collecting fines, reinspection fees etc.
It seems the very earliest to move them (to Environmental Services – ES) will be July 1 and they want the Mayor and Council to agree to that. I would say Mike’s attitude was one of reluctance to move to ES, likes to be in PDSD.
Environmental Services is doing focus groups on CE.
ESAC voted against recommending the community services fee of $1.11 per Tucson water customer. What happens to Winterhaven that has their own water system? If assign to those with trash pick-up, then missing multi-family and commercial folks who use a commercial hauler. No easy way to assign this fee. Some argued it should be out of general funds.
I would say that Pat Tapia will pay little attention to CE. He likes to pick up garbage and isn’t interested in the rest of the stuff. The City Manager has said there will be a national search for the Director’s job.
That is what I remember and from my notes.
PS: See a history of Tucson Code Enforcement, here, that was prepared for the 5-12-16 meeting. (No mention of recent initiatives)
April 27, 2016
TRRG-CE Meeting at Ward 6 – 4:30 to 6:00 PM – Agenda
Fourteen people attended the TRRG-CE meeting on April 27, 2016, including guests Christina Polsgrove of the Department of Environmental Services (ES) and Michael Wyneken, Interim Code Enforcement Administrator. Former ES Director Andrew Quigley has retired. Pat Tapia, ES Deputy Director, had a family emergency and was unable to attend. Christina said that she, Michael and Pat had discussed many of the items on the meeting agenda. She assisted us with commentary along the way, to fill us in on ES thinking about the coming incorporation of the Code Enforcement Division into ES.
Mr. Wyneken brought us up to date on Code Enforcement Division (CE) staffing. He now has 13 inspectors doing complaint driven inspections and four, soon to be three, Community Service Representatives (CSRs) in the office. Incoming workload (10,000 complaints per year) continues at a similar rate as in recent years.
Mr. Tapia’s absence and continuing unsettled organizational issues made discussion of agenda items difficult. Contraction of city government due to budget limitations continues to be the big story. Everywhere we looked, bare bones service delivery was the only thing in place. Very little progress was made on initiatives discussed in earlier meetings. Some administrative integration is now happening between ES and CE. ES refuse drivers are now beginning to call in curbside debris incidents. Ordinances have to be changed in order for ES to have administrative control of CE. Groups of new code inspectors focus only on weeds, debris, etc. types of calls with good throughput.
The postcard program has shown some good results in reduction of inspector time being spent on site. Creation of postcards and management of the data, however, is taking much more CSR time than anticipated. Use of Permits Plus is very cumbersome as a data management system. No money is available to replace the nearly 20 year old system, as was planned last year.
In a similar manner, no support is available from the City Attorney’s Office for dealing with chronic problem properties. No new field technology is available, though some equipment support has been received from ES. City Court is responding to reduced resources by terminating the relaxed civil proceedings used by CE on their citations. Judges now hearing these cases are making more stringent demands on procedural issues, which reduces the usefulness of this avenue for enforcement. Mr. Wyneken says that collecting fees from violators is not cost-effective.
Attendees talked over a number of issues:
- Abandoned furniture, debris at the curb (call ES first)
- Refuse on public property (call Streets)
- Volunteer efforts to notify violators without involving CE
- Ward 6 offer to assist with violator notification
- Community Service Fee as a way to pay for CE – TRRG support? AzStar guest comment?
- Data gathering to make the case for CE enhancement
- ES focus groups of complainants and violators as a learning mechanism
In the end, the sense of the meeting was to allow ES and CE to merge over the summer with no interaction with TRRG-CE. Efforts outside of CE by some in attendance will proceed. These include exploring various ways to divert complaints from reaching CE, including postcard program variations, and community education perhaps through Brush and Bulky door hangers.
February 2, 2016
TRRG-CE Notes from Meeting at Ward 6 – 4:30 to 6:00 PM – Agenda
Fifteen people, mostly TRRG members, had a wide ranging discussion on February 2, 2016 of the City of Tucson Code Enforcement Division’s (CE) present status, continuing initiatives, prospective administrative move to the Environmental Services Department (ES) and the ES Director’s thoughts on related topics. TRRG-CE members and guests represented Palo Verde, Blenman Elm, El Encanto, Sam Hughes, Peter Howell, Garden District, Cabrini, Rincon Heights, Miramonte, Feldman’s, Campus Farm and Doolen Fruitvale neighborhoods. Director Andrew Quigley and Public Information Officer Cristina Polsgrove were guests from Environmental Services.
