The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners aren't totally convinced the Code Enforcement division of the Planning and Development department should be allotted two new positions to handle the wave of code violations coming through the department.
During a lengthy conversation at the BOC's 2015 budget work session Tuesday morning, Planning and Development Director Marshall Walker pleaded his case to the board for the additional help.
Currently, the Code Enforcement branch of the department has three people handling the responsibilities of the case load of the community.
"Three people cannot cover this county adequately. Never could," said Walker. "Five people may not be able to cover this county, (but) five would be better than three."
Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt doesn't think that's case. He believes that the process being used to penalize the code violators is the deficiency.
While he can get behind the idea of adding more officers to Code Enforcement, he wants to know that all possible means are being exhausted to get the violators, land owners of property with blighted homes sitting on them in particular, attention to clean up their act.
"I support adding additional officers, when it can be proven that the process is being followed through," Nesbitt said. "If we're not doing all we need to do from an investigative standpoint-stop being nice to these people. We're talking about cleaning the county, guess what? Let's clean it up. The only way to clean it up is to capture some folk's attention."
Nesbitt added that not enforcing the law or penalizing to the greatest extent of the law can breed a culture of code violating without fear of punishment.
"Once we do that repeatedly throughout this community, send a message, set a precedent, set a standard, then we'll start cleaning Rockdale County up.," he said.
Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness agrees with Nesbitt in that regard of penalizing repeat code offenders quicker and more harshly. She elaborated a little more by saying she doesn't think a citation should be written on the first or second time a code enforcement employee has to make a trip out to a property to inspect it.
"When you have officers going out there five, six (or) seven times, that's unacceptable," Van Ness said to Walker. "I have not seen one change made by the county attorney or yourself to how this is being handled."
Walker continued to repeat the assertion that the process the county uses to enforce the code is a state approved process and there isn't anything that he can do to change it. He also pointed out that doling out fines and penalties isn't at his discretion, but rather that's for the judge and prosecutor, which would be County Attorney Qader Baig, of the case to decide.
"I don't have a recommendation to improve the process because it follows state laws," said Walker, who also said he would be open to hearing ideas. "That's the law. I can't change that. You can talk to your (state) legislators about changing that, but I can't do anything about it."
Baig stepped down from his usually seat behind the bench with the board to speak at the podium in support of the work and effort Walker and the department have been doing.
He agreed that the process isn't perfect, is strict in the procedures and may be too slow, but the commissioners should be careful when speaking about penalizing people for their own property.
"I'm (going to) have to stand with the Planning and Development on this issue," Baig told the board. "As a government, we have to be very careful when dealing with private citizens and their property."
By the end of the discussion, only thing that the commissioners agreed upon was that something needed to be changed, and it more than likely wouldn't be an increase in employees.
"I'm not going to support hiring another soul until we have a clear concise process that is proven to work," said Nesbitt. "I'm not going to put another log on this fire until I'm convinced."