The City Commission of Arkansas City soon will choose a date for a town hall meeting to educate the public about city cleanup efforts and the code enforcement process, at the suggestion of City Manager Nick Hernandez.
The recent passing of a charter ordinance that gives additional city employees the ability to write notices to appear in Arkansas City Municipal Court and an effort to promote a citywide cleanup are some of the topics that will be discussed.
“Ticketing is always the last thing we want to do,” Hernandez said regarding the recently approved charter ordinance.
“We just really want compliance. We really need to encourage neighborhoods — churches, youth groups, whatever it may be — to try to identify areas where they can clean up. Maybe it’s cleaning yards out for an elderly or disabled citizen, painting a house, (or) trimming trees.”
Citizens on Facebook have been requesting better enforcement of municipal code regarding yard upkeep, as well as dealing with abandoned properties or dangerous structures.
The Beautification and Tree Advisory Board’s special meeting Sept. 12 is only the first in a series of meetings planned to help to jump-start the efforts of private citizens to clean up and beautify properties before they have to be condemned.
City officials also are meeting with representatives of nonprofit organizations.
Hernandez’s goal is to reduce tax dollars spent on the destruction of buildings by allocating smaller amounts on a case-by-case basis for preventative maintenance to combat dilapidation.
Fall Cleanup Week push
Fall Cleanup Week will be about two weeks after the town hall meeting, which will be scheduled officially during the Sept. 20 commission meeting.
The cleanup is midway between the Last Run Car Show and the Arkalalah Festival, and city officials hope to get a lot of positive work done in that short period of time.
Hernandez described a model in which the city, under the direction and recommendation of the Beautification Board, could award groups with micro-grants to perform the work they propose to do. “Maybe we pay for paint or paintbrushes,” he said.
“Maybe we haul off the trash for them in a designated area. … We want to try to encourage those local groups to basically step up and provide all the volunteer work to do it, rather than us just going out and ticketing the property owner right away.”
He also suggested the idea of the city purchasing several small mowers and loaning them out.
Hernandez said the advantage of relying on neighborhood groups is that they are familiar with their neighborhoods — they know who really needs the help and who doesn’t need it.
“(Citizens) come to us and want us to do something,” said Mayor Duane Oestmann. “I think it’s a good idea to get neighborhoods to get involved with it. I think that does more good than what we do.”
Some of the organizations mentioned that possibly might be interested in participating in this cleanup effort are Angels in the Attic, Boy Scouts Troop 328, Cowley College’s ACES program and volunteers.
Citizens may watch the discussion of the town hall meeting at youtu.be/ExBRBL3nBfo.
Code enforcement charter ordinance
The recently passed charter ordinance modified municipal code that already empowered the city attorney and city clerk to write notices to appear.
The new ordinance gives those same privileges to the fire chief or his designee, the neighborhood services superintendent or his designee and public service officers in the police department.
Each of the individuals given authority to write notices to appear only are given the ability to write them in relation to their respective positions.
For example, the fire chief (or his or her designee) only is able to write notices to appear for fire-related issues, such as burn pit violations.
No additional training has been scheduled for the individuals who will be given these privileges.
However, all of the people currently holding these positions have had prior experience with writing notices to appear.
Fire Chief Bobby Wolfe previously worked for 30-plus years in Wichita, including administering citations for violations of fire code.
Neighborhood Services Superintendent Richard Brown also has more than 30 years’ experience in Andover, Dodge City, Rose Hill and Wichita.
The only position without previous experience is the public service officer, who only has the ability to write notices to appear for dogs at large and other animal code violations.
The ability to write notices to appear does not equate to writing tickets, though. There are no law enforcement powers included in the ordinance.
The fire chief, neighborhood services superintendent, their designees and public service officers have no right to arrest or detain, nor do they have the legal authority to use force. And they must back up their decisions in municipal court if the defendants choose to appeal them.
Prior to Hernandez’s arrival in 2011, there were city employees writing notices to appear who did not have the authority to do so, per state statute.