Sunday analysis: What was really said at the Oct. 19 city work session

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first_imgby Tracy McCue and James Jordan, Sumner Newscow — Tuesday night, a Wellington resident requested the city council should ask for the resignation of one of its member over a comment made at a previous work session. But the council member in question, Kip Etter, said his comment was misinterpreted.Kip EtterDuring the audience portion of the council meeting, Diana Page said the council member had referred to a member of the city staff as a “BTK killer.”Etter said he did no such thing and used the BTK reference as an example of the dangers of giving a code compliance officer too much authority.The comment occurred during a work session held on Oct. 19, 2015 at the council chambers in which a lengthy discussion took place among the Wellington City Council, city staff workers, chamber officials, and landlord property owners over the possible revamping of the Wellington Compliance Codes (see minutes of the meeting below). One of the proposals is giving the code compliance officer the authority to levy fines against offending property owners who do not comply to city code.Page, a financial consultant for Edward Jones and president of the Wellington Planning Commission, said she had heard during the Oct. 19, 2015 meeting, a code compliance officer was being referred to as a BTK killer. She did not mention Etter by name during her speech.She said she was worried that a Wichita television station was coming down to do a story on the matter and that would create adverse publicity for the community.Page said the city code compliance officer has filed a grievance report over the statement and she worries that the comment could cost the city millions of dollars if a defamation lawsuit was filed. She also requested that the council needs to delve into financial records of council members. She also worried about a statement made by Wellington Mayor Shelley Hansel, who said that if utility rates were not raised, the city would go bankrupt.Page did not return Sumner Newscow requests for a follow up interview.According to several sources, Page did not attend the Oct. 19 work session meeting.Wellington City Manager Eckert confirmed that a grievance report was issued, but he can’t discuss it because it is a personnel issue.••••How the statement came aboutEtter sat down to talk with Sumner Newscow on Friday. Etter said he understands criticism comes with the territory, but he was surprised at being called on the carpet at last week’s meeting over a comment he had. An audio recording of the meeting in question does show he used the reference, but he was not making an accusation against any city employees. The conversation starts concerning the possible assessment of a penalty implied if a citizen did not clean up its property. Here is the recording: Council member Kelly Green: If they haven’t cleaned it up the Judge assesses a fine?Wellington Inspector Richard Jack: Yes.Green: So then they pay the fine or they go to jail? Jack: Yes, pay or they can go to jail.Green: But there’s no come back and pay another fine in six months or……Etter: Well that’s what we’re talking about with review and compromise.  I mean I would just urge in the making of this….Green: …to get done, if it’s a fifty dollar fine and they only have to pay that every six months whenever it goes through the prosecutor ….Jack: But when the Judge says it’s a thousand dollars, most people take that very seriously.Green: Exactly.Etter: That’s where we go back to the review and the compromise implemented into it.  I would urge when you’re putting this together, one thing I am going to caution is, is that, while Richard you may say that you’re not going to do that, but when you’re gone, the next person comes in, who’s going to say that they’re not going to have the understanding and authority. We just had, I mean, I’m not trying to bring up old things, but you know, Park City had a BTK killer, and you hear about the, the a, to the extent that he took his authority as a code officer, I do not want to get into that kind of situation, nor will I support…Green: Did you just say the BTK killer?Etter:I did, because he was a compliance officer……(Many people talking at once…..can not distinguish who is saying what.)Etter: Code compliance officer, yeah.  If there’s not checks and balances, I will not support it. The audio recording was made available after a request was made to the city manager’s office.In the board meeting minutes which was approved by the council on Tuesday, the comment was not specifically mentioned. It stated: There was more discussion regarding review and compromise of the Codes.  Council member Etter said if there were not checks and balances he would not support it.  “I had no idea that was coming,” Etter said of Tuesday’s night’s comment by Page. Etter said Eckert had talked to Page before the meeting, but he said Friday he did not know what she wanted to talk about. Customarily, if a city wishes to address the council, it must be put on the agenda. Page was not placed on the agenda prior to the meeting, only asking Eckert if she could speak before the meeting started. Etter spoke with Hansel, who allowed Page to address the council. Etter said he is all for allowing people to speak at meetings, if they want people to be on the agenda so they can be prepared for issues that might be brought up. He is not opposed to letting people speak anyway, even if they have not been put on the agenda beforehand. But he was taken aback by the accusation. “I felt like it was personally pointed toward me,” Etter said. “But that is not what I said in any way.” What Etter said he meant In the work session, the issue under discussion was the power of code compliance officers. A code compliance officer, a job now occupied by Aaron Norton, currently cannot write tickets or give fines if a property owner is in violation of city code. Some feel they should be able to do that because people are not motivated to do anything when there is no punishment, or cost involved. Etter has mixed feelings about that issue, but does not want code enforcement officers to have power that is not checked in some way. He said he wants to see accountability there. Etter has in the past argued for giving property owners more time to work on their property, and has at times questioned why certain properties are being singled out for prosecution while others that are just as bad are left alone. “I am all about cleaning up the city,” he said. “We have a problem with blight. It is embarrassing to have dilapidated buildings. I just want to be sure there are checks and balances in place.” Etter said he perhaps should not have made the BTK comment, but his intent was not to criticize or accuse any city employees. The BTK killer was a code enforcement officer in Wichita when he was caught for the murder of 10 people between 1974 and 1991. He is currently serving 10 consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas. Etter said he should have perhaps used a different analogy, but his point was that people should not have too much power. He said he does want to see the town cleaned up and wants there to be an efficient system in place that encourages people to fix up their property. Currently, the city can tear down a building and put an assessment on the property, which the owner will have to pay with his or her taxes. That is the case unless it goes to a tax sale, in which case the owner loses the property and the city does not get its money for tearing down the building. There is a “clean slate” approach when someone buys a piece of property at a tax sale. The hope is they will build something and become a taxpayer. But there are a lot of these properties around town, Etter said. A few times people have met with code enforcement officers and felt the demands to get a place back into code were too stringent, Etter said. He also has advocated the city get involved with salvaging operations in some way to take anything of value that could be used to offset city expenses. Etter owns rental properties himself, and has restored some older houses that were in bad shape and now he rents them out. He has done a little salvage work here and there, but does not have an actual salvaging business. He does not want to do that himself, but feels the city could recoup some of its money if it worked out a way to have the properties salvaged. Etter said he is also interested in preserving anything that might be of historical value. He added that the state has regulations concerning what can be done with money from salvaging old buildings. Once the city recoups its money, if there is any money left, it has to go back to the property owner, for instance. He has also been perceived as being against code compliance because he has disagreed with them on a few issues. He said he thinks the problem really is that code compliance has not been given specific direction from the city council. “Every city is unique. We need to have specific criteria for which houses are torn down,” he said. “We need to be able to quantify what we are doing, get data from what we are doing, and we need to know if an individual property meets the criteria,” he said. If such a system were in place, he would not be opposed to allowing code compliance workers to write tickets for violations. Even though Etter was the recipient of criticism at the meeting last week, he still wants people to come to the council with their concerns. “We (the city) can do a better job of communication,” Etter said. “But people also have a responsibility to do some research.” He said many times people approach council members about issues after something is passed, and rarely before. It would be helpful to get more input before they vote. He is also hoping to get started with video recordings of work sessions, like the ones done of regular meetings. It would help understand what previous councils were thinking when they passed various things.The work session meetingsPerhaps, the one thing that has not been demonstrated throughout other media outlets in Wellington, was the