Main agenda items included:
- Code Enforcement Updates
- ES Community Outreach for Code Enforcement
- TRRG-CE Future Directions
The following items are presented in a different order than as they occurred in the meeting.
The Code Enforcement Division currently has 16 active Code Inspectors (one vacancy) and 4 Community Service Representatives (1 vacancy). One vacant CE administrative assistant position will not be filled. Mr. Quigley is considering how some of the remaining positions might be integrated with current ES staff (i.e. the call center function), with the incoming graffiti abatement function and how appropriate connections with Planning and Development Services (e.g. for zoning code enforcement) might be maintained.
In December 2015, City Manager Michael Ortega suspended the personnel process for filling the Code Administrator position, as part of making a number of organizational changes. Mr. Michael Wyneken’s interim status as CE Administrator will continue into the foreseeable future.
Code Enforcement office staff sends postcards to situs addresses of a select group of recently reported code violations urging remediation of the problem. As the program began in November 2015, only early results are available and need to be studied. Relevant data needs to be developed to support analysis. Tweaks to the program design may be needed, to maximize positive outcomes from the resources expended. TRRG-CE recommends that complainants be allowed to withdraw/cancel their complaints once the problem is rectified, to reduce or avoid the need for CE inspections. TRRG-CE would like to see an analysis of changes in the status of cases in order to pinpoint lags in service delivery. Mr. Quigley agreed that evaluation of the program would be good – he made notes to himself on the matter.
Data entry of case updates and performance information continues to be a problem. CE’s portion of the Permits Plus computer system has a significant number of outdated open cases that may have been completed (or not) but not updated. Lags in original entry and status updating reduce the usefulness of the system as a management tool. CE staff shortages may be part of the problem. Mr. Quigley is focused on obtaining enhanced field reporting technology and process streamlining to help alleviate this shortfall.
Reductions in available staffing in the City Attorney’s Office have meant that support for dealing with chronic problem properties is significantly reduced or non-existent.
Mr. Quigley offered a number of comments on the pending administrative move of CE from Planning and Development Services to his department.
- No date has been set for the change over of CE to ES control. A change is needed in the ordinance that assigns authority for code enforcement. The funding mechanism for CE, when it is moved to enterprise funded ES, is receiving significant attention at the City Manager and City Council level. Fee increases using various formulas have been suggested, but have met with objection in some quarters. Looming City budget deficits are front and center in all City management thinking and will have their effects in delivery of code enforcement services.
- Mr. Quigley is committed to making CE better. He is actively connecting with various stakeholder groups through a community outreach effort. He plans focus groups to gather information about what is important to various segments of the community. He is seeking to triage incoming complaints for graduated service responses. He mentioned life/safety as the likely top priority for enforcement, but met some significant concern that other priorities (e.g., blight reduction, prevention of crime that comes with neglect, maintenance of community quality of life) not be pushed to the side.
Other items discussed:
- Education of inspectors is needed, to fine tune their approach to sensitive situations (e.g., historic properties, elderly residents).
- Possible collaboration with Pima County on field reporting automation
- Role of neighborhood associations in code enforcement – communication of clear, correct messages; organization of volunteer efforts
- Water bill stuffers and the morning newspaper are not particularly useful in reaching people
- End of month appearance of furniture at curbs as renters move out
- Difficulty in getting bulky items to rolloffs
- Some clarification is needed regarding who is responsible for cleaning land between the property line, the sidewalk and the curb
- Work to be done in updating ES and CE website content – nice pamphlet needs updating
- City Courts’ response to budget restrictions may reduce the number of civil hearings
- Police chief is strong supporter of crime prevention that includes ‘broken windows’ mitigation, which may translate to support for effective CE interventions
- City budget shortfalls need systematic fixing – fee increases not attractive – 1/2 cent sales tax? TRRG support?
- Mayor and Council have an Environmental Services Advisory Committee – new sub-committee for CE?
- What to do with chronic problem properties – how to identify repeat offenders – who owns the property?
- Quigley wants service delivery problems to come to him (and other departments) rather than to ward offices
- Reduce or prevent inspections by up front methods – solve problems before formal complaint and inspection
- Citizens keep volunteering to help but the City has not welcomed them
- Refuse collection operators can be more proactive in identifying code problems
- Police officers can be more directive in dealing with code violators
- TRRG-CE (and neighborhoods) wants rapid abatement of problem properties and non-recurrence of problems
TRRG-CE Future Directions
Pending resolution of issues related to integrating Code Enforcement into the Environmental Services Department, TRRG-CE should focus on public education related to code enforcement. Establishing clear and official baseline information is a priority. Supporting innovative methods for solving problem property issues should be a priority. TRRG-CE will look for CE process improvements as ES becomes involved in its management. TRRG-CE looks to build on the good start ES is making as it tackles the code enforcement area.
