Code enforcers to police smaller regions
Austin’s code compliance director said his department is progressing in its new approach of identifying and enforcing city building codes as a batch of new inspectors will work in smaller regions with police and fire officials and neighborhood associations.
The more “proactive” approach will partially focus on aging apartment complexes, Carl Smart told members of the Public Safety Commission on Monday.
Though Smart did not mention the Wood Ridge Apartments, where a second-story balcony collapsed and others were found unsafe this year, the South Austin complex is a perfect example of an aging complex where violations persisted.
Smart, who formerly was in charge of code compliance for the city of Fort Worth, has been on the job in Austin about 15 months. His mission has been to change the working model of the city’s code compliance department, which has relied on citizen complaints. Smart told the commission that the City Council approved 22 new code inspector positions to add to his staff of 69. “We will have an emphasis on education of city codes,” he said.
He’s still interviewing for the new positions but once they are hired in early 2013, he said, four will be assigned to aging apartment complexes.
“Our basic strategy is neighborhood code enforcement where inspectors will be assigned to areas where they will work with Austin Police Department district representatives,” he said. “The inspectors will become partners in those neighborhoods and also work with neighborhood associations.”
He expects the added inspectors will cut down on the response time when residents call in to complain about violations of city codes, such as overgrown weeds on a lot or a neighbor adding a structure in the backyard without getting a city building permit. “Right now our response time is eight to nine days, and our goal is two working days,” he said.
In response to two commission members asking if his department is hiring retired police officers, Smart confirmed the strategy because “they hit the ground running.” He said inspectors with a law enforcement background have experience in writing citations and testifying in municipal court, where building code citations are heard by a judge.
“All of the courthouse business is open,” Sparks said, leading the American-Statesman on a tour of the facility late Monday as contractors, ubiquitous in their hard hats, tended to finishing touches.
Sparks said judges and their staffs began moving Friday and continued through the weekend. He joked that the high-tech phone system will require some learning, and said computers operate lighting and climate controls.
“I think it’s the courthouse of the future,” Austin said. “It’s state of the art in every respect ... and very attractive. We’ve been really lucky with how it came out.”