scope for which the statement made.These are the approved minutes of the meeting in hand. Sumner Newscow was not in attendance at the meeting until the final 20 minutes and missed this particular discussion.Wellington work session minutes – Oct. 19. Code Compliance. Mrs. Sue Rankin Wilson, who resides in Texas but owns and rents out the property located at 310 S. Jefferson, was present to address the Council and to show her support for the City’s Code Compliance policies and procedures. Mrs. Wilson stated she would like the Code Compliance Officials to be able to write tickets to penalize property owners or leasers of the property who violate the Code. She spoke of issues her renters have had with neighbors for the last three years who have trash, weeds, and junk in their yards. Mrs. Wilson talked about having her fifty-year class reunion and presented a petition with twenty-five signatures of people who want the City cleaned up. She also presented emails from residents and past residents of Wellington regarding property neglect in Wellington. Mrs. Robin Hamilton, 704 South H Street was present to address the Council. Mrs. Hamilton said she is a twenty-year resident of Wellington. She told of two properties close to her house that have trash, vehicles, and junk (mattresses) in the yards. Mrs. Hamilton said the City property codes need teeth – there needs to be consequences for violators. She is in support of the Code and enforcement. Mrs. Hamilton said they are building duplexes in the City and want the area to be cleaned up. She agreed with Mrs. Wilson that renters need to be ticketed if they violate code. Council member Korte asked if the two houses with mounds of trash are occupied. Mrs. Hamilton replied yes. She told the location of the properties. Mr. Kenny Moore, 918 E. Lincoln, a landlord, said he also has had complaints from renters regarding neighboring properties with trash in their yards. He said the renters don’t want to live close to this. Mr. Moore mentioned semi trucks being parked on City streets and asked if that was legal. He also spoke about inoperable vehicles on streets and in yards for years and nothing has changed. Mr. Moore said there are thousands of tires up and down the alleys that harbor mosquitoes. Mr. Moore said the Code Compliance people are doing their jobs but need some help. He said when he has visitors coming to Wellington; the first thing they say is that the town needs to be cleaned up. Mayor Hansel thanked Mr. Moore for helping draw attention to the problems. City Manager Eckert said there was some discussion regarding a Property of the Month Club, so when people do clean up, they can get some sort of recognition for it. Council member Etter explained the proposed program is in its infancy but that he envisioned it could be like the Christmas lighting contest, with a possible credit on the winner’s utility bill. Council member Korte asked who would choose the winners. Council member Etter spoke of having the Chamber involved with the guidance of the City. Mayor Hansel asked Inspector Jack and Code Compliance Officials Cornejo and Norton what happens when there is a violation. City Attorney Brown asked if Staff is still having trouble getting Code violations enforced in Municipal Court. Mr. Norton replied yes. Mr. Norton described the Code violation process. He said the violations have to be visible from the street or an easement. There was discussion regarding the lengthy time it takes for cases to be prosecuted. Mr. Norton explained how the process works. There was more discussion. Mr. Jim Wilson, 310 S Jefferson, spoke about repeat offenders and that Staff has no control. City Attorney Brown asked Mr. Norton for the average time for it takes for Court action on a property that is not cleaned up. Mr. Norton answered from eight weeks to one year. He said in 2014, he did a case study; 350 notices were sent out, 275 complied within the time allotted or asked for more time; 50 violators appeared in Court. There was further discussion regarding the prosecutor and enforcements needed. Council member Green asked if the City’s process is not working because it needs to be redone, or if it’s not working because of a broken link. Mr. Norton said in May 2015, he presented options for possible amendments to the Code that would give Staff more authority to see things through. Council member Green asked Inspector Jack for his thoughts. Inspector Jack said it is very difficult for him, Mr. Norton, or Mr. Cornejo to do their jobs because of the way Staff’s hands are tied on what they can do. He said he worked in Wichita for ten years, and as Attorney Brown pointed out, citations were issued, and violators went to Court. Not a letter, not fourteen days, and then more days given from the prosecutor. Mr. Jack said, you go to Court and the judge asks if it has been cleaned up/taken care of, did you paint your house, did you fix whatever, and if the answer was no, it was a $500 fine, or $1000 fine, or go to jail if they don’t do what they are supposed to do. Mayor Hansel commented the City process seems