Mr. Quigley suggested meeting again in 60 days for further cooperative efforts. He expects to have a much better handle on outstanding issues and clearer directions to pursue.
(A big thanks to Bonnie Poulos for use of her notes. DSI)
November 24, 2015
Final Interviews of Code Enforcement Administrator Applicants
Acting Department Head Jim Mazzocco reports: Planning and Development Services Department is waiting for Human Resources to finalize their paperwork and ranking of the four candidates. I have been calling all of the seven members of the interview panel to get their thoughts and insights. We are aiming at a final interview the week of December 7 for either the top two or three candidates. At a minimum, Albert Elias and I will interview the finalists. We then hope to select the person by the third week of December 2015.
November 17, 2015
Panel Interviews of Code Enforcement Administrator Applicants
At TRRG’s urging, and with the support of City Manager Michael Ortega, a special panel was convened this date to interview the top four candidates for the open Code Enforcement Administrator position: Tom Coyle, Victor Martinez. Frank Dillon, and Michael Wyneken. The hiring authority, PDSD Acting Director Jim Mazzocco, received the panel’s rankings and comments, which he and Asst. City Manager Allbert Elias will use to make the final choice.
The seven member panel included two TRRG representatives, Diana Lett, Co-president of Feldman’s Neighborhood Association and Joan Lionetti, Executive Director of Tucson Clean and Beautiful. Also on the panel were Tom Wills, President of El Gheko Neighborhood Association and Chris Gans, President of West University Neighborhood Association. Questions asked of the applicants included some TRRG suggestions.
At this writing, the panel’s rankings have not been officially announced nor has the final job appointment been made. Informal contacts revealed that the process went smoothly. Some objections were noted to the role that additional questions might have played since they were not exactly the same for all candidates. It was clear that the panel’s input was advisory to Mr. Mazzocco, since he already had the top names from the formal list in his possession.
November 2, 2015
Post Card Program
The City of Tucson’s Code Enforcement Division will begin this week to send out post cards to addresses where new code violations have been reported. CE Administrator Michael Wyneken said: “Basically, as we get complaints for weeds and grass, obstructing/overgrown vegetation, refuse or debris and junk vehicles, the Community Service Representative will create the case as usual, put the case in PC (postcard) status and schedule an inspection two weeks out.”
“Hopefully the post card will have resulted in the needed clean up so the inspector can close the case and move on to others. The higher the rate of compliance with the post card, the fewer inspections we will have to do.”
The wording of the post card was carefully considered, to achieve compliance from that portion of the violator population just needing a “nudge,” without having unintended consequences. Look at the postcard here.
October 5, 2015
TRRG-CE Meeting Notes of October 5, 2015 at Ward 6 – 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Seven TRRG-CE members were in attendance: Ronni Kotwica, J.D. Garcia, Oscar Gandy, Barbara Lehmann, Mark Homan, Donald Ijams and Kris Yarter. Seven guests included Ruth Beeker, Steve Kozachik, Steve Arnquist, Alice Roe, Neil Scott, Suzy Gershman and Steve Gershman.
Working Group Focus – continues to be the property maintenance portion of TCC Chapter 16 (Neighborhood Preservation), covering such violations as overgrown weeds, trash/debris, excessive storage, dead vegetation, junk motor vehicles, graffiti, illegal dumping, dilapidated structures and vacant/neglected buildings.
Status and Initiatives of the Tucson Code Enforcement Division
- Filling the Code Enforcement Administrator Position
- There was a great deal of discussion about the hiring process being used by the City of Tucson, which to date (September 25), had not included any resident stakeholder input. At the request of City Manager Michael Ortega, Acting Administrator of the Planning and Development Services Department, Jim Mazzocco, will be holding another round of interviewing of finalist candidates. This interviewing will will be managed by City Human Resources and will involve a panel with some community representatives asking a set of questions that include input from interested citizens.
- The process being used until September 25 was panned by meeting attendees as not in keeping with good governance policy as outlined in Plan Tucson (Chap. 3, pp. 3.42-3.46), relating to including stakeholders early and often in decision making processes that directly affect an important segment of the community. Mr. Ortega’s intervention was most appreciated.
