Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Response.

Last week, in response to complaints that the Raytown Report is “too negative”, we offered our page to anyone wishing to write a “positive” story for our weekly publication. Former Raytown Alderman Sandy Hartwell has stepped up to the challenge. Her analysis of the present and her look back on how things can work in Raytown is unique and interesting. Mrs. Hartwell served on the Raytown Board of Aldermen from 2003 to 2007. We hope you enjoy her report as much as we did. Editors Raytown Report

Proactive Code Enforcement Needed by Sandy Hartwell

On September 17th, 2009 I and three individuals from other parts of Raytown, met with Beth Lynn, the Director of Community Development for the City of Raytown. The meeting was called because of obvious city code violations in our neighborhoods. Before that meeting I went out with another person and in 2.5 hours we were able to list 114 code violations in just two precincts of Raytown. I did this to make a point. If I can do it why is it that the Codes Department cannot do the same thing? I had invited Mayor Bower to the meeting. He did not respond. I was very disappointed that he could not be there. What we found out at the meeting wa s that the Codes Department has returned to the old ways of addressing codes. That means enforcement is complaint driven instead of being proactive. Seven years ago, our city's codes enforcement was headed up by Beau Groceman. His view was that the law is very clear on code violations. If his code enforcement officer saw a violation, they were to enforce it with or without a complaint. This policy was the direct result of direction from the Board of Aldermen that the old way of waiting for someone to complain was simply not working. His Department changed to a proactive form of enforcement. Things began to change and the city began to be cleaner and have a better20appearance. He did this with only three people but everyone did the same job. Whatever that job was they all did it. The complaint (only) basis way of doing things causes problems in neighborhoods because we still have to live there. I know of one instance where neighbors complained about a dump truck that was routinely parked next door to their home. The owner of that truck threatened the neighbors with a gun because someone in codes told him a complaint was called in. I also know of a neighbor who did try to talk to the neighbor that was parking on the grass, which was turning his yard into a mudhole. The pers on said he would do whatever he wanted to do because it was his property and no one was going to tell him what he can or cannot do. So they finally turned him in to the city and now there is hostility because the neighbors complained. He is still parking in the yard if he thinks code enforcement will not see it. It is very obvious that the complaint basis way of enforcement turns neighbors against neighbors. It was not working before Mr. Groceman changed the enforcement policy and it's not working now. One of the questions that was asked at the meeting "Why doesn't the city go into the backyards to check for problems if there are problems such as tall grass or trash in the front yard"? We were t old it has something to do with the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution. So I contacted several of the cities surrounding Raytown to see how they handle those problems in their cities. Grandview said, "We just take a warrant with us if we need to get into the backyard”. Independence said, “If the gate is open we just go on in. If the gate is closed we do not enter but we try to find another view of the backyard from the street or neighbors yard.” Lee ’s Summit said, “They try to look into the property in question from another vantage point.” Kansas City, Missouri said “We take a warrant but we try to get a view from the neighbors even if it’s from inside the neighbor’s home”. Of those four cities one was proactive in its approach on code enforcement and three were complaint driven in enforcement. But one of those complaint driven, Lee's Summit, is looking at going proactive because their council knows it's not working. After having said all of that here are some things that have w orked and those of us who were at the meeting feel should be tried again. 1. BE PROACTIVE. The city and the Codes Dept. need to STOP expecting the neighbors to speak to their neighbors about their codes problems. It didn't work before and it isn't working now and for that matter it never will. Isn't that what we pay the codes personnel to do? 2. All city departments must work together on this problem. Get away from the mindset that “it’s not my job”. The Police, Public Works, Street Department, Code Enforcement and all other Deptartments. need to work together again. It worked in the past. It can work today. Example: If a truck, as in a large panel truck, is illegally parked on the street then the Police Department needs to take care of the problem. It is the job of the Police Department to enforce code ordinances that are on the street. If the Street Department, Public Works Department or any other Dept. sees an obvious code violation they need to turn them into the Codes Department. If they see a violation that is on the street give it to the Police. The Codes Department. would then have a lot more eyes on the problems which would make their job easier. As it has been a long time since we have been proactive and the Depts. have worked together on this problem, and the fact that we have several new officers, there would need to be some briefing on the current codes ordinances. I know that the Codes Department could handle that job. 3. The city’s former Finance Director, Dan Estes, Public Works/Code Enforcement Director Beau Groceman, and City Administrator Curt Wenson used to routinely go out on Mondays and remove illegal signs from the right of way. They did this on Mondays so that if the garage sale20signs were still out there they would not be there all week. They also let the people with garage sale signs know that they must remove those signs after the sale. Two of those men lived in Raytown but they all knew it was important to help Raytown look better. We did not have the proliferation of illegal signage on our streets and light poles as we do now. Their efforts made a difference and I applaud them for that. 4. The Police need to reactivate the program to enforce code violation bench warrants. These are warrants issued by the Municipal Court when violators do not show up in court. When I was on the Board of Al dermen, the Chief of Police, Jim Lynch, had a program to actively enforce ou tstanding code warrants. When those officers had to be put back out on the street because the Dept. was short of officers, the program was never reactivated. At that time, there were close to 2000 outstanding codes warrants which had not been processed. Those warrants also were a major loss in revenue to the city. With the passage of the Public Safety Sales Tax last spring certainly there is money to re-start this much needed program to “proactively” put some teeth back into our laws. It would also make the codes officers feel that their time and efforts are not wasted. 