archaic. Council member Green asked Mr. Jack if he agreed with the amendments proposed by Mr. Norton. Mr. Jack replied yes with review by the City Attorney. Council member Wetta asked what Wellington does different than other cities. Attorney Brown said there is a bottleneck. Mr. Norton said the IPMC (International Property Maintenance Code) was adopted by the City several years ago and is fantastic. He said it sets solid guidelines for cities to follow. Mr. Norton said he is a member of KACE (Kansas Association of Code Enforcements), and at the annual meetings he has a chance to speak with other cities regarding their property codes. He said some of the recommendations he made in May came from things that are working in other communities. Mr. Valentine asked Mr. Jack if he had the authority to write citations when he worked in Wichita. Mr. Jack replied yes. He said the Code Enforcement, Zoning, and Building staff all had the authority to do so. Council member Valentine asked how much time was allowed to get repairs done. Mr. Jack replied that it depended on the situation and the repairs needed. Council member Green asked for the details of the citations given in Wichita. Mr. Jack said he had a book to write the citation and he would write it out, physically hand it to the person and they would have ten to fourteen days, depending on when the next Court date was, to show up in Court. Just like a speeding ticket. He said the Judge would ask the person if the violation was taken care of and the person would either tell the judge yes, and Staff would go out the next day to check; or the violator would tell the judge they can’t get it cleaned up for some reason and the Judge would take it from there. Council member Green said we would still need backing from the Court. Mr. Jack concurred. Audience member, Mr. Jim Brown, 1228 N. Jefferson, was recognized by Mayor Hansel. Mr. Brown asked what would happen if he was in the military and was gone for some time and even if he doesn’t know if he has violated a code, he would get a citation. Mr. Jack said what Staff is proposing is to be able to write a citation and to be able to say yes, here is your citation, and if Staff says he is not here, he is off with the military, or he works for the railroad so is gone for two to three weeks, in those cases it would be different. Mr. Brown said he would not accept a citation if he did not even know what code he had violated. Mayor Hansel said certainly there are exceptions, but there are some repeat offenders that are known. Mr. Jack said he would not write a citation the first time unless it was (example) an unlicensed roofer, because we have Codes that require a license. There was more discussion regarding review and compromise of the Codes. Council member Etter said if there were not checks and balances he would not support it. Mrs. Sue Wilson commented there should probably be some exceptions for the elderly. She asked Mr. Jack if the citations written in Wichita were given to renters or property owners. Mr. Jack replied that the citations were given to the person occupying the property, with the driver’s license used to fill out the citation. Mr. Norton said a speeding ticket is a pretty apt analogy, because not everyone who is pulled over gets a speeding ticket; the Police officer can give a warning. As far as people who would be unable to follow through, there is a new program in town called Brush with Kindness, which is actually an offshoot of Habitat for Humanity, in which help is given to people who need to weatherize their windows, or get rid of trash, or tow away an inoperable vehicle. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Annarose White was present to address the Council. Director White said regarding the Brush with Kindness program, it is a program for homeowners specifically. She said there have been a few applications turned in but the people were asking for things not covered by the program. Director White reported that the Chamber is working with the Sumner County Economic Development Commission, and have the South Central Kansas Landlord’s Association list of rentals available at the Chamber and have been adding it to the Chamber website. The number one hit on the Chamber website is people going to the Renting in Wellington page and looking for answers. Director White said of the foot traffic at the Chamber, they have renter’s coming in with questions regarding safety of their rental but will not give their address, for fear of getting kicked out. She said the better housing the City can get, the better businesses will move in. She said the Chamber supports making the process more streamlined, which will help with the quality of life in Wellington. Mayor Hansel thanked Director White and said she is doing a great job. Mayor Hansel said as far as Code Compliance, City Attorney Brown and the Code Compliance Staff will work with the amendments and give the Chamber a final draft to be considered. Audience member Stan Irvin, spoke of imposing some kind of sanction on the landlord, as well as the renter. Council member