New person to handle city codes violations

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy will launch a new era in housing codes enforcement Saturday, when the city officially takes over a role that has been handled in recent years through an out-of-town contractor.

“I just think it will be smart to have someone that is ‘owned’ by the city,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said Thursday regarding the change she successfully pushed for earlier this year.

It will involve the city government hiring its own part-time codes enforcer in place of an employee supplied by Benchmark Planning based in Charlotte, Steve May. In accordance with a city council directive, May has focused on substandard housing that posed safety risks.

He has been assigned to Mount Airy two days per week as part of the zoning administration, urban design, land-use planning and related tasks Benchmark has been contracted to handle in Mount Airy since 2011.

As of Wednesday, only two people had applied for the new municipal position, with the application deadline today at 5 p.m.

Commissioner Brinkley expressed concerns about the present level of enforcement during a city council meeting in April, which partly stemmed from ongoing structural and other complaints by neighbors about a multi-family rental property on West Lebanon Street.

Brinkley also said she was troubled by housing-code and nuisance violations in general. “We have a lot of situations that need to be enforced,” she said during a subsequent commissioners meeting on May 4, when they voted 4-1 to hire a city codes officer and remove that function from Mount Airy’s contract with Benchmark.

On Thursday, Brinkley stressed the extra enforcement benefits she believes will result from Mount Airy having its own employee, especially a person who is from this community and familiar with its needs.

“What I’m hoping for is, we will get someone such as a retired police officer — someone who knows the codes … knows the laws,” Brinkley said.

The job description for the position, which will have a 20-hour work week, seeks applicants who are high school graduates with supplemental training in the construction trades and specialized training in code enforcement, inspections or law enforcement. Or they may possess an equivalent combination of training and experience, it states.

Brinkley said Thursday she wasn’t bothered by the fact that only two people had applied for the opening as of Wednesday.

“I think that just says there are only two people that are available part-time right now who are aware of the job.”

Full- vs. part-time

The issue of employing a part-timer versus a full-time codes enforcer was discussed during the city’s recent budget season, when Commissioner Steve Yokeley expressed support for the latter.

“I think the intent of the board was to have more codes enforcement and not less,” Yokeley said during a workshop earlier this month in reference to the May 4 decision to initiate the change. “So I would really like to see a full-time codes enforcer.”

But the board settled on a part-time position.

“I think part-time is what we need right now,” Brinkley said Thursday.

In casting the lone vote against adding the position, Commissioner Jon Cawley has said he wanted to avoid any move that might greatly increase the volume of housing violations and force people to improve properties who can’t afford to do so.

Transitional process

With the changeover becoming effective Saturday — the first day of the municipality’s 2017-2018 fiscal year — officials have acknowledged that there will be no designated housing codes enforcer available at that time. The vacancy has been posted on the city website only since June 19.

City Manager Barbara Jones indicated this week that efforts are under way to get the new person aboard and working on codes-related cases as soon as possible.

“We will move into the interview process soon after the (application) deadline,” Jones explained.

“Once someone has been hired, we will make the existing cases available to them for follow-up and continue the process of inspections.”

Those needing to report an issue in the interim should call the planning department at 336-786-3520 or Jones’ office at 336-786-3501 “and we will have someone check on the problem,” the city manager added.

“Richard Smith, owner of Benchmark, has offered assistance, if needed, for the transition.”

Only two apply at last report

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.