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.