Stanford council calls for quick code enforcement reform aims to rid public perception of favoritism
STANFORD – A few city council members voiced concern about the way the city has been enforcing property violations and pushed for quick reform to rid what they said was the public’s perception of favoritism when it comes to property owned by city officials.
“I’m concerned about the perception of city bias when it comes to enforcement of city officials,” said Councilman Ronnie Deatherage last Thursday night. “And I’ve told you, if you get a complaint on me, I want you to serve it because I am a citizen and I have to set an example – not just me, but all of us here…and I’m not going to ask the question but I’ve been told ‘has anybody ever told code enforcement not to serve (complaints on) any city officials?’ That’s the perception that’s out there.”
Discussion of Kentucky’s House Bill 422, which includes several changes and clarifications to code enforcement, reconvened during the April 6 council meeting – after several months of tabling the discussion.
“I’ve had three people who have talked to me in the last few weeks that say this is going on.”
Deatherage did not specify which city officials are allegedly receiving “special treatment” when it comes to property code enforcement but said it’s been brought to his attention by several people in the community.
“That’s the perception that’s out there and I don’t want that perception,” he said. “I think if we can separate the code enforcement from the city, then we wouldn’t have that.”
Mayor Eddie Carter said he thinks implementing HB 422 and a new code enforcement committee will eliminate the issue. Carter asked the council to think about potential people to serve on the committee – three people will be needed – and suggested the council move forward on the new process next month.
Talk of implementing the new state law began last summer after several council members attended a blighted, abandoned and dilapidated property seminar but the discussion was tabled until recently.
Councilwoman Peggy Hester said Thursday it’s time for the council to start being definitive in what they plan to do and when they plan to do it. Hester said she would like for the current code enforcement officer, Jeff Knouse to be full-time and sworn in as a citation officer.
“By having one officer that answers to himself, he doesn’t answer to us, he doesn’t answer to the mayor, he answers to the public that he is serving. That takes it (away from) neighbors complaining on a neighbor. That’s what we’re doing right now – neighbors have to call in on someone across the street if they want an improvement,” she said.
Hester said House Bill 422 Model A is set up to allow the code enforcement officer the authority to address property violations without involving or asking for permission from the city.
“If we don’t go that way, we’re getting deeper and deeper into the situation that we’re already in where the public is aggravated – they think that special people get special treatment,” she said. “I don’t want that on me. That’s why I think we need to proceed with haste. I’ve met Mr. Knouse. You can see what he’s doing, he’s working. I don’t think we have a month or two or three to put this on the table again, I think we need to start moving forward with it.”
Fire Chief Scott Maples, who also does code enforcement work for the city, said Knouse still needs to be formally sworn in if the city wants to move forward with House Bill 422.
Knouse is currently part-time and told council members he works about two-to-three days a week on code enforcement.
Hester asked Knouse what he needs to happen in order to continue efficiently with code enforcement.
“I’d like to be sworn in as a citation officer and when you all adopt that, we’ll just be able to take off running,” Knouse said.
Deatherage said his main goal is to take away the perception of favoritism.
“I want to take away the perception that if somebody comes up to you and says ‘has anybody ever, from mayor to us, ever told you not to serve a citation or complaint because ‘they’re my sister’ or ‘that’s my mom.’” he said. “I’ve had three people talk to me in the last two weeks and tell me this is going on.”
Knouse said only working on code enforcement part-time could contribute to the perception that the enforcement is uneven.
Carter said the city doesn’t have the money in the budget to hire a full-time code enforcement officer.
But, without a full-time code enforcement officer dedicated to the task, Maples said implementing the new state law won’t produce much of a change.
“You can pass it, but if you’re not going to have someone to donate the time to do it then the house bill is not going to do anything,” Maples said.
Deatherage asked if a code enforcement officer would be able to collect delinquent taxes and the city put the money collected towards a full-time salary.
“I know House Bill 422 does have business licenses in it, there are a lot of things that they can collect,” Maples said. “It can generate a lot of money.”
Deatherage asked what the city’s process is currently for collecting unpaid taxes. Carter said letters are sent out.
City Clerk Dana Taylor said previous administrations’ lax enforcement of business licenses is another issue.
“As I’ve said before, those business licenses have not been enforced. There are those who don’t buy a license because they know they don’t have to,” Taylor said. “I can mail letters but how much postage do we want to invest?”
Carter said House Bill 422 will allow the code enforcement officer to enforce the business licenses.
Scottie Ernst asked how much money the city has yet to collect from 2016 business licenses, which Taylor responded there is about $6,000 that the city has not collected from business licenses for the 2016 year. Taylor added that there are delinquent taxes dating back as far as 2007.
“That’s a lot of money laying around,” Hester said.
“So I guess the question is, why should I pay taxes if no one is going to collect them?” Deatherage said.
Scottie Ernst said he would like for the city to put the names of people who are delinquent on property taxes in the newspaper.
“The county does it, the city should,” he said. “That way it will be where people can see it.”
Several council members wanted to swear Knouse in officially during the April 6 meeting but Carter asked to wait until the city’s May meeting.
Reed clarified for council members that they must hold two readings of an ordinance stating the code enforcement’s qualifications and duties. He said the city will likely call a special meeting before and after the regular may meeting and advertise in the newspaper as well. They will also have to have two readings for House Bill 422, Carter added.
Ernst questioned the mayor’s sudden support for House Bill 422 after months
“Eddie, I’d just like to know what changed your tune – two months ago you were against HB422 and now you’re on top of it,” Ernst said. “What’d you find out?”
Carter said he’s changed his mind after seeing how other cities have managed to implement the new process without costing the city a lot of money.
In other business, the council
• Recognized Durham’s Grocery for being named 2016 Grocer of the Year and awarded a plaque to Joe and Craig Crain.
“Every good cause in this community, they’ve donated and helped over the years – school groups, city groups, church groups,” Carter said. “You’ve made this community special.”
Joe and Craig Crain were given a plaque of recognition that states: “You have earned both the respect of your peers and the loyalty of your customers Your business has been instrumental in making Stanford a vibrant and innovative and growing community. We are pleased to acknowledge the incredible amount of work that goes into making Durham’s successful and a source of pride for all of us. You contribute greatly to the economy and well-being of our community.”
• Signed a resolution for Hazard Mitigation Plans.
• Heard from Councilwoman Peggy Hester that Powers Court needs a “no outlet” sign.
• Heard from Hester that a citizen had a question about code enforcement – “Is there a law on code enforcement and why aren’t we using it?” Hester said the citzen also suggested installing a suggestion box outside of City Hall where citizens can drop in suggestions and the council can discuss them during monthly meeting.
• Heard a complaint from local resident Larry Peppard about the condition of sidewalks on Miller Street. Peppard said Carter told him a few years ago that the sidewalks would be repaired when the city had more money in the budget. Carter told Peppard the council will look at the upcoming budget and see if it’s possible.
• Voted to donate $1,000 to the 2017 Cow Bell Days Festival.
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