- Current Code Enforcement Division Staffing – per Michael Wyneken (Interim CE Administrator), all 17 Inspector positions are filled. All five Community Service Representative positions are filled, with one position on intermittent leave.
- A new program to send post cards to new code violators is on hold, pending the new administrator hiring.
- A redesigned, more efficient Notice of Violation form is now being used, saving inspector time in the field.
- Direct-to-citation for repeat offenders is being used selectively, with tight guidelines and refresher training.
- There are no statistics available to document reductions in trips per violation, which remains a goal.
Chronic Nuisance Properties
Invited guest, Mr. Roi Lusk of the City Prosecutor’s Office, was unable to attend due to a bicycle accident. He provided some information over the telephone before the meeting.
Mr. Lusk is currently working on 4 – 5 code enforcement related cases, mostly providing advice and support where difficult circumstances are encountered in the field (e.g., 1401 N. Camilla and 3402 E. Senneca). He says that he is spending 10-20% of his time on this current case load. He is not working on Landlord Accountability Initiative cases.
Code Enforcement related cases are entered into the City Prosecutor’s internal case management system, but not coded as CE specific. No time sheets are kept by Office attorneys. To date, there has been no use of tools such as Notice of Nuisance Condition, Notice of Owner Accountability, Confrontational Meeting or Notice of Pending Litigation.
There is a need to better identify the types of cases appropriate for Mr. Lusk’s attention. The workflow between the Code Enforcement Division and Mr. Lusk’s function needs to be established, with sufficient transparency for public review. This will be especially important if a new CE administrator comes on board.
No new tactics for handling these types of cases, as learned from other jurisdictions, have yet been brought into play in Tucson.
Property Upkeep Education and Promotion
There was continuing discussion of prospects for pursuing education efforts with resident and non-resident property owners, renters, property management groups and others controling the maintenance and appearance of Tucson properties. Judith Anderson, TRRG-CE lead on this initiative, was not present at the meeting but has been in discussion with several local organizations working toward the same ends. Possible collaboration with other groups on this and other efforts is a TRRG goal.
- Promote community participation in the Code Enforcement Administrator hiring process
- TRRG-CE strongly suggests that a sixth member to the interview panel be added who is a community member conversant with code enforcement issues. This addition should produce a balance of community members with government staff members.
- TRRG-CE strongly urges implementation of the post card notification program without delay
- Gather and refine examples of problem properties that are worthy of City Prosecutor attention
- Move forward on the education initiative
July 23, 2015
TRRG-CE Meeting Notes of July 23, 2015 at Ward 6 – 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Twelve TRRG-CE members were in attendance: Judith Anderson, Mary DeCamp, Oscar Gandy, Fran Garcia, Margot Garcia, Joan Hall, Donald Ijams, Lisa Jones, Ronni, Kotwica, Sandy Miller, Bonnie Poulos, Kris Yarter. Three others expressed interest but were out of town and one was ill.
Working Group Focus – was determined to be the property maintenance portion of TCC Chapter 16 (Neighborhood Preservation), covering such violations as overgrown weeds, trash/debris, excessive storage, dead vegetation, junk motor vehicles, graffiti, illegal dumping, dilapidated structures and vacant and neglected buildings.
Goals for the Meeting – to build on outcomes of previous citizen gatherings on code enforcement and to set action directions
Status and Initiatives of the Tucson Code Enforcement Division (see revised notes from June 24, 2015 meeting with Interim Administrator). Highlights:
- Permanent filling of Administrator position – the job announcement is expected to be published by the end of July.
- All 17 Inspector and 5 Community Service Representative positions are filled and working.
- $75 reinspection fee is not used often as it costs $125 to collect $75 and less than 40% of the cases produce payment.
- Code Enforcement is focusing on reducing the number of trips any case requires in order to increase the number of cases handled – “touch more properties fewer times”
- Code Enforcement has a plan to redesign the postcard system now being used, to make it simpler. The new plan is to send a generic postcard immediately to the address of the complaint saying that a violation has been reported. TRRG-CE wants to support this program.
- There is no money in the City’s FY2015-16 budget for a new computer system to replace the current Permits Plus, which will continue to be used to document code enforcement violations.
- Inspectors now have City supplied smartphones which they are using to advantage in the field (snapping pictures, searching information from the field rather than back in the office). Some enterprising inspectors are using an app that allows entering a set of addresses and figuring the most efficient route.
