Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wanted: Professional Nags

Speech to Grants Pass City Council, October 6, 2010

            Last meeting, Lieutenant Geddings gave us a presentation of the work done by our Community Service Officers, enforcing our nuisance codes.  It was heavy on abatement of public safety hazards caused by neglect of properties; once a property is obviously vacant and neglected, it attracts all sorts of trash,  dumped by neighbors who are too cheap to use the trash service, and too lazy to haul it to the dump themselves.  It also attracts homeless people who carefully do not pick the place up and thereby give away their presence.  When neglected long enough, it becomes a fire hazard.
            I asked Mr. Geddings by e-mail if the CSOs really like cleaning up health and safety hazards, since they don’t enforce the nuisance weed and litter portions of the code that would keep properties from getting to the hazardous stage.  He said that the City can only abate hazards; they can’t enforce neatness and cleanliness.  He seemed to be totally unaware of the nuisance weeds and litter portions of our code; he talked about noxious weeds, while the code forbids unsightly and seeding weeds and noxious growth.
            I suppose that the CSOs do prefer cleaning up health and safety hazards; as Geddings said, the neighbors greet them as saviors.  It has to feel a lot better to be treated as a savior than a nag.  But we don’t hire them to allow hazards to develop until they are ripe for salvation.  We hire CSOs to be our professional nags between us and our neighbors, to do the necessary evil of telling people to love their neighbors and clean up their mess.         
Nuisance codes exist to keep peace between neighbors while nipping health and safety hazards in the bud.  To enforce them on a complaint-only basis leads to resentment of neighbors and hazards, since most people won’t complain until it becomes a hazard.  It leads to what we have: a town that is a seedy, weedy, littered mess.
            The CSOs didn’t decide to stop enforcing the nuisance weed and litter ordinances on their own; it was a management decision.  City Managers have come and gone over the last twenty years, but two key figures have been in office the whole time our town has been trashed and gone to seed: Laurel Sampson as Assistant City Manager, now City Manager; and Joe Henner, our Public Safety Chief.  Being appointed by the Manager, Mr. Henner enforces what the City Manager wants enforced, so it all comes down to our City Manager, who has been insufficiently concerned about this problem to enforce our ordinances.

Published at under Land and Liability #2.

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