Weatherford Democrat

October 31, 2013

A code to live by

Enforcement officials say they first try a friendly approach when dealing with residential city code violations


Weatherford Democrat

— By BRIAN SMITH

High grass, garbage, garage sale signs or vehicles parked illegally in front or side yards are just some of the myriad of neighborhood complaints code enforcement officers deal with, often a thankless job.

“It’s hard to please everyone, that’s for sure,” Weatherford Director of Municipal and Community Services Steve Bates, who is in charge of code enforcement, said with a laugh.

Having to be a watchdog advocate for people and making sure they are following the city’s many codes and ordinances is hard work, Bates contends. He and his officers like to use the “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” approach when dealing with residents.

“We always try to do a happy medium with residents,” Bates said. “If they are out of compliance on an issue, we want to bring them into compliance, but with a friendly conversation.”

Bates said in 99 out of 100 issues, the resident is unaware of the infraction and corrects it right away, which he said makes everyone’s job a lot easier. On other occasions, no verbal communication is used.

One Weatherford resident, who did not want to be identified, has been trying to get the city to do a more thorough job of citing homeowners throughout the city for junked and improperly parked cars.

Bates said he has been trying to meet with the resident to explain the parking ordinance and listen to concerns which have been expressed not only to Bates but City Manager Jerry Blaisdell and Mayor Dennis Hooks. However, Bates said the complainant hasn’t responded.

“It’s hard to please everyone, but we do try to work with residents in a pleasant manner,” Bates said.

When a code violation is found or reported, officers investigate and contact the resident in violation. He said 90 percent of the time the problem is corrected or removed quickly.

“If we can’t get a hold of someone verbally at the residence, we put a door hanger on the door informing them of the problem,” Bates said. “Many times we never have to have a conversation because we’ll go back after the required 10 days (given to fix the problem) and the problem will be fixed.”

Many callers wonder why, when they call one day and then call again two or three days later, their complaint hasn’t been rectified or acknowledged. Bates said citations can’t be issued right away after a violation.

“We have to give them time to fix the problem if there actually is a problem,” Bates said. “On some occasions we have to tell the complainant that there is no violation of an ordinance.”

Three code enforcement officers drive around the city daily checking for conformity on such things as garage sales and parking. Because the officers can’t catch everything, they rely on residents to contact them on issues they may not be aware of.

Many residents do call with legitimate ordinance violations, Bates said, but there are others who are unclear on what a certain ordinance states or what exactly is a violation.

If a resident in violation doesn’t respond or make the required changes, other ways are tried, including a certified letter explaining the violation. Bates said between 500 and 600 violations are issued each year.

Still, there are others that are considered to be in violation of the ordinance, which went into effect in 2010. The ordinance states that cars must be parked in driveways if one is available.

Bates said many of the residences thought by the anonymous resident to be in violation aren’t.

“Many of the homes don’t have driveways or were built before the ordinance was put in, so they’re kind of grandfathered in,” Bates said. “It’s also against the ordinance to park on the grass, but we’ve found other areas where grass has grown through the gravel that was placed down where they can park, which isn’t a violation.

“Many older homes are considered to be non-conforming (of the parking ordinance) because they were constructed before the ordinance, but they are still considered legal under the ordinance,” Bates said.

For more information, visit the code enforcement section of the city’s website at ci.weatherford.tx.us, Scroll under departments and look for Code Enforcement or contact Bates at 817-598-4251.