- A volunteer program might work in the Code Enforcement, if started slowly with the right plan in place.
- The Interim Administrator will look at a direct-to-citation process for repeat offenders.
- Property owner education, involving fiduciary agents and property managers in remediation, and possible “Red Tags” for repeat properties in violation were discussed.
The document “Solving Chronic Nuisance Problems – A Guide for Neighborhood Leaders” was discussed and useful points were reviewed.
The TRRG-CE group turned its attention to possible strategies for directly assisting the City in its code enforcement work. Three areas were identified for further work by subgroups:
- Education of property owners, occupants, property managers, fiduciary agents and mortgage holders about property maintenance responsibilities (Anderson will lead)
- Press for more forceful handling by the City Attorney’s Office of chronic problem property owners (Ijams will lead)
- Explore volunteer participation in code enforcement work (Leader needed)
Additional efforts will be put into:
- Finding practices from other jurisdictions for possible implementation in Tucson
- Exploring what changes to Tucson codes and regulations would be helpful.
TRRG-CE group members were urged to experiment with the Google Group set up for communication and information sharing. Subgroups will meet as needed and the TRRG-CE group will meet again as a whole in late September or October.
July 1, 2015
TRRG Code Enforcement Working Group
During its May 7, 2015 Board of Directors meeting, TRRG authorized a new project, focusing on working with the City of Tucson to improve its code enforcement efficiency and effectiveness. TRRG Board Members, Don Ijams and Kris Yarter are co-chairs of the working group.
The first meeting of the working group, called TRRG-CE, is scheduled for Thursday July 23, 2015.
Don Ijams met with Michael Weneken, Interim Code Enforcement Administrator, in his office on Thursday June 24, 2015. A wide range of topics was covered – notes are here.
TRRG-CE member Oscar Gandy has expended a number of hours in looking over research literature on code enforcement and has a brief available here.
The web address for the TRRG-CE Google Group is: https://groups.google.com/d/forum/trrg-ce
TRRG members and others interested in joining the working group may email TRRG-CE here.
November 15, 2014
Improving Code Enforcement in Tucson
A Town Hall was jointly sponsored by TRRG and the Neighborhood Support Network (NSN). The event was held from 1- 4 PM on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at the Ward 6 council office. Forty eight people signed in. Twenty two neighborhoods were represented. Seven City of Tucson staff members attended.
Ruth Beeker, of TRRG, and Donald Ijams, of NSN, were facilitators of the event and introduced the meeting agenda and speakers. Ruth introduced the five essentials of good government from TRRG’s purpose statement and thanked two TRRG members, Lois Pawlak and Kris Yarter, who took on this town hall issue so that neighbors and city staff could find ways to work together to prevent urban blight and get our codes enforced in a more meaningful manner. Don addressed the agenda and described the other items on the handout that provided attendees with information about Code Enforcement and how complaints are handled.
Michael Wyneken, Interim Administrator of Code Enforcement, and Rick Saldate, Code Enforcement Supervisor, were introduced. Michael explained the history of the City of Tucson’s Code Enforcement Division (located in the Planning and Development Services Department). He talked about recent staffing challenges the department has faced and how that has affected the Division’s ability to respond to complaints and do the follow-up work necessary to achieve compliance.
Since April of this year, there has been a 50% turnover in administrative staff, a 75% turnover in inspectors, and a 20% turnover in customer service representatives, while at the same time, the number of complaints looks to be heading for a record year. Michael explained the enforcement process from the start when a complaint is filed until the point when the violation is resolved. He took questions from the attendees.
Ronnie Kotwica, from the Palo Verde Neighborhood, gave a presentation about an ongoing code enforcement problem with one particular property in her neighborhood that has been occurring for over 15 years, without a permanent resolution. The situation had examples of many types of code violations, and many examples of how the system of code enforcement has failed to alleviate the blight from this property. The case also highlighted the role that neighbors can play in helping to get properties cleaned up and property owners held responsible for their properties. The inadequacies of the current system were discussed by attendees and suggestions were given about how to make it more effective. Michael Rankin, City Attorney, was on hand to answer questions about the legal aspects of code enforcement and property rights.
Lois Pawlak, from the Garden District Neighborhood, talked about and showed examples of some of the code enforcement issues her neighborhood is dealing with: junked cars, graffiti, excessive weeds, dumping, abandoned and neglected properties.
