Morning Sun
  • Tight vote passes property code overhaul

  • After much debate and calls for tabling the issue for a time, Pittsburg city commissioners passed 3-2 a plan to adopt the International Property Maintenance Code.

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  • After much debate and calls for tabling the issue for a time, Pittsburg city commissioners passed 3-2 a plan to adopt the International Property Maintenance Code.
    The plan has been in the works for nearly 12 months, officials said on Tuesday, and it essentially overwrites the city’s building maintenance codes except in a few cases — specifically those in which the city believes its statutes are stronger than the IPMC.
    “For the most part, the IPMC and the current codes are very similar,” said Bill Beasley, Pittsburg Public Works Director. “Both address life and safety. The current codes are only for residential construction. The IPMC also addresses commercial construction.”
    The city held a town hall meeting on Nov. 15 to inform the public about the potential changes. The codes, Beasley said, are the minimum standards to maintain property in Pittsburg.
    Beasleyalso addressed rumors that codes officers would be allowed to enter property. He said that was not the case, and that would only occur if the property owner gave permission for entry or if the city codes officer were able to find enough evidence and was willing to go through the court system for a warrant.
    “But that’s quite a process to go through,” he added.
    He said that if a home is found to be in violation of codes, then the city would work with the individual to make sure the violation is addressed. Else, the issue may end up in municipal court.
    “Pittsburg, Kansas, is a small community, and we all know each other,” he said. “We’re not going to run around and strong-arm people, trying to do something to the citizens that is heavy handed. We have to have laws to do our duty for our citizens. That’s what they’re there for. That’s what this addresses.”
    Dave Holloman, running for city commission himself, asked to address the commission after Beasley’s comments. He opposed the codes and asked commissioners to vote no.
    “The whole concept violates privacy and property rights. Though it seems to be under the disguise of making things better for everybody, considerng the poverty levels and the way the codes are written, it puts a lot of people at a disadvantage,” Holloman said.
    Holloman said that he had searched for “days and weeks” to find a copy of the IPMC. Further, because the codes are so dense, he said, citizens may not know if they are violating a code.
    Holloman said that the IPMC dictates that houses should not have chipped paint, but does not say what percentage of the paint must be chipped to be a violation.
    “I’m not sure how we’re protecting the public. We’re all facing hardships. Some a lot more than others. You shouldn’t force unnecessary codes and penalties in a crisis,” he said.
    Page 2 of 3 - Holloman also decried the power given to the codes officers, who he said would have the ability to make judgment calls and were being given too much power by the IPMC.
    “I guess in the current condition, I’d ask that you vote against it, at least until you’ve changed and modified it so it’s not putting citizens at risk of losing their homes,” he said.
    City Manager Daron Hall then responded, saying that he sees no reason why the city’s version of the IPMC would not be published on the city’s website in its entirety, saying it’s a misnomer to believe the city would not publish any codes they would enforce in the town.
    Second, Hall said, the IPMC is “designed to protect the citizens. It’s not a way to get at the citizens. We discussed when I got here that a lot of thought would be going to properties... We’re not trying to punish or create undue enforcement. This is to protect property owners. We’re in the business to put law out there. By nature of the way the city does business, we hire people, sometimes police officers, sometimes codes officers, to go out and enforce. The reality is not that police officers pull over and take away your rights or your vehicle. The decisions are always left to the officers.”
    Further, he said that Holloman’s fear of too much power in the hands of codes officers was misplaced, as those codes officers have a system of accountability over their heads, with director-level supervision, a city manager and five city commissioners overseeing their work.
    “As city manager, this is the kind of thing we need to be doing. It isn’t about cleaning the city,” Hall said, “it’s about protecting property owners. The intent isn’t doing anything we haven’t been doing. We’d sure like to be doing this for commercial properties as well.”
    Holloman countered by saying that he doesn’t debate the intent of the piece, and that while he doesn’t doubt those now in power would not misuse the codes, that he doesn’t see any guarantee that the codes won’t be missed in the future.
    Hall asked Holloman what difference he saw between traffic codes and property codes. Holloman said that traffic codes are more black and white, and property codes are too broad.
    “I think we have to reason that codes are not written in a vacuum. We have a long history with the codes department,” said commissioner Patrick O’Bryan. “They are people of the community, and they work in the community. We know how they have acted in the past, and history speaks for itself.”
    O’Bryan said that the issue came from a “lot of unhappiness” with the communities in talking with citizens and business leaders. He said the IPMC brings up the standards of the community, and would perhaps be able to attract better jobs to the community if properly enforced.
    Page 3 of 3 - Commissioner Rudy Draper asked that the issue be tabled until the next meeting.
    “For the sole purpose that every time I look at it, I find something new that I don’t know what it means. I do agree with the majority of them, though,” Draper said. “If I’m going to vote for something, I’d like to understand it so I can give an accurate answer to people. I know we have put it off long enough, and we’ve been working on it for months, but just last week, I came in and brought a couple of things to [Hall’s] attention. If I read a section and have more questions, well, I’d like to have a sit down with [Hall] next week.”
    Mayor John Ketterman further explored one of Holloman’s points.
    “I have complete confidence in our staff, that they would not abuse this,” he said. “But there is no guarantee that someone in the future would not.”
    Commissioner Michael Gray felt the issue was within the city’s responsibility to address, and that waiting was unnecessary.
    “We have a certain authority given to us by the state and federal government. If we delay for clarification, I don’t know that I need the clarification. If it’s just an issue of doing something that will affect people, we do that every day,” Gray said.
    Draper reiterated that he needs to be sure of what he’s voting for, and that the code was too much for him to be able to get through.
    “It’s not that I think I would vote against it, but I cannot vote for it because I don’t totally understand it,” he said.
    O’Bryan said that he had enough time, just as much as anyone else on the commission, to read the codes, and he had no problem understanding what was going on. He saw no reason to put it off.
    O’Bryan moved to pass the ordinance, and was joined by Marty Beezley and Gray. Commissioners Draper and Ketterman voted against the adoption of the IPMC.
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.
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