5. Not so long ago, the Board of Alderman had a program where they volunteered to help the elderly and the disabled bring their property up to codes if they had no one else to help them do it. It would be good if the Alderman did that again because it's a good thing to do and maybe they would see just how bad things are. 6. The city should also work with organizations like the Shepherd Center and REAP when they happen to hear of someone who needs help. 7. There are cities around us who hire contractors to go in and bring properties up to code. Raytown hi res out grass and weed mowing for properties in violation. Lee’s Summit hires contractors (carpenters and other skilled workers) to clean up properties and then places a lien on the property tax bill of the owner. It works there. It can work here. 8. Lead by example. The city's, it's elected representatives' and it's employees' properties must be above reproach. How can they ask someone else to abide by our ordinances if they are not willing to do the same? The problems we have in Raytown are not unsolvable. We just need to stop saying we can’t and say we will and th en do it. It doesn't always take money to make change. Those at city hall who claim that this Blog is too negative are the same ones who won’t try anything that is proven and are also unwilling to try something new. I was always taught that “If you continue to do what you’ve always done you will continue to get what you’ve always gotten". What we’ve been getting in the last several years needs to change. If we want things to improve financially, with development, and in the appearance of our city, we have to believe it can and make it happen. Come on City Hall, step out there and give it a shot. You just might be surprised how good things can be. Bits and Pieces . . . by Greg Walters Credit is due a couple of our city officials for taking action on problems in Raytown pointed out by contributors to this blog. It shows a willingness to work with people. They should be commended for their actions. Ward 5 Alderman Michael Lightfoot has completed repairs to his home. He had been criticized on the blog portion of the Raytown Report for not completing repair projects on his property. It would be heartening if all our elected officials took their job as seriously as Mr. Lightfoot has demonstrated. Raytown Parks and Recreation has re-supplied the doggy litter bags at Colman Park. The action will result in a cleaner park. Just as important is the effort by Park officials to help pet owners become more responsible in cleaning up after their animals. _____________________________ What was once Marvin Gardens (located at 67th and Raytown Road) is now a vacant lot. We wondered what was in store for the frontage on Raytown Road, so, our intrepid investigator, Richard Tush, did some digging. USA 800 is reported to have plans to construct a parking lot for their business. The parking lot is needed because USA 800's old parking lot is being used for expansion of their offices. ______________________________ Park property is often the target of vandalism. Raytown Parks are no exception. Recently, Southwood Park, a small neighborhood park with tennis courts, picnic benches and playground equipment was severely damaged by vandals. The damage was extensive. Anyone with information about the vandalism is asked to contact the Raytown Police Department. High School Football Standings O'Hara High School.....................5 win /1 loss Raytown High School...................1 win /5 loss Raytown South High School............3 win /3 loss O’Hara Celtics 49 / Christ Prep Academy 31 by Brother Richard Geimer The Archbishop O'Hara football team had an easy time with Christ Prep Academy in building up a 49-7 advantage over the first three quarters. Terrell Johnson, on O'Hara's first offensive play of the game, ran 73 yards for a touchdown. Julian Gidley put the team up 7-0 with the first of his seven extra point kicks. The Christ Prep Patriots answered with a 4 yard touchown on a quarterback keeper by Darren Wallace who also kicked the extra point. That was all the scoring for the Patriots until the fourth quarter at which time O'Hara rested their seniors; the next 42 points were scored by the Celtics. O'Hara's second and third TD's were runs of 56 yards and 30 yards by quarterback T. J. White. Just as the first quarter was coming to a close, Raphael Spencer returned a Patriot punt for a 75 yard score. At the start of the second quarter Jorge Belcher recovered a Patriot fumble on the 25 yard line, and in just one play, T. J. White passed a scoring touchdown to Joe Melchior. The sixth time O'Hara scored, the team sustained a drive covering 80 yards. In the drive, Raphael Spencer had a 19 yard run and Aaron Stubblefield caught a 25 yard pass. The final 10 yards were on a run by Raphael Spencer. The margin of 35 points were enough for the Celtics to cruise through the third quarter with the running clock. Nevertheless, the Celtics acquired another seven points. After Louis Golden gained 26 yards on a pass play, Raphael Spencer reached the end zone on a 26 yard run. The Patriots scored three fourth quarter touchdowns, a 3 yard run and a 5 yard run by Lenard Manuel, and a 51 yard breakaway by Darren Wallace. For all three touchdowns, the Patriots scored two-point conversions. The first one was on a pass from Darren Wallace to Demonta Bailey, the second and third ones were on runs by Darren Wallace. Chuck Preston ended the game with an interception. Raytown South 14 / Fort Osage 21 Late in the fourth quarter of Fort Osage's 21-14 win over Raytown South. Fort Osage had let a 21-point second-half lead shrink to only seven. A late fumbled a handoff allowed the Cardinals to recover the ball deep in Fort Osage territory with less than 4 minutes remaining. Fort Osage led by as many three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but Raytown South linebacker Jamal Cox cut the deficit to 14 points when he returned a fumble 40 yards for a touchdown with 7 minutes left. Raytown South recovered the onside kick, and just like that, the Cardinals had all the momentum. The Cardinals quickly marched down the field and scored again, this time on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Tanner to receiver Ahmad Cartwright that made the score 21-14. Fort Osage got the ball back, but that's when Pearl and Gaines fumbled the exchange on the first play of the drive, putting Raytown South in position to tie the game. But that's also when the defense, stepped up to stop the Cardinals. Raytown 20 / Belton 41 NO REPORT AVAILABLE O'HARA COMPETES WITH 26 TEAMS by Brother Richard Geimer

