Elkhart code enforcement task force shows tension between mayor and council president

The City Council president plans to form a task force to look at landlord concerns but Mayor Dick Moore said his administration won’t participate because council has “no credibility” with its task forces. 

(Dan Spalding/The Elkhart Truth, File)
Posted on Aug. 20, 2014 at 1:01 p.m.

ELKHART — A growing number of complaints about how the city of Elkhart administers code enforcement policies, have been reaching City Council President Ron Troyer.

So the city council president called two meetings to hear those concerns in a public setting and about 40 people — mostly landlords — showed up.

Allegations were voiced and echoed repeatedly that some property owners are treated more harshly than others.

Another topic — rental registration — was discussed at the second meeting with a handful of landlords who think the database is not being used as originally intended.

The gatherings were a springboard for plans to form a task force for both topics, but something was missing: input from city administration.

“It would be nice if all the players could be here, but we’re going to play the game with the players we got and hope more come on board,” Troyer said at the end of a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 13.

Mayor Dick Moore said he does not intend to have staff participate, in part, because he says they were not asked.

Moore added: “But more than that, the council has shown no credibility in what the task force returns,” Moore wrote in an email to The Elkhart Truth.

That was a reference to the compact sewer task force Moore assembled last year as he and council struggled to find a solution to a stalemate over how to charge residents outside of the city for sewer service.

Council considered the task force recommendation, but ultimately chose a stronger course of action on the sewer dispute.

Even though the sewer task force was bipartisan and broad-based, Moore said but it’s recommendations were “just simply ignored.”

Troyer looked somewhat stunned when informed by The Elkhart Truth of Moore’s decision not to participate in future discussions.

"We represent the people,“ Troyer said. ”We were elected by the people and we’re obligated by law to listen to their concerns.“

As for the lack of an invite, Troyer said the administration was included when he invited the public to participate.

Despite the apparent lack of cooperation from the administration, it appears Troyer’s efforts will continue.

The make-up of both task forces will be finalized soon and the groups will host meetings over the next eight weeks, Troyer said.

Troyer wants the committees to look at any problems and then make recommendations to council for its consideration.

After two initial meetings last week on both subjects, some believe there is room for improvement.

Six of the city council’s nine members attended both meetings.

Democrat Dave Osborne attended both meetings and said he thinks it’s good to occasionally review city policies.

Republican Brian Dickerson said city officials need to be part of the review process.

“They’re going to have a little different perspective than anyone else in this room,” Dickerson said.

Troyer, a Democrat, said concern with both issues has been brewing for years.

The rental registration program was established nearly 10 years ago after years of consideration with the idea that police and fire would use the lists when responding to incidents at those properties.

The annual registration program became law under then-Mayor Dave Miller, whose administration wanted a way to quickly access property ownership records if public safety or code enforcement problems arose at rental dwellings.

The fee had been $10, but was reduced to $5 as a result of a new state law

Money from the program goes into a fund earmarked for public safety initiatives and is generally used to buy police vehicles.

Some suggested the lists should be shared with other departments, including code enforcement, to more efficiently contact property owners.

Troyer said he hopes to finalize plans for the two task forces soon.

Meanwhile, Moore said his administration may take its own look at the issues.

Moore and the council reduced fines for not registering properties a few years ago.

“The administration will do its own work on both code enforcement and zoning in time. We will look from many different angles and must not overlook the restrictions placed on zoning and code by state and federal law. In these United States a person’s home is still their domain and the rights of the individual must not be trod upon. You must get into the books, the laws, the codes, etc., before you can consider revisions.”



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