The City Council is the legislative branch of our local government. In essence, they're in charge of the laws on the books and the purse strings.
As many of us have examined our culture of non-enforcement and its causes over the years, we've become aware of the failure of past Councils to repeal certain laws as they've passed new ones pertaining to the same subject areas. For any given situation, there may be two or more laws in effect, making it nearly impossible to know which law to apply in the relevant moment. As a result, enforcement is often more difficult than necessary even if fully attended.
These conflicts have been well known for some time. In my few years of involvement, concerns about their existence have been brought to the attention of the proper legislative branch, our Council, many times by other officials and citizens alike.
Had any Council previously taken up those conflicts of their own volition as a matter of legislative duty, the City Attorney could now be spending more time enforcing the already corrected law instead of rewriting it. Unfortunately, that's not the case and Shane Gibson is wading through ordinance corrections in addition to other duties.
But that brings us back to the purse strings.
As of last week, we have a new code enforcement officer. It's also my understanding that there is some sort of tentative agreement from a local judge or two to make time in their dockets for enforcement cases. There's no doubt we have or soon will have cases aplenty.
What we need is an attorney to prosecute those cases who's not being pulled in myriad directions by several different governmental bodies and their relative spheres of concern. The cases themselves could be lengthy, so we need full legal attention as soon as possible.
Our current Council, in order to show the support for code enforcement they all purport to share, should appropriate at least $50,000 in EDIT funds per year for three years to support the legal prosecution of building and housing code offenses, including violations of historic district guidelines, none of which to my knowledge have been legally pursued in court in at least six years.
Merely stating that one supports code enforcement means little and, given that our building and housing stock (not to mention the people who live in it) is one of our most valuable, irreplaceable resources, $150,000 over three years is a pittance compared to the eventual social and economic returns that consistent enforcement could generate.
Need I remind anyone that we still have over $9 million in EDIT revenue pledged toward subsidizing the sewer bills of entities who don't pay EDIT taxes?
The City Attorney and administration, in turn, should contract with someone forthwith with the understanding that the legal exposure inherent in enforcement (as we'll likely be sued for daring to interrupt decades of lawlessness) is simply a cost of doing business and should be treated not as a disincentive but as a proving ground for any new legislation needed to correct weaknesses in existing code.
For the public's part, efforts to identify obvious and serial violators should be revisited. I know. You've already done that. I'm asking that you do it again. I have two, one old and one new, that I'm already investigating.