At the Kansas City Metro Cross Country Meet on October 3rd, the O'Hara boys team competed with twenty-six schools. With nearly 200 runners competing, Andy Meyer had the best finish among the five-man Celtic squad, finishing the race in 77th place. Thomas Lowell, Graham Grier, Collin McKinney, and James Keeny made up the remainder of the O'Hara team, but each of these runners were beyond the 100 finishers. None of the girls varsity runners were in the top 100 although Claire Becker had the best time of the four from O'Hara. The other three runners were Amy Gaston, Katelyn Gutteridge, and Rachel Gudde but one runner short of a complete team. The Meet was held at Raymore-Peculiar.


Andy Whiteman said...

I was unaware that Raytown no longer enforces ordinances proactively. That explains why bloggers think city employees aren't doing their jobs. Obviously it is no longer their job unless a complaint is filed. I agree with Mrs. Hartwell that Raytown needs to return to a proactive approach.

Attempting to discuss it with the neighbors is totally useless with a large percentage of the people. I have always tried addressing the neighbor before filing a complaint. One neighbor use profane language that aggravated me into signing a complaint. I tried talking with another neighbor who started screaming at me. I had to call the Police numerous times because talk was useless and caused hostility. I finally sent the neighbor a letter and she was at my door on a Sunday afternoon screaming at me.

Obviously there are violations that city employees are unaware of unless a complaint is called in.

One unenforceable ordinance in the barking dog ordinance. All Raytown will do is leave a door hanger which is useless. When I lived in Aurora, CO; I called the Police. The officer responded and said that she couldn't cite them for barking dog because her presence caused the dog to bark, but she cited them for unlicensed car parked on the street. Some animal welfare groups have enforcement authority. The Denver Dumb Friends League is one such organization. The DDFL assumes that a dog is barking for a reason and investigates it as a cruelty case because a barking dog is frequently an abused dog. In the case of the barking dogs, the neighbor was cited for no shelter, no food, and frozen water (hence no water). If Raytown Animal Control would make the same assumption, there could be enforcement.

The pitiful thing about codes is that Raytown is in violation of its own codes. I have pointed this out to the BOA on numerous occasions. How can the city enforce codes when it is in violation of the same codes?

Andy Whiteman

Anonymous said...

Sandy thank you for your article. The mayor and other department heads will never change unless they are made to do so. I think the only way do that is the next election is to vote the mayor out along with quite a few on the board. Then the department heads are the next to find thet door. Example Beth Linn, Nancy Thompson and I am sure there are others. The approach of talking to your neighbor does not work. It has been tried in our neighborhood and ended with hard feelings. Beth Linn needs to do her job but, with people like Nancy Thompson telling her she cann't do alot of things she won't and things continue as usual. The best thing that can happen to this city is for the both of them to leave, and mayor not be re elected. Just sign me, Wondering how long before we get smart

Greg Walters said...

