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Ways to Encourage Support & Safety for Code Enforcement Officers

Guest blogger, Michael Halpern of MuniReg LLC explains how inadequate resources can negatively impact code enforcement officials.

Regardless of setting, a fresh set of eyes or an outside perspective is often needed to address lingering issues. Municipal governments are not immune to these challenges. One such area centers around the work of code enforcement officials.

The primary focus of code enforcement divisions across the country is addressing health, safety, housing, and overall neighborhood decay concerns through the enforcement of respective ordinances. 

 

In many municipalities, sufficient staffing and technical resources are often not adequately allocated. In these scenarios, the outcomes are somewhat predictable. 


Code enforcement officials do not have a potion to magically transform a dilapidated eyesore with no ownership into a property with a productive use. However, they are a critical component in ultimately achieving this objective. Where insufficient staffing and resources exist, an already difficult situation will be exaggerated. For example, delays in response time to neighboring property owners will simply result in more frequent and louder complaints. 

 

Inadequate staffing or resources can have a detrimental impact on the performance of the basic functions of the position. As demonstrated in a recent article from Pennsylvania, citizen frustration, delays in action being taken and the lack of bandwidth to track down the absentee owner are a real outcome.

 

Finally, as evidenced by a recent event in Austin, TX perhaps the most critical effect concerns officer safety. For many years training and educational conferences geared towards code enforcement were sparsely attended. Rarely, were the topics being presented focused on safety concerns. Code enforcement officers frequently reported that protective gear and other physical safety resources were severely lacking or often not provided. 

 

The tide may be turning. 

In regards to officer safety, with strong advocacy from the Code Enforcement Officer Safety Foundation and the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers, SB 296 was enacted.

 

As the new language states, the Legislature finds and declares "that code enforcement officers are disproportionately at risk for threat, assault, injury, and even homicide due to the nature of their obligations." “Each local jurisdiction that employs code enforcement officers shall develop code enforcement officer safety standards appropriate for the code enforcement officers employed in their jurisdiction.” 

 

In other Statehouses across the country code enforcement is now on the radar. 

Pennsylvania HB 1827 was recently introduced. If enacted it would give local governments the opportunity to apply for grants to launch new property maintenance code enforcement programs, hire inspectors for new programs, or increase staff to strengthen existing programs.

 

Following a 2019 NYS Senate report that found a systemic failure to prioritize code enforcement at all levels of government, a series of bills were introduced in the New York State Legislature.

 

Keep the momentum going 

As the saying goes “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. There is no reason why these pieces of legislation should not be replicated in Statehouses across the country. But where does the onus lie? Controlling the narrative includes taking the reins and leading the charge.

 

Code enforcement officials should ensure that an accurate picture of their role and the inherent value they provide is known, locally and at the state level. This is critical for both individual officers and the profession as a whole to improve their safety and job security, while increasing their effectiveness and success. 

 

There is an old Jewish proverb “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” 

 

Unfortunately, as history has shown, local and state leaders, juggling countless responsibilities, often will not prioritize code enforcement. With an exception arising following unwanted factors (i.e. excessive constituent complaints, negative media coverage).

 

Think out of the box – some food for thought

There are many avenues for code officers to build on the recent progress. The easier steps are to join (or create) your regional and/or state association, find receptive local and state legislators and lobby! During election season is the best time!

 

However, there are numerous opportunities to think and act broader and do things bigger, better or even different.

 

Here are some examples to consider.

  • Identify traditional organizations for outreach and education i.e. does your city manager belong to ICMA and/or council member belong to NLC

  • Identify new organizations that could assist in getting code enforcement to the forefront, for example;

  • Encourage your state association to participate at relevant state municipal association events. Having an exhibitor booth is money well spent.

  • Funding sources 

    • Identify external sources for funding. As Art Trinidade with San Luis Obispo County presented (among other reasons) “CE is an expensive program and rarely is budget neutral – so finding alternative sources is important.” Lack of bandwidth or experience in grant writing shouldn’t be a hindrance. Are you able to identify an experienced grant writer in your community that you could leverage to assist with applications towards governmental funding, activity or private sector funding. The opportunities are endless. One would be surprised what a press conference with a hand shake with the Mayor will get you

  • Community engagement strategies

    • Many communities have a “weekend cleanup” or “adopt an area” program for blight mitigation. Creativity can increase participation, excitement, and results. Proactively initiate and then incent the participants by making into a contest.  Perhaps collaborate with a local business for a donation of the prize. Finally “close the loop” by engaging local media to provide positive optics for you, the community and corporate parties. 

    • Innovate by imitation. Learn about new programs being implemented across the country and bring to your community, i.e Seymour IN Curb Appeal & El Campo TX Project Round Up

    • Spearhead the creation of a neighborhood association and a blight task force (comprised of municipal staff, engaged citizens, business leaders etc.)

    • Leverage local media! A true example of controlling the narrative. A proactive spotlight on the role of code enforcement is far more desirable than the typical story of an abandoned property affecting property values etc. 

  • Community engagement through education

  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!

    • Third parties like MuniReg offer solutions like VPR administration that free up your time to implement new strategies.

    • Identify experts in specific areas like conservatorships or developing overall strategies

    • Not exactly, “Avengers Assemble” but one code officer assembled a group to help homeowners who are in violation of the county’s solid waste and nuisance policies but are not able to correct those things due to physical and/or financial limitations.

    • A Home for a Cause shows what a galvanized business community can accomplish.

Some may say that “this isn’t my job” and its community development’s or economic development’s etc responsibility. A greater understanding and a positive perception are essential to protecting your safety and job security, so why leave it in the hands of others. Control the narrative - for you and for your community!

 

About the Author

Michael Halpern is President of MuniReg LLC. Prior to founding MuniReg, Michael spent 18 years at Safeguard Properties where he served as Director of Community Initiatives. Michael has presented at well over 20 different state code enforcement association events along with presentations to national organizations like National League of Cities, National Housing Conference, Center for Community Progress and the American Association of Code Enforcement. Michael can be reached at mhalpern@munireg.com

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