Best Practices in Code Enforcement

By Bryan Guymon:

At last month’s annual Underwood Law Firm Municipal Law Seminar, Bryan Guymon gave a presentation about Best Practices in Code Enforcement.  The following are a few of the highlights!

1.Some of the difficulties of Code Enforcement can include:

-The complicated legal requirements.

-The political complications.

-The cost of enforcement.

-Nobody cares until they care.

-Who owns the property?

-Lack of prior consistent enforcement makes it more difficult.

 

2.What authority for Code Enforcement does a City have?

A.Home-Rule Municipalities can:

-Define and prohibit any nuisance within the limits of the municipality and within 5,000 feet outside the limits.

-Enforce all ordinances necessary to prevent and summarily abate and remove a nuisance.

B.Type A General-Law Municipalities can:

-Abate and remove a nuisance and punish by fine the person responsible for the nuisance.

-Define and declare what constitutes a nuisance.

-Abate in any manner the governing body considers expedient any nuisance that may injure or affect the public health or comfort.

C.Type B General-Law Municipalities can:

-Prevent to the extent practicable any nuisance within city limits.

-Have each nuisance removed at the expense of the person who is responsible for the nuisance or who owns the property on which the nuisance exists.

 

3.What options exist for enforcement of general nuisance laws?

A.Fines & Penalties – General Enforcement Authority

-Most city ordinance violations carry a maximum fine of $500.00.

-But there are penalties of up to $2,000.00 for violations of “fire safety, zoning or public health and sanitation”. Loc. Gov’t Code § 54.001 (b)(1).

-Penalties of up to $4,000.00 for violating a rule regarding the dumping of refuse. Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 54.001 (b)(2).

B.Civil Action to enforce an ordinance for:

-Preservation of public safety regarding materials used in construction;

-Preservation of public health/safety for fire safety issues in construction;

-For zoning classification enforcement;

-Land subdivision enforcement;

-Implementing civil penalties for Class C misdemeanors as defined by statute;

-Dangerously damaged or deteriorating buildings;

-Accumulations of refuse, vegetation, or other matter that creates breeding and living places for insects and rodents.

 

4.What are some tools to help the City with general code enforcement?

-Educational meetings/seminars.

-Community clean up days.

-Individual incentives.

-Assistance programs.

-Use public meetings.

-Use your resources for identifying problem areas including police, City employees, and citizen complaint process.

-Focus message on moving forward.

-Use the media.

5.Keep the following “Best Practices” in mind:

-Ensure City ordinance is current

-Use checklists to ensure compliance

-Be more tolerant than law requires.

-Commitment to consistency.

-Develop a plan to meet your long-term goals.

-Review your current ordinances for legal and practical concerns.

-Focus on consistency.

-Community engagement is a must.

-Focus on compliance, not penalties.

-And always….. Document! Document! Document!

Please remember that you should consult with your City Attorney with any specific questions you may have.




Key Open Meetings Act Update Turns 1

Texas Government Code §551.007, which amended the Texas Open Meetings Act as it relates to public testimony at open meetings, became effective one year ago, on September 1, 2019.  Before this law went into effect, the public did not have the right to speak about agenda items at an open meeting of a governmental body, they could only observe. 

Here are some key take-aways from what we’ve learned about this section in the last year:

-The public now has a legal right to speak on items on the agenda at an open meeting.

-This law grants residents the limited authority to address the City Council about agenda items, subject to reasonable rules adopted by the council.

-This law does not grant members of the public the right to speak both before and during the council’s consideration of an agenda item. See Tex. Att’y Gen Op. No. KP-0300 (2020) (“a governmental body may satisfy subsection 551.007(b)’s requirements by holding a single public comment period at the beginning of an open meeting to address all items on the agenda.”)

-The City Council can decide to allow public comment on agenda items at the beginning of a meeting for all agenda items or can allow members of the public to comment as each agenda item is considered.

-The City Council may adopt reasonable rules considering a citizen’s right to speak at an open meeting. The rules may include the following:

  • how long a person may address the City Council on an agenda item
  • the number of persons who may speak on a particular topic
  • the frequency of the comments
  • the overall amount of time the council will receive comments from the public.

 

-The rules must be applied irrespective of particular viewpoints, the City Council may not discriminate against a particular position.

-The City Council may not prohibit public criticism of the City.

-The City can enforce a decorum policy for public speakers, provided it does not completely prohibit criticism of the City.

-The bill author staff has indicated that this law was not meant to apply to a workshop or work session.

Please note that this new law does not change the long-standing practice adopted by many Cities to allow the public to make comments about items not on the agenda.  If the City Council allows the public to comment on items not on the agenda, the council can apply reasonable rules to that public comment time.   Remember that the council cannot deliberate on any item that is not on the agenda.   

Remember, we always recommend that you consult with your City Attorney with any specific questions you may have.

With these in mind, we say Happy First Birthday to Section 551.007 of the Texas Government Code!

Bryan Guymon




Underwood Law Firm Municipal Law 2020 Webinar

Please join us for our FREE Municipal Law Webinar from 9 AM-1:15 PM, August 25! You will learn the best practices for governing your city, new developments in open meeting laws and more. Register at https://www.123signup.com/register?id=rkdpf

The link to the webinar will be emailed to each registrant upon registration. You don’t want to miss this.

For questions, please contact Patricia Wanjura at 806-793-1711 or at patricia.wanjura@uwlaw.com 

 

Event Date:

Tuesday, Aug 25, 2020 09:00 AM to Tuesday, Aug 25, 2020 01:15 PM Central

Start Time:

09:00 AM

End Time:

01:15 PM

Registration Starts:

Jul 22, 2020

Registration Ends:

Aug 25, 2020