Standard Operating Procedures for Code Enforcement

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Successful businesses and organizations have standard operating procedures and other systems in place. Traditionally, every employee working for an organization has a set of rules to follow as they complete tasks. They may also have instructions that show them exactly how to complete each task. While it may not be considered standard procedures, there is in fact a system of processes and policies that govern code enforcement operations (not to mention state and local law), but well-written standard operating procedures provide direction, improve communication, reduce training time, and improve work consistency.

Standard operating procedures used in combination with planned training and regular performance feedback lead to an effective and motivated workforce. Most administrators would agree that we all benefit from consistent work performance and predictable results, and officers and support staff benefit from increased confidence and a clear sense of achievement. In order to effectively delegate tasks to others it’s important to have these systems in place including training, record keeping, responding to concerns and follow through on complaints.  

A successful code compliance program needs committed officers and other support staff who complete work procedures consistently and accurately. It also requires all involved to contribute their experience, knowledge, and ideas to constant improvement for the future. Most people naturally want to do a good job, and successful managers recognize this fact and seek to channel workers’ efforts in ways that will benefit the community.

Generally, when county staff first field citizen complaints about the hazards of vacant or non-compliant properties, they often respond by exercising their code enforcement authorities. Proper use of discretion is probably the most important measure of a code enforcement officer or department. Best practices in the regulatory field suggest that a code officer would never be efficient if that officer strictly enforced every violation observed to the “letter of the law.” Furthermore, that officer probably wouldn’t have time to effectively manage their respective workload and respond timely to all calls for service. Few things involved with human behavior are black or white. The best officers operate in the gray areas of human existence. The gray area is where citizens need the code officers to operate with confidence and good judgment so that the residents can be educated and comply with the codes and ordinances. From personal experience, there are some people who require enforcement activities to comply, and others that deserve warnings, with a little lecture on compliance.  

While this system is far from perfect, it works. Just like our government, there are checks and balances in the system. Code officers enforce the laws based on general directions given to them by their administration, the prosecutor’s office and the courts but backed by local, state and federal law. All these entities represent the citizens who elect and fund the system.

The Public Policy of Privatizing Code Enforcement

The concept of privatization of code enforcement has emerged as a potential alternative model to the traditional form of municipal service across the country.  Inarguably a more efficient and cost-effective way to operate government, privatization is the process of allowing the private sector to perform functions of traditional civil service-based government. Privatization is designed to offer a seamless way by which any level of government can provide enhanced service to the general population. By harnessing resources normally associated with the private sector, public entities derive the benefit of having access to a host of professionals, new technology and progressive processes and methodologies not normally associated with public service.  In this model, contracts are awarded in a process of open competitive bidding, which allows private bidders to compete for the ability to assume government functions, responsibilities and activities at a cost-effective price. In other words, governments are not strapped with the overhead, staffing and equipment costs (to name a few) that are normally associated with providing traditional public services.

One stakeholder group that is affected by new privatization policies is the political leadership in a community whose responsibility it is to act in the best interest of the community. Their fundamental job is to support the citizenry, yet their ethical perspective is often challenged in matters of privatization because it essentially counters the concept of public service. The citizenry, as a stakeholder group, has a “right” to efficient and effective public services, and to ensure that elected officials are cohesive in the efforts when implementing change to these services.

Frankly, the largest issue that has the greatest effect on the use of privatization to provide code enforcement services, is the desire of the elected body. Despite the greatest efforts of the constituencies, if there is a concerted effort to maintain status quo, unfortunately, the status quo remains. Today, global communities exist within a complex and competitive environment. Since municipalities throughout the nation aspire to cut costs while maintaining a manageable level of service, each organization is tasked with ensuring that the social responsibilities of this new public policy embraces a broad range of residents with a myriad of cultural and practical needs.

The True Value of Regulatory Enforcement

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The next generation of municipal leaders have the responsibility of charting the course for our communities with a vision that includes code enforcement services as an equal partner in the effective management of the quality of life of a community.The time for municipalities to recognize code enforcement as the driver of change in a community is upon us; but the question is, do towns, cities and counties truly value code enforcement?  Progressive communities throughout the nation understand the benefit of a strong code enforcement operation.