What I find most enlighening about Mrs. Hartwell's article is that it sheds light on one of the main problems at City Hall.

Anyone who reads the posts on this page can easily identify that property code enforcement is one of the main topics on many people's minds.

To read that our city will not even inspect the back yard of a property overgrown with weeds and full of trash is disheartening. To find out that all the cities around us manage to find a way to enforce the codes speaks volumes of what is wrong at City Hall.

It is like the old story of the mother watching her child in a parade, "Look," she said, "Everyone is out of step but my Johnny!"

Our problem is that we have too many constitutional experts at city hall. They think their job is to create excuses. They certainly do not find solutions.

I spoke with an alderman the other day and asked when did the city's policy change from one of proactive enforcement to one of "go tell your neighbor and make them mad at you" policy now in place.

He told me the Mayor made the change.

Things have definitely changed at city hall. Mayor Bower was elected Mayor, not King. He should not be changing policy without agreement of the Board of Aldermen.

Until they (the Board) steps up and re-asserts itself, do not look for much in the way city hall ignores the problems of our city.

Pat Casady said...

I am in the twilight of my working career, I'm getting too old
and my health is starting to be a problem.
I think I will put in my applacation at City Hall. After all, I don't live in
Raytown, I like making a lot of money and I too don't like to work.
I'm perfect for any management job this city has.

Andy Whiteman said...

I know one lady who claims that city empolyees entered her back yard without a warrant and cited her for violations which she said didn't exist.

Entering a back yard without a warrant or even crossing a persons front yard to look at the back yard is trespassing and a violation of the Constitution. I have pointed this out to the BOA during the animal ordinance discussions.

Mrs. Hartwell's article said that one city gets permission to look from a neighbors property. That may be the way to do it, but to enter private property without a warrant sure opens the city to a Federal Lawsuit. I don't think the city wants to go to Federal Court again.

Andy Whiteman

Anonymous said...

It's apparent that Mayor Bower and his administration care NOTHING about codes enforcement. If they did our town wouldn't look so trashy. We are becoming "THE NEW INTERCITY" and that's why our residents are FLEEING to other, better kept communities. Mahesh, Nancy Thompson and Beth Linn should all be FIRED. They really don't care about Raytown because NONE OF THEM ARE REQUIRED TO LIVE HERE. No investment, so they are just here to pick up their paychecks. Until our elected officials change I don't believe that things will get any better. Look at your property values, they sure aren't going up. Surprisingly Lee's Summit's values went up slightly, even during a recession, while mine dropped over $20,000. So when you think of buying another home, it's a "no brainer", invest anywhere EXCEPT Raytown.

Rebecca said...

The key sentence in Ms. Hartwell's post is this...Mayor Bower did not respond....any questions??? Until the voices of the tax paying citizen of this town are HEARD, nothing will change. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Until the TOWN is put back in RayTOWN, we're all screwed. There are some new businesses in Raytown, though. There is Luftie's, Whiskey Barrell, and a thrift shop. I work 3 jobs just to stay afloat, so I don't get out much, but those are 3 in my neighborhood. Until these dead heads or bobble heads, whatever, are voted out, nothing will change. And until the new candidates get out and rock the vote, there will be a poor turnout. Greg was the only one in my neighborhood that cared enough to talk to me. I have lived in Raytown since 1997, mostly as a renter, and now an owner. Even as a renter, i voted, just because I rented didn't mean I didn't care about this town. I love this town. Thats why I bought. Yes, my values tanked, and yes my taxes skyrocketed, and I'm sure as hell not happy with the WalMart deal. But I love this town, and am willing to do whatever it takes to turn it around. Negativity? yes, of course there is. something about it.

Andy Whiteman said...

QUESTION: Why do the top level City management not care about what is happening in Raytown?

ANSWER: Because they don't have to live in Raytown. If they had to live here, they would have a different attitude. Aliens or carpetbaggers have no business in city management.

I nominate Pat for City Administrator.

A neighbor told me today that she heard that Raytown would cut back on snow plowing. I don't know where she heard it. Is there any truth to that? I have lived in other cities that did NOT plow residential streets. I have also lived in cities that did no plowing at all because they didn't have snow plows.

Actually I would prefer that my street not be plowed because snow is piled up making driving and walking more dangerous. Plowing should be limited to through streets.

Andy Whiteman

Andy Whiteman said...