A discussion took place about the issues with the current system of enforcement. Some of the problems that were expressed dealt with the “complaint driven” enforcement process (rather than proactive sweeps), the issue of enforcement when problem property owners live out of the state, fear of retaliation and lack of adequate legal tools to remediate problems in a timely manner.
After a short intermission, Joan Hall, of the NSN Core Croup, led attendees in an open discussion of suggestions and ideas for how to move code enforcement to a level where it is more effective at improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Many ideas were expressed. The following is a list of some of them.
- Economic adversity may be the reason some properties are abandoned or neglected
- The community needs to find ways to help socially, economically and physically disadvantaged citizens who cannot maintain their properties on their own
- Some neighborhood associations send a friendly postcard to residents if a code violation occurs. This early reminder might secure compliance in some cases thus reducing Code Enforcement workload. Example
- Encourage more neighborhood block watch groups to expand their focus, where problems can be addressed collectively instead of individually
- Ask an elected person (mayor or council member) to come out and perform code enforcement inspections, bringing publicity to the problem of maintaining properties
- Use neighborhood roll-offs (now more easily available) as a way for residents to get rid of trash
- Do a door-hanging in the neighborhood with information about neighborhood services and other information that residents should know
- Ask the University to publish a handbook for students on how to be good neighbors
- Find better ways to communicate with each other
- Make more liaisons with city departments
- Get involved in setting policy
- The City should do a public relations campaign about property upkeep and benefits to all of us
- Change the complaint-driven enforcement process to a proactive one, linked to Brush and Bulky pickups, rolloffs and neighborhood assistance to the infirm and disabled
- Neighbors should join with city employees to do volunteer clean-ups
- Enforce existing ordinances, or create new ones, to do a better job of getting chronic problem property owners to take responsibility for their properties
- Identify local fiduciary agents of out of town landlords and call them with violations
- Educate property owners (send them a letter) about their property management responsibilities
- Bring local property managers (who are responsible for many rental properties) into the process
- Find ways to get more rapid response when a code violation (dumping, graffiti, etc.) is reported as “in progress”
The next topic on the agenda was how to improve the process in the short term considering that there are about 13,000 complaints per year and only 13 inspectors now working (16 when Code Enforcement is fully staffed, with one over hire likely for a total of 17). There were 25 Code Inspectors positions in the 2008 budget.
Michael Wyneken explained that the Code Enforcement Division (CED) is doing several things to improve the enforcement process:
- The Division is expecting to be included in an upcoming study of the Planning and Development Services Department’s information technology needs in preparation for a new computer system, and looking for new technology that will bring efficiencies to the code enforcement process.
- Complete the current hiring process to obtain and train the Division’s full complement of Customer Service and Inspection employees.
- Analyze time lags and other process aspects that may be slowing enforcement outcomes.
- Code Enforcement personnel will move to the City-County Public Works building soon which will make it much easier to communicate and work with related functions that interact with them daily.
- Start a postcard notification system for complaints such as weeds and debris, that will notify the resident of the complaint and the intent to send an inspector.
Long term steps to better Code Enforcement were discussed with Michael Rankin. He addressed chronic problems (like the one Ronnie Kowica discussed earlier) and whether a time-frame for compliance could be instituted before more serious action is taken. He talked about changing the process for handling the worst cases, possibly increasing the priority of enforcement related property liens and possibly moving violations to a “nuisance” category in order to make prosecution easier. He said that forcing a change in ownership is a difficult process even for properties in gross violation of the codes.
Mr. Rankin also said that the City is not likely to deputize citizens because of training and liability issues involved with temporary or volunteer workers. However, there might be a way to use photographs taken by citizens to document a problem (as is possible on the graffiti report website) and its abatement as a way to speed up the process and reduce the number of on-site inspections needed in each case. Michael Wyneken also suggested calling in complaints instead of filing them online, as a customer service employee can assign the complaint a case number right away and the person filing the complaint will have an easier way to track the progress of the case.
The workshop came to an end at 4 PM. Ruth Beeker and Don Ijams thanked all the city staff and residents who participated in the workshop, the volunteers who helped put the workshop together, and the attendees for their interest and input. They also recognized other city staff members who attended the workshop to listen to the dialog.
Bonnie Poulos, TRRG Vice Chairperson, was the principal source for these notes. Several other sources were used, including materials from from Joan Daniels and Joan Hall. Edited by D. S. Ijams
TRRG had an information table set up at the Town Hall. One new TRRG member signed up and one new TRRG Friend was added.