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A new and even tougher method of enforcing building codes and an alternative to the municipal courtroom is being considered to deal with Harriman’s most problematic offenders.
Building Inspector Maria Nelson brought forward the idea of trying an administrative hearing officer to give the city more options to deal with offenders that continue to violate the city’s building and property maintenance codes.
“The administrative hearing officer option gives us the option of citing higher fines ...” Nelson said.
Municipal courts is often ineffective on those types of offenders because fines are restricted to $50 and the $85 court cost. Nelson said an administrative hearing officer can levy a fine not to exceed $500 per violation for a residential property and a fine not to exceed $500 per violation per day for non-residential property.
Councilman Chris Ahler liked the idea of doing something to stop the worst offenders.
“We need an effective system that will hopefully end this kind of behavior,” Ahler said.
Nelson wants council to consider an ordinance creating the position at an April meeting.
Nelson said the big thing was making sure that the person being cited has been given proper due process, and she recommended that any violators proceed through municipal court first and the administrative hearing officer used only as a last recourse.
“This is going to be very limited. It is only to be used in addition to the municipal court when we have a chronic offender,” Nelson said.
Making sure it was fairly applied was a concern for officials.
“It would have to be done on an equitable basis,” Councilman Ken Mynatt said.
The decision making on who was sent to the officer concerned people, but Balcom did not see it as a problem.
“Law enforcement is discretionary every day. Ask any law enforcement. I see you speeding. I make a decision do I issue you a ticket or not,” Balcom said. “The reality is just try to treat equal situations equally. As long as you are exercising your discretion reasonably I don’t think there is any liability.”
Nelson recommended at least trying the new position to see if it benefited the city.
City attorney Harold Balcom pointed out how other communities are doing something unique to curb offenses and tackle issues a regular municipal court cannot. An example he gave was Knox County’s environmental court.
That county “now can deal with an area courts were very limited in,” Balcom said.
Nelson also thought the position should be hired on an as needed basis. She said there should be a pool of individuals in East Tennessee that are certified administrative hearing officers through the Municipal Technical Advisory Service that could be contracted with.
“We don’t have to have somebody here on staff that is certified as administrative officer,” Nelson explained.
Nelson said most offenders do clean up their properties, but there are some chronic offenders that cannot seem to keep their properties within acceptable guidelines.
“Generally most people come into compliance,” she said. She estimated about 90 percent did without any legal recourse, while about 5 percent of the 10 percent taken to court soon after remedy the problems.
Dealing with the remaining 5 percent that refuse to comply is the problem, she explained.
Nelson said any property owner not satisfied with the decision of an administrative hearing officer can file a petition for judicial review at the Roane County Chancery Court.
In addition to talking administrative hearing officer, Nelson said the city needed to update from the 2006 International Building Code to the 2012 International Building Code.
The city also needs to update to the 2012 International Residential code, 2012 International Plumbing code, 2012 International Fire code and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code with amendments, 2012 ICC International Mechanical Code with amendments, 2012 ICC International Energy Conservation Code with amendments, 2012 ICC Property Maintenance Code with amendments and 2012 ICC International Existing Building Code.
Nelson also recommends adopting the 2012 International Fuel Gas Code, 2012 International Swimming Pool and Spa Code and 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the ICC/ANSI 117.2009 edition.
“The thing is with these building codes you have to be within seven years of the latest published addition. Ours is 2006. We are in our seventh year,” Nelson said.
In addition to having to be up to date, she said she recently was told the city’s Insurance Service Office rating would go up if the city did not update its codes.