Rebecca, There is a new bar that took the place of Wild West BBQ. The bar and Whiskey Barrell probably generate more taxes than Lufties and the thrift store. I wonder if the thrift store may be a tax exempt organization. That doesn't matter. At least it is here serving a purpose. But I think that those who judge a business by the amount of sales tax generated will complain.

You are correct. Nothing will change until these officials are voted out. I question how this will happen because very few people in Raytown vote in local elections. Sometimes I think most voters are friends of those who are running.

Andy Whiteman

Anonymous said...

Raytown has a school district that has a spending, taxing
disease. We have a new Wal-Mart that will bring down
property values even more, not to mention a rise the crime rate.
City hall always needs more money to spend for who knows what. As was warned by so many
the so called "Safety Tax" went into the general fund after
we were promised it would not go there.
The street tax went towards the W-M parking lot and the
worthless Gateways. Not to the streets we all drive on as
again was promised. Neighborhood code violations
are not enforced.
Both of our shopping areas the Center 63 and the Raytown Plaza are
all but empty. Vandalism of our city parks and vacant buildings
is on a high. The new "Green" area, where the old church was,
hasn't been fixed from the Summerfest and BBQ. Still bare spots that we were promised would be repaired. There is still white
paint on the streets the chamber used to mark the vendor booths.
I can't imagine why there aren't people standing in line to live here.
I mean we have the most cordial elected officials they talk to the people,
they ask what the people need and always ask questions as to what they
are about vote on or for and they are always are there for the people.
OK that last sentence, I lied. Sorry.

Andy Whiteman said...

We need a certain Congressman who will stand up at a BOA meeting and yell, "YOU LIE!" I heard a former alderman did something similar to that.

Andy Whiteman

Anonymous said...

How About Those Twinkies!!!

Anonymous said...

I read a while back in the Post when it was still around that Joe Creamer was looking at rental properties as a way to help with the codes situation.I think that although it is not a complete solution it is a way of addressing part of the problem. I beleive that we need to give the board some latitude to make some changes. I heard a comment that someone is not concerned with the constitutional rights of the offenders, I would disagree. There are homes around our community that do need to be cleaned up but at the same time it has to be done lawfully. I suppose that person that is not concerned with constitutional rights will be willing to step forward and pay the legal fees to defent that. I believe there is much the city can do but at the same time we are a community.

Anonymous said...

I would share your hope for Creamer and the city council to do something positive. But their track record pretty much stinks.

What have they accomplished?

Its easier to look at what they have killed. An effort to create a cleaner environment for Raytown with no smoking las failed.

What happened to the plan for curb side recycling. Since Walters left the council it hasn't even been brought up.

The code enforcement in this town is a joke! And you expect the council to tighten down on rental property owners?

Read Sandy Hartwell's story. People can't even get the mayor to attend a meeting to discuss it.

For the council to do anything in the way of cleaning up properties would be a 180 degree about face from what they have been doing. Which is nothing.

Anonymous said...

Lightfoot cleaned up his property. Good for him. I hope Shane Par-Due follows his example. What a dump!

Andy Whiteman said...

Last night on the way to Hy-Vee I noticed a computer repair shop in the strip mall that has Pizza Hut and the thrift store at 67th and Raytown Rd. I don't know if they are open or not since the lights were out. They may be an 8-5 business, as are most Raytown businesses. It seems to me that a computer shop is something we need. I go all the way to Micro Center in OP.

Andy Whiteman

Anonymous said...

It's too bad we have a city hall that doesn't care about
the people that elected them. It's also too bad that they
do more for big corporations than they do for the city.
The people wanted recycling and the mayor shot it down.
The people voted for street repairs they diverted the money
elsewhere. We voted for a safety tax that they said wouldn't
go in the general fund but still it went there.
When will the people see the light and vote in more honest,
caring, and trustworthy people? Isn't it time that the people
have aldermen that will spend our tax dollars on something
that will benefit the taxpayers for a change?

Andy Whiteman said...

Take a look at the BOA agenda. There is a proposed Bill to set up a procedure for Administrative Search Warrants. I think this can be a good tool for enforcing codes.

I question the procedure of processing it through the City Prosecuter and signed by the MuniJudge of this 4th Class City. I was in that court as a complainant and the contracted prosecuter appeared to be incompetitent. The judge did not seem to know the ordinances and was not aware what the ADA is.

I don't agree with allowing incompetent persons authority with search warrants. I favor the Bill in general, but there needs to be controls to keep warrants seperate from personal issues between parties as well as requiring those involved in the procedure be competant.

Andy Whiteman

Andy Whiteman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Whiteman said...

The 11:15AM commented was deleted because somehow it suddenly appeared twice.