|An Editorial, by R. F. Mariano, 10/08/03
Selective Enforcement what does it mean?
This type of enforcement, in the simplest of terms means that Code Enforcement Officers do not inspect neighborhoods they simply respond to complaints received from other departments or residents in the neighborhood.
What does Selective Enforcement Engender?
Serious consequences in most cases. By that I mean the end result pits neighbor against neighbor, ends any type of cordial discussion between neighbors and assures that a feud will result because Code Enforcement uses anonymous complaints as a basis for issuing warnings of City Code infractions. Also it opens the door to the possibility of official abuses.
Whatever became of the premise of knowing your accuser?
With the system of verifying anonymous complaints the Code Enforcement Officer becomes a pawn of neighbors feuding between themselves. This type of result is abominable. Its akin to the old Nazi tactic of having people snitch on each other "for the good of the state". In every complaint, the accused should be made aware of the complainant. This would minimize abuse by neighborhood nasties, cranks, busybodies and self-appointed neighborhood "mayors."
Goodwill should be the Rule of Thumb
Selective Enforcement is a sorry excuse for Code Enforcement. It boils down to the taxpayers "doing the job" for the city. Neighbors should be encouraged to contact the other party in the neighborhood to attempt a friendly resolution instead of having a Man with the Badge come calling spewing forth all sorts of Ordinance sections, minuscule sections of the code or otherwise simply intimidating a fellow homeowner, voter and taxpayer. Further, it guarantees the widening of rifts between neighbors over nonsensical matters that can be easily resolved if the neighbors are offered an opportunity to resolve offensive conditions among themselves.
In a number of encounters with the City Code Enforcement Officers, this reporter has observed and experienced the following interactive encounters.
Approximately four months ago, a neighbor across the street was visited by a "Man with a Badge" very officially expressing that this hard working neighbor was a lawbreaker.. Needless to say, the poor person was shocked. Those folks (I know them personally) are hard working (6 days a week) law-abiding citizens, taxpayers and voters. This is the reward they get for meeting their civic duty.
To the crux of the story..
The Officer informed the neighbor that he had received a complaint about his 14 foot jonboat and trailer being in violation of the Jacksonville Ordinance Code Section 656.409. The officer was Charlie Wilson #1759. This poor guy, while an official representative of the city, was in fact bearing the brunt of frustration, anger and shock by the neighbor. The major shock came when other front yards and driveways having much larger boats on trailers were obviously in violation and when it was pointed out to Officer Wilson, his reply was "we have no complaints about that boat." Immediately, my neighbor felt that being given the warning, he had been "singled out."
A little background on the above story, the cited neighbor had experienced a rather disturbing discourse at the hands of their next door neighbor. Seems they were trying to sell their house and felt the dog in the backyard and the boat in the front yard were a bit too much. The neighbor who was selling eventually sold and I might add to very nice people.
Now, my personal experiences
Experience # 1
A week ago, an Enforcement Officer showed up at my door telling me he had a complaint about my "stinking garbage containers". (Ever find a rose garden in a garbage can?) Well, my friends, I was, as was my neighbor across the street, shocked! I had made it my business to use covers on my garbage containers and I might add, ever since the city went to once a week pick-ups. Why? Because in the hot Florida sun, whatever is in anyone's garbage pail will reek within a few days especially if seafood was on the menu. If its simply in a garbage bag, animals will certainly have it torn open overnight. The inspector didn't find any problems and left wishing me a good day.
After he left, I began to think about my episode.... with the City's enforcement people. I wondered "anonymous complaint"? Surely the city has no garbage pail police going all over the city smelling for offensive odors! Therefore, it had to be someone rather close to me .... like a next door neighbor! I'm on a corner property so in reality, I have only one "next door neighbor".. I concurred to myself... that person is far too nice a person to have tried to cause me grief over an odorous garbage container. Which in fact, was not the case at the time the Code Enforcement Officer visited. If it had been reeking, how in heaven's name would I put up with it! My first concerns would be that of my family and neighbors
Inspect the Garbage Routes on pick-up days and
Jacksonville, Florida is a recreational paradise, four mild seasons, perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities and I might add, its also the fishing capital of the state if not the country. Yet we find goofy rules and regulations in place that create a prohibitive atmosphere for those who wish to live here, own homes, pay taxes and enjoy a bit of Floridian life. What's wrong with this picture? I agree that we need a common ground on the upkeep and appearance of our residential neighborhoods but for goodness' sake.... a reasonable amount of discretion goes a long way. To rely upon a single court decision from the late 1800's is akin to relying on the performance of a Model T Ford in making rules and regulations for today's highways.
What's worse is the manner in which code enforcement approaches its responsibilities to Jacksonville's home owners and taxpayers. Its archaic and in the least, absurd. In today's times, we need Ordinances that are totally applicable to today's needs and tomorrow's desires. But.... most of all, we must see the laws we have fairly applied to all. Not just those few who are brought to the attention of the city by whomever. The taxes paid by homeowners were and are designated for the appropriation of funds to employ qualified individuals who can be relied upon to inspect, counsel, enforce and protect the beauty of our neighborhoods, the safety of our taxpayers and the value of their homes and property. After all, it only ensures the tax base for the city will remain appreciative as opposed to depreciative.
If the Ordinances in question have a tendency to offend that's one thing but to see Code Enforcement respond only to complaints rather than apply themselves and enforce the laws we have unilaterally, then we could very easily be staring at abuse of power dead in the face not only by inspectors but by neighborhood cranks. The laws are for everyone not just the select few designated by individuals with an axe to grind or self-appointed neighborhood "mayors" and busybodies. All that can be said at this point is to entreat the Whigs downtown to make certain the law is fairly applied to everyone. Eliminate the slightest possibility of abuse by either the city employees and/or neighborhood cranks.
Must every neighborhood organize themselves into action committees to get the proper cooperation of the City agencies or can the home owners throughout the city expect and rely upon a responsible, level headed approach to code enforcement on the part of the city? Selective Enforcement via complaint only is a joke on the taxpayers and wrong! It leaves every homeowner in the city wide open to abuse from a myriad of directions.