Green said some Code violations are police issues. Mr. Jack said vehicles abandoned on the street are a police issue, and on the property or blocking a sidewalk are Code Compliance issues. Council member Green said semi trucks on the street are a police issue and they will tag it and tow it. Mayor Hansel recognized audience member Jim Fairbanks. He asked how different a trash violation is from a weed violation. He asked if City crews could clean up the trash and charge the violator as they do with weeds. Public Works Director Jones said there is a process for weeds that is similar to the condemnation process, which is a lengthy process of a notice, publication, a resolution that goes to the Council for blight and then another to get it cleaned up; very drawn out, probably at least four months. Director Jones said secondly, who do we get to clean it up. He said he cannot personally think of any department that could do this. He said we don’t do City-wide clean-ups anymore because the last one took four weeks; to go through the entire town with two loaders and four dump trucks and eight staff members. He said what is being talked about tonight has been going on for fifteen years. Director Jones, and Council member Green agreed that the Clean-up Committee cannot pick up the amount of trash that the people are generating, they can only collect from people who care enough to bring their trash to the curb, and they are getting free landfill privileges because they don’t have to take their trash and junk to the landfill; the City is doing it. City Attorney Brown said the problem is the people see the City and Committee are going to clean up their property every year and they don’t have to do a thing. Mr. Jack Reimer, Combined Trade Board member who technically lives outside the City limits was recognized. He commented that the City has some landlords that do a really good job taking care of their properties and they fight this all the time. He said if the issue is fixed in the Court it would take away the ticketing issue. Mr. Norton responded that there would still be the issue of recidivism; the issue of people who continue to violate the Code. He added there is no incentive to keep the violators from doing it again and again. There was further discussion regarding the Court process versus the citation process. Mrs. Wilson asked if there was a bulk trash pick-up day. Director Jones said it is on a case by case basis. If a customer calls they will go pick it up. If something is left by the trash can, the Sanitation workers put a ticket on the item asking the resident to call for a pickup. Mayor Hansel said citizens also have the option of renting a two-yard dumpster. Mayor Hansel asked the Council if they wanted to continue with the agenda items. Council member Green replied that she would like to cover demolitions to let Mr. Norton know what the Council wants. She spoke about the Landlord Association, discussing how the inspections by Mr. Jack effect how the landlords do their job. She stated the Landlord Association fully understands and respects that Mr. Jack is following a code book that tells him what his job is. Council member Green said what the Landlord Association proposes is that a few people from the Combined Trade Board and a few interested parties from the Landlord Association, and a few from City Staff, sit down and have a brainstorming session. Mayor Hansel said she would like to form a Task Force, not a committee, but a Task Force that has a beginning and an end. She asked if anyone wanted to be a member. Mr. Kenny Moore commented that if landlords are going to have to hire someone to do work on their rental properties, the houses would not be “affordable”. He said he feels like the landlords should be allowed to do their own work and then have it inspected. Those who volunteered for the Task Force were Kenny Moore, Jim Brown, Kelly Green, and Floyd Moore. Mayor Hansel asked that the 3 Engineering Staff members also be on the Task Force. There was further discussion regarding the Codes. Mr. Brown gave an example of wanting to fix up a house at 1222 N. Jefferson, but was told he would have to hire contractors to do the work. City Manager Eckert stated that the City adopted standard building codes and City Staff has to follow the Code, otherwise they are liable, for instance, if the house burns down due to faulty wiring that was not done by a qualified electrician. He said you could look at the Code and possibly modify a few rules, but keep in mind that Staff is enforcing the Codes that were inherited for safety. Follow us on Twitter. Close Forgot password? Please put in your email: Send me my password! Close message Login This blog post All blog posts Subscribe to this blog post’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Subscribe to this blog’s comments through… RSS Feed Subscribe via email Subscribe Follow the discussion Comments (37) Logging you in… Close Login to IntenseDebate Or create an account Username or Email: Password: Forgot login? Cancel Login Close Username or Email: Password: Lost your