New code en­forcer to fo­cus on safety

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Mark Ferenchik The Colum­bus Dis­patch

Heather Trues­dell among 22 women in the divi­sion, up from 6 in 1996

Women now make up more than a third of the Colum­bus code en­force­ment divi­sion, and their new boss re­flects that trend.

Divi­sion ad­min­is­tra­tor Heather Trues­dell says she’s “proud of the fact that there’s an in­crease of women do­ing the job” of pa­trolling city neigh­bor­hoods, look­ing for blighted and dan­ger­ous prop­er­ties that need to be fixed. She noted that there were six fe­male code of­fi­cers in 1996 ver­sus 22 to­day.

The 47-year-old re­placed Dana Rose as the

divi­sion’s ad­min­is­tra­tor. Rose worked for the city for 43 years, the last eight as the divi­sion’s leader be­fore he re­tired at the end of 2018.

Trues­dell said she doesn’t plan to upset that legacy by dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing the di­rec­tion of the divi­sion, al­though she wants to bet­ter ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity that vi­o­la­tions go be­yond va­cant struc­tures, high weeds and grass and trash, the top three pub­lic­nui­sance is­sues.

“Equally im­por­tant are safety is­sues,” she said.

She said that Colum­bus’ Proac­tive Code En­force­ment (PACE) team, made up of code en­force­ment of­fi­cers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the city at­tor­ney’s of­fice, will use data to iden­tify prop­erty own­ers with re­peated vi­o­la­tions; cre­ate a top-10 list of prob­lem land­lords ranked by a point sys­tem that takes into ac­count in­te­rior and ex­te­rior vi­o­la­tions; and track civil and crim­i­nal case fil­ings.

No. 1 on the list for 2018 was Min­neapo­lis-based New Life Multi-fam­ily Man­age­ment, which owns nine apart­ment com­plexes with 3,000 units. The city is­sued 123 vi­o­la­tions to com­pa­nies re­lated to New Life in 2017 and 2018, in­clud­ing 112 no­tices for in­te­rior prob­lems.

In De­cem­ber, Illi­nois­based AMG Realty Group, owner of three Colum­bus apart­ment com­plexes with scores of health- and safety-code vi­o­la­tions, agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and re­pair its units. It also had been on the city’s “worst’’ list.

“You’ve still got land­lords out there with sub­stan­dard hous­ing,” Rose said.

Trues­dell said code vi­o­la­tions and blight go hand-in-hand with crime.

One big prob­lem the city con­tin­ues to face, said Rose, is that “a lot of these big apart­ment build­ings are old, built in the 1970s.” Re­hab­bing them will be dif­fi­cult, he said, with old heat­ing and cool­ing sys­tems and plumb­ing among the big­gest is­sues.

Trent Smith, who leads the Franklin­ton Area Com­mis­sion and Franklin­ton Board of Trade, said he likes that code en­force­ment of­fi­cers have been more proac­tive in fer­ret­ing out prob­lems in re­cent years than be­fore, when they usu­ally just re­sponded to com­plaints. But he said he has heard from prop­erty own­ers cry­ing foul over what they per­ceive as overly ag­gres­sive code of­fi­cers.

“Some of the gen­eral con­sen­sus from res­i­dents is that they feel like they’re be­ing nit­picked,” Smith said. “Those rules are there for a rea­son.

“Code has al­ways been will­ing to work with folks.”

Kath­leen Bai­ley, who leads the Near East Area Com­mis­sion, said code of­fi­cers must be much more ag­gres­sive with “slum­lords” and out-of-state land­lords.

“We want Colum­bus to have the rep­u­ta­tion of, ‘No, you can’t do that here,’” Bai­ley said.

She said res­i­dents com­plain to her that code of­fi­cers go after the lit­tle guy but not the big play­ers.

Trues­dell said she hasn’t heard that com­plaint. She said a PACE team typ­i­cally works in a small, five-block ra­dius to help teach peo­ple how to bring prop­er­ties up to code.

Rose said code of­fi­cers have been work­ing more closely with area com­mis­sions to learn what’s go­ing on in neigh­bor­hoods.

“They’re a big help to us,” Rose said. “Some­times the neigh­bors know more.”

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