Thursday, August 27, 2009
Video interview: Disgruntled Farmers Branch resident wonders what’s happening to her home town
Kathy Holmes and her husband have lived in the same house, in the same community, for over 30 years. Now, she's upset at the way the city is treating her.
On its surface, the email we received from disgruntled Farmers Branch resident Kathy Holmes seemed like simply an instance of sour grapes: The gist of it was that she thought the code enforcement branch of city government was ramping up their -- well -- code enforcing to the point where it was becoming oppressive. (At least to her.) Here's an excerpt from her initial note to our editorial desk:
As the city of Farmers Branch has hit a snag trying to get all of the illegal immigrants from "bringing down property values and increasing crime, etc. etc." the city council has now turned on the legal citizens.
At the council's urging, the Code Enforcement folks are out with a vengeance - surely you have heard about the "5 pot rule": no more than 5 decorative items in the front yards - and decorative item is a term that only they are allowed to interpret. My rain barrel fell victim to this rule. Come to think of it, "front yard" is also free for them to interpret, as I cannot find any definitive explanation of what constitutes a front, side, or back yard, and the setbacks (for fencing purposes, etc.) It's like they want you to guess, then you can earn a citation when you guess wrong - and you will.
The city is spending so much time and money counting pots in folk's yards that they cannot afford to support recycling, mosquito spraying, or other worthwhile projects that really would contribute to health, safety and standard of living. Is it any wonder that 3 of the 5 code enforcement personnel don't even live in Farmer's Branch?
For reference, here is the Code of Ordinances for the City of Farmers Branch. (It's pretty extensive, and -- from a layman's standpoint, anyway -- dense.)
Our first question for Holmes was whether she had personally received a citation for non-compliance to codes. Which, it turns out, she had: On more than one occasion (see illustrations), but only very recently. It seemed to Kathy that this sudden flurry of code violation citations (which she claims are occurring up and down the streets of her residential neighborhood) might have something to do with the city's Proactive Performance-Based Code Enforcement Program, which recently won an award via the Alliance for Innovation, a "hands-on organization that ... work(s) closely with local governments to stimulate innovation."
Here are the criteria under which the Farmers Branch Proactive Performance-Based Code Enforcement Program received an Outstanding Achievement in Local Government Innovation Award:
* ... successfully addressed an important dilemma of public service delivery concerns.
* ... has had a positive impact and tremendous benefit to the community or jurisdiction.
* A quantum leap of creativity.
* The government's commitment and support of bringing the innovation to life.
* Service delivery improvements and/or efficiencies.
* Organizational improvement because of the innovation.
* Tangible effectiveness and results.
One feature that might be thought of as innovative in relation to the Farmers Branch code enforcement program is the ease with which someone -- anyone, really -- can register a code enforcement complaint. It's as easy as navigating to the City of Farmers Branch home page and clicking the text box that says "report a code violation." From there, you can fill out a form and submit it for follow-up by a city code enforcement official.
In the process of responding to one of the citations filed against her, Holmes asked for clarification as to the specifics of the infraction. The code enforcement agent who wrote the citation paid a visit to her property to show her what she'd been cited for; in the process of walking around he discovered -- and cited her for -- another violation. Not the outcome she'd been hoping for, one presumes.
The big blue rain barrel that constituted one of the "excessive number of yard decorations" now resides in her backyard out of sight from the street. But since her property lies on the inside of a curve, and the driveway is unfenced, a good portion of the rear of her property is visible from the street -- which led to the issues with her back porch furniture discussed in the video.
We contacted Farmers Branch Director of Communications Tom Bryson, requesting clarification as to whether 1) the mosquito spraying program is indeed in abeyance, and 2) there is in fact no current curbside recycling service provided by the city. We also wanted to get a confirmation on whether code enforcement efforts were officially being stepped up, or whether Holmes' perceptions of the activity were purely subjective and confined to her situation. Here is the reply we received Wednesday evening from Jim Olk, Building Official for the City of Farmers Branch:
1. The City still sprays for mosquitoes, spraying is done in those areas where the mosquito counts warrant spraying or on a complaint basis.
2. The City halted curbside recycling a little over 5 years ago due to very poor participation. Less than 15% of the residents participated in the program at that time and it was not fiscally responsible to continue the program. The City currently has 3 convenient drop-off locations for recycling. As the economy improves the City will continue to gauge the potential for bringing back curbside recycling.
3. The City has a dynamic proactive code enforcement program. As part of the program the City performs a property condition survey to provide a snap shot of property conditions throughout the city. The results of the survey are mapped through our GIS system and code enforcement resources are dynamically moved to meet changing property conditions. Based multiple factors from the survey; some areas of the City are proactively patrolled 6 times a year, some are patrolled 4 times a year and the minimum amount of proactive patrol is twice annually. During the patrol the code enforcement officer will drive by each property and note any violations that are observed. Correction notices are sent notifying the occupant that the violations are present, corrective actions that need to be taken and when compliance should be obtained. If the occupant needs additional time to comply the telephone number of the code enforcement officer is provided.
The Brookhaven area that you mentioned is a neighborhood that is patrolled only twice annually. It is however one area that we do receive a number of complaints that require our attention. (Another facet of our program is complaint response.) We attempt to investigate complaints the same day they are reported. Currently our average response time is about 1/2 day.
Mike Bullock worked the camera and performed video edit for this story.
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