password? Cancel Login Dashboard | Edit profile | Logout Logged in as Admin Options Disable comments for this page Save Settings Sort by: Date Rating Last Activity Loading comments… You are about to flag this comment as being inappropriate. Please explain why you are flagging this comment in the text box below and submit your report. The blog admin will be notified. Thank you for your input. -1 Vote up Vote down CueballSumnernewscow 94p · 248 weeks ago In order to participate in the comment section, please read the comment policy here:…. We highly encourage you to sign your name, but will allow one surname, preferably a first or middle name, and a valid e-mail address. E-mails will not be published. Those without valid e-mail addresses won’t be read. Report Reply 0 replies · active 248 weeks ago +2 Vote up Vote down Meryl · 248 weeks ago So, if I’m reading Kip’s original comment right, the BTK Killer murdered people because we was a code compliance officer? It wasn’t because he was unhinged? It was his job that did it? Wow…I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever read something something so ignorant and disrespectful. Report Reply 5 replies · active 248 weeks ago +18 Vote up Vote down Meryl · 248 weeks ago Lage has a point. We should know if the council has any bad history with money since they’re in charge of our tax money. Report Reply 3 replies · active 248 weeks ago +33 Vote up Vote down jeff · 248 weeks ago Sorry to play the tape again and again but – Kelly Green should recuse herself from any and all discussion between or among landlord association, “city staff” / code compliance, and the violation-finders, and utility increases. She has her own personal agenda. Report Reply 0 replies · active 248 weeks ago +8 Vote up Vote down no name · 248 weeks ago Etter can try to sugar coat what he said. The whole reference and comparison of the code compliance position along with the BTK is sad and should be unacceptable. Why would any city employee respect a man who makes reference to any position and brings up one of the most horrific murderers ever. What is more troublesome is when Etter started down that line the City Manager should have shut that down immediately. I hope what ever the employee is asking for is accomplished. Just because your an elected official doesn’t put you above the people that serve our community. Report Reply 0 replies · active 248 weeks ago +10 Vote up Vote down Katie Norton · 248 weeks ago I have a problem with this statement, “He said he thinks the problem really is that code compliance has not been given specific direction from the city council.” Council-member Etter should know that it is not the job of the city council to be involved in day-to-day operations and to give “specific direction” to code compliance. The code compliance officer doesn’t answer to or report to the City Council. Report Reply 0 replies · active 248 weeks ago +4 Vote up Vote down Bob · 248 weeks ago I do not think there is a causal relationship between BTK becoming a psychopathic serial killer and unchecked code compliance. For Mr Etter to make this association is irresponsible and wrong. Mr Etter’s association seems to imply that My Norton or all code compliance officers would become psychopathic serial killer if not kept in check. I do not believe Mr Etter actually meant to make this association or believe Mr Norton would become a pychopathic serial killer with the power to fine people but I do think the city should issue an official apology and keep any personal bias toward code compliance out of official duty. Ask got forgiveness and move forward. Report Reply 0 replies · active 248 weeks ago +10 Vote up Vote down Nobody Important · 248 weeks ago So let me get this straight…we have a hospital that can’t pay its bills, and a local government that can’t manage its finances, and this…….is what ya’ll are worried about???? Shameful Report Reply 1 reply · active 248 weeks ago +11 Vote up Vote down Carolyn · 248 weeks ago “According to several sources, Page did not attend the Oct. 19 work session meeting.” In other words Page was spreading second hand information. Typical. Report Reply 2 replies · active 248 weeks ago +4 Vote up Vote down LiveWell? · 248 weeks ago It may have been second hand information to Ms. Page, but to those of us in attendance at the meeting, we heard it first hand, not to mention there’s an audio recording of the meeting. Kudos to Ms. Page for standing up and trying to make Mr. Etter accountable for his actions. Mr. Etter has no business being an elected official, when he can’t conduct himself in an appropriate, professional manner. Report Reply 0 replies · active 248 weeks ago 123Next » Post a new comment Enter text right here! Comment as a Guest, or login: Login to IntenseDebate Login to Login to Twitter Go back Tweet this comment Connected as (Logout) Email (optional) Not displayed publicly. Name Email Website (optional) Displayed next to your comments. Not displayed publicly. If you have a website, link to it here. Posting anonymously. 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