Spokane County’s lone zoning code enforcement officer has been reprimanded and reassigned at his request after a complaint from Police Chief Terry Mangan and one of his Spokane Valley neighbors.
Allan deLaubenfels, 63, who handles complaints ranging from rusty cars to smelly livestock, said it was the first reprimand of his career.
DeLaubenfels’ enforcement duties will be split among three remaining code compliance department employees. His position was eliminated.
The complaints came after deLaubenfels investigated allegations of an illegal livestock feedlot in Mangan’s neighborhood.
“I wrote the letter to the county and talked to his supervisor as a private citizen,” Mangan said Friday. “Now I’ll let them handle it.”
Mangan’s letter said deLaubenfels was seen trespassing on his property and was “rude and threatening” to a neighbor boy.
DeLaubenfels denies the claims. He said he never left his car.
“I am horrified that the county has not jumped to my defense on this,” he said. “I requested to be transferred to other duties, unless they support me on this matter. I can’t enforce the law if they aren’t going to back me.”
Beginning Monday, deLaubenfels moves to a new job in the county’s long-range planning department.
On Friday, the three remaining employees in the code compliance office began handling zoning complaints.
“Because of budget constraints we are going to share it among several staff members,” said Tom Davis, codes administrator.
Davis said the department is supported through money collected from permit fees. Code enforcement isn’t a money-maker for the department.
However, Davis said that before deLaubenfels asked to be reassigned, there were no plans to eliminate his job.
“The opportunity presented itself,” he said. “It is a more efficient use of resources.”
Davis wouldn’t comment specifically on the complaints against deLaubenfels or on his past performance. He said the department handles 400 to 500 zoning code complaints each year.
“If it’s higher than that, we’re really in trouble. Trying to handle those without a person assigned to it is going to be a challenge.”
DeLaubenfels said he handled 4,000 cases in his seven years as code enforcement officer, many over the phone with no formal action.
In the case involving Mangan, Wedgewood Court neighbors called about a smelly livestock operation in their neighborhood.
While investigating the complaint in May, deLaubenfels encountered a boy on a riding lawnmower.
In a letter to the county, Mangan said the boy approached deLaubenfels to find out what he was doing.
“The neighbor’s son did this because our neighbors are aware that I have been the subject of threats from time to time, and they also knew that we were not home at the time,” Mangan wrote.
“Mr. deLaubenfels treated this young man, who is a minor and a disabled person, in a very rude and threatening manner, according to witnesses,” Mangan continued. “I look forward … to a formal inquiry and follow up to this complaint.”
Another complaint letter was written by the boy’s mother.
DeLaubenfels said he was on a public street in a public car when the boy approached him.
When he discovered the boy couldn’t hear, the two exchanged notes. DeLaubenfels said he was taking pictures of the livestock and told the boy to “get out of my way.”
The boy said deLaubenfels told him to “get out my face.”
DeLaubenfels said he didn’t think there was anything remarkable about the encounter. When the complaint letters came, he thought the neighborhood was upset because he decided the livestock operation is legal.
Following a meeting with county officials and union representatives, a letter of reprimand was placed in his file with suggestions that more training be provided for the position. He also was instructed to write a letter of apology to the boy and his mother.
DeLaubenfels said he doesn’t have anything to apologize for, but wrote a letter explaining what happened.
“I was unhappy. I couldn’t continue doing zoning enforcement knowing every time there was a complaint, there would be the assumption that I had done something wrong,” he said.
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