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Read a former housing inspector's letter to the Wichita city manager about ethics concerns

Mr. Layton, Thank you again for taking the time to meet with me. It is unfortunate that we had such a short amount of time to discuss some of the issues OCI is facing. I believe we were able to discuss some of the issues that are causing severe morale issues in OCI as well as citizen service related topics. I also appreciate you looking into the ethical issues I raised that involved how specific cases are handled for a “select” few with some political capital at their disposal. The City of Wichita owes it to the average citizen to hold OCI management to an ethical standard that is equal for all people that have dealings with OCI. I think we agree that there is not a problem with working with people, and trying to find a solution to code enforcement cases without a punitive solution. The end goal of any code enforcement action is always compliance, but it can be achieved in many ways that don't involve the "enforcement" portion of the job. From my experience, the neighborhood inspection staff you currently employ will make every effort to work with any customer/citizen before they turn a case over for enforcement action. These few select people with, several with reoccurring cases, we discussed often complain to Mr. Schroeder that they are the victim of inspectors with vendettas against them or unfair treatment. This generalization couldn't be any further from the truth.The 4 individuals we discussed have been given every courtesy afforded to any person who has an active code enforcement case with OCI. They have proven time and time again that they are not willing to work with OCI, and feel they should be exempt from the laws that all citizens that call Wichita home are expected to comply with. This belief they have is often reaffirmed by Mr. Schroeder and his blatant unethical behavior. For at least 3 of the individuals this means they are held exempt from any prosecution action for their refusal to bring their properties in compliance. I'm sure if you discuss this with Mr. Schroeder he will try to justify his actions by saying OCI tries to work with people and avoid punitive action to resolve issues. This is true for the most part, but in these cases that course of action was taken by inspectors and they didn't get the cooperation needed to resolve the issue. For example, the case we discussed at 2641 E 8th has been ongoing with little or no sign of visible repair since it burned in 2005. According to the City of Wichita's E-permits page, a total of 7 different OCI Neighborhood Inspectors have attempted to work with the owner to achieve compliance. That alone should show a pattern by staff to work with this owner and offer her time to start working toward achieving necessary to repair this fire damaged property. I found it disturbing while working this case that one neighbor took the time to approach me and tell me that nothing will be done at that house because it is owned by someone with political influence. It is for neighbors like that who have lost their faith in the system that I implore you to hold this owner accountable to the same standards her neighbors, without an elected position, are held to. It is the ethical standard the owner should hold herself to as a elected representative of the Kansas State Senate.

I think we both agree that Neighborhood inspection is a vital service to the community. The equipment, policies, and codes you have in place give the staff you currently employ many of the necessary tools they need to meet the code enforcement needs of the community. Though you are currently understaffed in the field, with the right leadership and support of the 15 neighborhood inspectors on staff, you can still provide a service that meets the demands of the public. The philosophy of the current leadership under Mr. Schroeder's supervision clearly does not fit with the over all mission statement of OCI. As we discussed, if that culture can change, it will help foster an environment for your field staff and supervisors to look for team solutions to challenges that come from staff shortages and budget issues. This team can do many great things for neighborhoods, as they have proven when given the chance (inoperable vehicle projects, off street Parking parking projects with WPD, Linwood apts secure project, etc.). Today we discussed only a few projects conceived and organized by inspectors without any guidance and minimal involvement from OCI management. Those initiatives were put together by dedicated inspectors by identifying the needs of the neighborhood they service. If you can find some time to meet with individual inspectors at the field level, you might find that many of them would echo some of the same concerns we discussed.

There are several items we didn’t get to due to my schedule constraints. I would welcome another opportunity to speak with you about them if you would like. But, as we both have fairly hectic schedules, I would like to offer you a couple suggestions to consider that might help start toward resolving the overall issues facing Neighborhood Inspection. Perhaps it is time to put together a Neighborhood Inspection community panel that brings all parties that interact with OCI to the table. This panel could be made up of members of neighborhood associations, city staff (WPD, Public Works, Neighborhood Assistants, OCI), landlord groups, local community advocacy groups (Sunflower Community Action and WIN), and social service providers in the Wichita area. This group could be charged with analyzing what is working at OCI and what can improve. It would also give Mr. Schroeder and his management a better connection with the members of the community that deal with OCI.

I would also suggest that maybe it is time for the City of Wichita to consider removing the functions Neighborhood Inspection from OCI and finding a better home for it within the City structure. Code Enforcement/Neighborhood Inspection is really more about interaction with the community that it is about technical building code issues. While it is true that there are some aspects of housing/nuisance codes that need the eye of a technically trained trade/building inspector, those can still be handled through interdepartmental cooperation. Maybe identifying a department that deals with community interaction and public service would better serve the mission of Neighborhood Inspection. You recently moved Animal Control to WPD, which in the long run might be the best thing for it. WPD's Community Policing department fields a lot of OCI complaints daily. Neighborhood Inspection has many success stories in the community when working closely with Community Police Officers. Why not see if there is a way to support this program as a service of WPD? At very least, I believe WPD would be able to provide Neighborhood Inspectors with better in house training, team solutions to problems, and support and guidance on what the community needs are in different areas of town. This is just a suggestion, but one that might improve the level of service to the community and remove some of the political issues causing problems in neighborhoods.

Moving Neighborhood Inspection out of OCI might also provide a way to shield this vital service from additional staff lay offs due to the council resolution R-95-560, adopted in 1995. This resolution , resulting from a lawsuit filed by WABA , mandates OCI housing/demolition enforcement activities not exceed 20% of OCI's operation budget. That cap percentage may have been appropriate for the character of housing/demolition enforcement at the time. This 16 year old agreement does not factor in the recent 2008 combination of OCI/Environmental Services (ES). When the City Council and staff combined these services they changed the nature of OCI Neighborhood Inspection. All citizen complaints regarding housing, off street parking, nuisances, tall grass and weeds, and general blighting conditions found a new home in OCI. The work loads of Neighborhood inspectors and scope of citizen complaints to OCI increased significantly. Unlike trade/building inspectors, blighting issues don't decrease due to the nature of the economy. Continue reduction in staff will cause citizen service issues. Perhaps looking at ways move this service out of OCI, and the looking at funding structure will create some relief from having to reduce more staff solely because of budget issues caused by a dated agreement, and not because of lack of community need. There is no guarantee that housing construction will rebound in Wichita. Is it in the communities best interest to tie code enforcement to a volatile budget that fluctuates month to month based off revenue from building permits?

Finally, I would also encourage you to look into look into contacting the Kansas Association of Code Enforcement to see if they can offer you any other perspectives on how various jurisdictions in Kansas run their code enforcement divisions. As the largest city in Kansas, Wichita should be a leader in this field of community service. It is my observation as a former member and elected board member of this organization that Wichita is lagging in several areas, and could benefit from networking with other cities in the state to see where improvement can be made.

Again, I want to thank you for your time. I enjoyed meeting you and giving you some perspective on OCI. I truly enjoyed the 3 1/2 years I was employed by the City of Wichita. The job gave me a chance to serve the community I call home. Though my almost 10 year career in code enforcement came to a end sooner than I expected due to the OCI budget, I will continue to advocate for the community benefit of this profession. Quality code enforcement can do a lot of good in this community. From speaking with you I think you understand the benefits this service provides to neighborhoods in Wichita. Hopefully, I gave you with several things to consider and some questions to ask OCI management. I look forward to hearing from you regarding the specifics issues I had asked for some follow up on.

Respectfully,

Nolan J DealyDistrict II resident

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