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Junk cars top complaint

Code enforcement officers brief council on their work

Two of Spokane Valley’s code enforcement officers briefed the City Council on what they do and how they do it during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The most common complaint is for junk cars, they said. The officers also respond if a yard has too much trash or debris piling up, a business is being run illegally out of a home or other law violations.

The officers start with a warning and work with the property owners to clean up the mess. If nothing is done, the officers can take the matter to court and impose fines, but that is a last resort, said code enforcement officer Chris Berg. “As long as improvements are being made, we will work with the property owner.”

Berg showed several before and after pictures of cleanups he and partner Bill Schultz have spearheaded. Berg showed a home that was cluttered with trash and debris inside and out, including large amounts of animal feces in the basement. Two elderly people in failing health lived there, he said. “It was so bad we couldn’t go in without respirators,” he said. “This is the human side of code enforcement.”

The code enforcement division also handled a lot of sign violations, most of which involved illegal banners, A-frame signs and temporary signs, Schultz said.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he was concerned that there were 51 sign violations in three months. “Do you think it was business-friendly to take their signs down in this environment?” he said.

Acting City Manager Mike Jackson interjected that the men were only doing their job and that the council could change the city code if they wanted to. “It’s code enforcement’s job to enforce city code,” Jackson said.

In other discussion:

•Community Development Director Kathy McClung presented the council with a schedule for looking at every detail of the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan with an eye toward making changes. The process would start with a current economic analysis at the May 4 council meeting and tentatively end with a discussion of the Community Boulevard Zone at the Sept. 28 council meeting. The long time period is to allow affected property owners in each zone to be notified of the meetings by mail and to give staff members time to prepare reports and presentations on each zoning category. “It’s a fairly aggressive schedule,” McClung said. “It may not look like it.”

McClung said that in order to prepare a current economic forecast the city would need to spend $1,000 to have a several-years-old forecast updated. The city has constantly heard that the SARP was based on outdated economic information, said Councilman Bill Gothmann. “I just think in order to make good decisions we need updated information,” he said.

The council agreed to spend the money for the new economic forecast.

McClung also told the council that re-examining SARP would eat up a significant amount of staff time and result in several months delay of the city’s pedestrian/bike plan, the Shoreline Master Program and work related to a recent developer’s forum.

•The council also took its first small step toward hiring a new city manager. The council fired former city manager, Dave Mercier, in January and named Jackson acting city manager in February. The council previously stated that they wanted to avoid using a search firm in hiring a new city manager.

Human resources manager John Whitehead presented several proposed documents associated with the recruitment process Tuesday. He recommended the council take a look at what they wanted in a new city manager as the first step of the process, then advertise the position and begin taking applications. The council also needs to decide what the salary will be, Whitehead said.

Councilman Bob McCaslin said he would like to simply announce that the city would be accepting applications. “Is there a problem with that?” he said.

Grafos said that he wanted a Spokane County-only search, raising an objection from councilwoman Rose Dempsey. “I hope that this will be a whole council decision,” she said. She recommended searching statewide to find people familiar with state law.

“I’d like to look in Spokane County,” McCaslin said.

At times the council seemed hesitant about how to move forward with the process. Mayor Tom Towey asked if council members wanted to set up a work team of a few council members or take each step with the council as a whole. Gothmann said it has been hard to schedule special meetings with the entire council and Dempsey said they should make some sort of decision within the next two weeks so the process is not delayed.

In the end the council members agreed to individually review the current job description for the city manager and suggest changes, then discuss the issue at the council’s next study session on May 4.