City of Mount Airy is seeking new codes enforcement officer

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy is on the hunt for a new codes enforcement officer in the wake of Surry County declining to take on that function as part of its building-inspection operations.

And a city elected official who has expressed concern about the lack of a codes officer of late believes it’s time to expand the role handled on a part-time basis in recent years — culminating with the June resignation of Bill Beamer.

“My opinion is we need a full-time codes enforcer,” Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said Thursday. “We have not paid anybody to be a codes enforcer since Bill Beamer left, and I think that money should be applied toward a full-time officer.”

Since Beamer’s departure, Police Chief Dale Watson has assumed codes duties until the void can be filled, fielding complaints about overgrown lots and minimum housing violations.

One possibility explored was having that role taken over by the county, which Watson formally requested.

At their last meeting, Surry commissioners did not approve the move for multiple reasons, including the presence of the International Property Maintenance Code recently adopted by Mount Airy which is more complex than rules used by the county.

This would require additional training and the hiring of another employee, based on discussion at the county commissioners’ meeting.

Brinkley said Thursday that she can understand Surry’s position on the matter, saying it’s not the county’s responsibility.

“It’s the city’s problem, and it should be dealt with by the city.”

The county stance has left Mount Airy venturing into the open market for a new minimum housing codes enforcement officer.

“We are currently advertising for a part-time position (20 hours per week) and will fill it as soon as possible,” City Manager Barbara Jones reported Thursday.

The job description says the employee will perform administrative and inspections work in the enforcement of local code areas and work under the supervision of the police chief, as was the case with Beamer.

Among other tasks, the enforcer will investigate violations associated with minimum housing conditions, abandoned structures, abandoned property, tall grass and weeds, trash, debris, junk vehicles and other nuisances. That person also will prepare public notices and correspondence, and verify receipt by property owners.

“The employee must have knowledge of technical ordinances, codes and regulations pertaining to land use, zoning and minimum areas,” the job description states, and “considerable tact and assertiveness in dealing with citizens and development groups, (the) board of commissioners, federal and state agencies.”

Interested persons can apply on the first floor of City Hall on South Main Street. The application period closes on Sept. 21 at 5 p.m.

Not everyone is on board with Brinkley’s suggestion that the position be made full-time.

Commissioner Jim Armbrister believes that if the job description, duties and responsibilities are evaluated to become more effective and appropriate to the community’s needs, “I am of opinion full-time could be best.”

However, Jon Cawley, another commissioner, has a different view.

“The only way I can support a full-time position is to do so without changing the budget,” Cawley reacted Thursday.

He also commented on the county government’s response: “The reason seems obvious as to why the county backed off working with us in the codes enforcement — our new IPMC codes are much stricter than necessary.”

Cawley thinks “it will not only take a full-time position to look after such details, it will take a team,” and selective enforcement will be the end result.

Chief’s role questioned

In addition to objecting to codes enforcement being part-time, Commissioner Brinkley isn’t happy with the present situation involving Chief Watson handling that function on an interim basis, which he recently said was occupying about 25 percent of each work day.

“Codes enforcement should not be the police chief’s job,” said Brinkley, who added that she has been contacted by many citizens on the matter.

“He wasn’t hired to be the codes officer, he was hired to be the police chief,” she said.

“In my opinion, that is not where the police chief should be spending his time.”

Brinkley also clarified her recent concerns about overgrown lots in the city, explaining that she sought information on the municipality’s policy of cleaning up sites to learn about the procedures and costs involved.

“People have misinterpreted my comments,” the South Ward board member said of feedback indicating that she was “lashing out” at folks who can’t afford to pay for mowing or other tasks.

“I’m not trying to hurt anybody.”

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.