Editors note: This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced being director of Developmental Services?
A: “The biggest challenge I have faced since being the director is transitioning from doing everything to directing. I started in that department. I’ve done every position in that department and worked my way up to being director. That’s been kind of the challenge. Also I have a really large vision for where I would like the department to go and getting us to that path. Ardmore is a growing city. It has a small town feel, but it’s really growing. So, we’re kind of transitioning from that small town to that bigger city, so that’s been a challenge, moving us forward. You know we’re so fortunate because Ardmore is growing so well. There is so much opportunity, so much business, so much growth, it’s fantastic. But we have to catch up, and moving us forward has been a challenge but I think we’re meeting our citizens’ needs as the city grows. Every day is changing and we’re changing to meet those needs.”
Q: Do you think your department will grow as the city continues to grow?
A: “I hope to see my department grow. Our department right now is not large enough. We have two code enforcement officers, one building inspector, the city planner, and myself. Honestly, the work load is one that we could double our department and still be busy. You know, with our growth and as many complaints as we get via code enforcement, I could have probably four code enforcement officers full-time. There is enough work for that. I’m hoping with our new software (we’re getting in August) it will streamline our process and make it go quicker, but then we will need more support staff. We will need another secretary to help with the paperwork so we can keep people in the field. It’s just a cycle. We need more people. We’re already backlogged. You know the city has needs, and that’s the whole goal of my department—meeting the needs of the citizens, whatever they may be.
Q: What is the greatest need your department fills?
A: “I think that it’s two actually because my department does two different things. On one side we do code enforcement and the other deals with construction and building. So for code enforcement I think the need is preserving those neighborhoods. We make sure they are well maintained, that the buildings are safe and people have a safe place to live. So, I think that is a big need. But then as Ardmore grows, there is new construction and we have to make sure that these new buildings are built safely. We have to make sure the places where you go to eat, shop, and work are safe places. When you go to work you want to be in a safe environment. When you spend time with your family you want to be somewhere safe, but when you go home you want your neighborhood to be safe. We want your property to increase in value, right? When you live in any community you want all of that. You want to come home at night to a safe place. You don’t want to look at your neighbors trash, or your neighbors junk, or that condemned house, or people doing drugs in the house across the street, or that house that caught fire. That’s not what you want to see. And when you go to work, you don’t want to work in an environment that’s unsafe either. You don’t want to be afraid for your safety at work. So it’s both. I think they kind of go hand-in-hand.”
Q: How do you find code violations, without people filing complaints?
A: “If we had more people we could do that, right? But we don’t so it’s all based on complaints. If we get a complaint about a residence on White Street, we do the whole street. So we did get a complaint, it may not have been about 1204, but when we showed up at 1202 it was obvious that 1204 also had the violation. As far as commercial complaints, those are really common. People tend to complain about two things: something they have to look at every day, like their neighbors, and about anywhere they have to pay money. I’m not sure why, but if they go to a commercial establishment and they see something they tell us. Like, they wouldn’t let me use the restroom, because they have to, it’s law that you have to have a public restroom in some stores. They complain on that or there was water leaking on the register, the sidewalk was uneven. If it’s genuinely a safety violation we do something.”
Q: Which type of areas, commercial or residential get more complaints?
A: “It’s 50/50. You can complain on anything as long as there it a code. If there is a code against it you can complain. Most safety issues there is a code for. If your neighbor spray paints their house eight colors, there’s no code against that. If you’re neighbors roof collapses, there is a code against that.”
Q: Who sets these codes?
A: “There is an international building code, and the international code has commercial, residential, electrical and plumbing that is all international. Then the state of Oklahoma adopts those codes. We have our own, it’s the Oklahoma Uniform Building Code Commission, and they decide which codes the state will adopt. They adopt these national codes, and then all of us are members of that group and we enforce those codes. The city also adopts them, but they’re already adopted at the state level. The city can adopt more than them if we want, but Ardmore chooses not to. We adopt what the state adopts.”
Q: Are there any new codes, or things you would like to enact to make the city look better in the future?
A: “Actually yes, this fiscal year we are redoing our UDC, Unified Development Code. The city is going to redo it, so that’s like city ordinances based on pretty much everything. It deals with animals, zoning and anything else we have an ordinance on that code enforcement deals with. We are going to redo that whole code because some of those codes are inundated. They’re so old. They have been on the books forever, and times are changing. We need to move forward with those times. So we need new codes that have never been addressed like food trucks or granny flats. You know, these are things we can change inout new code. It’s a huge project that I’m working on this year.”
Q: Are those some of the bigger changes we could see?
A: “Yes, also a citywide rezoning. When they originally did the rezoning everyone assumed that growth would happen along Commerce Street. No one assumed it would go down 12th Avenue and Broadway Street towards the highway. So when they redid that they thought Commerce Street would grow parallel to the interstate, and now we know that didn’t happen. Now we think there is going to be more growth on Rockford Road to Hwy. 199 so we need to change our whole city’s zoning to reflect where the growth actually is. That way we can make plans for infrastructure in those areas. One of the recommendations in our comprehensive city plan was to redo these codes, so we’re following those recommendations. You know, we want a better Ardmore, or at least I do.”
Q: Why do you think these empty homes attract crime?
A: “I think that’s everywhere. I mean in the winter, it’s cold and some homeless people need to go in and get warm. An empty home seems like a good place, especially if it has broken windows or open doors. It’s what they call an attractive nuisance, it attracts people to that element. It’s a nuisance because people know it’s vacant. Kids know they can go in there and party, they can spray paint, they can hang-out. Homeless people know they can go in there and get out of the weather, and when people are looking for a place not to be found that’s where they are going to go. There are some properties where we end up re-boarding, and re-boarding and re-boarding and the police keep calling. Those homes become priorities for demolition because they are drawing crime there and we don’t want that in our neighborhood. Homes that used to be drug houses, and maybe the people went to jail, people still end up going there. People gravitate towards that house because they know that’s where they could and that house, even when it’s empty, ends up being that same thing. It’s weird.”