Compliance anyone: Why have laws that aren#039;t enforced

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 17, 2004

Ironton City Councilman Jesse Roberts and I don't agree on a lot of things (insert any number of editorials and columns I've written here). But we finally found some common ground last week: Code enforcement.

At last week's council meeting, Councilman Roberts did what many elected officials are too afraid to do. He ruffled some feathers.

"It is ridiculous," he told fellow councilmen and members of the public on Thursday.

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Roberts was referring to the city's lackluster efforts to enforce city codes.

"When I was elected to council, there was no clear definition of who was doing code enforcement," Roberts said. "We made an effort to give it to the health board. Then Mayor Sheridan came back to us and said, 'if you guys will back off of this, I'll create a department and make this work.'"

"Everybody wanted to see code enforcement," Roberts said. "And it looked good on paper and that's all we've had since then, something that looks good on paper. We've had no code enforcement since that time."

"So what specific codes are not being enforced?" a person might ask.

Well, it might be easier to mention the codes that are being enforced.

So here goes … My, that was a long list, wasn't it?

The city has a number of laws on its books that seek to regulate everything from property usage and setback requirements to building and renovation requirements.

Laws even specify how long a car can be parked on the street before it is considered derelict.

Did you know that even large dumpsters, the kind often used when major renovations such as roof replacements are done, are regulated by city ordinances?

Anyone driving the streets of our city can see the problems: Cluttered yards, abandoned vehicles with flat tires parked along the streets, buildings that appear to be structurally unsound, the list could go on for a long time.

In addition to protecting the health and safety of the people in the city, such laws also protect the city's image and quality of life, even property value.

"I'm just tired of getting the runaround," Roberts said, referring to his repeated questioned that have gone unanswered by the city's building and code officer, Karl Wentz.

For his part, Wentz says he's understaffed and cannot keep up with the demand.

It is an argument that Roberts isn't buying.

"You were understaffed since May (when budget problems forced several layoffs)," Roberts said. "Prior to that you had two people. And you've cited no people to court since 1997 when the position was created. Doesn't that tell you something?"

"We put these laws in place, but nobody is enforcing them any place," he said. "We can argue that we don't have money until the cows come home, but if we were citing people into court for fines as we could, we certainly might be able to afford some help for Mr. Wentz."

"If we don't enforce it, why have the laws?" Roberts asked. "If there's no reason to have them why do we? We can put a machine up there that could spit out a building permit. If that's all we're doing, that's stupid."

Mr. Roberts, I agree with you 100 percent, and I suspect a number of citizens do too.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext.12 or by e-mail to