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Scottsdale fails to track citations, audit shows
Scottsdale’s code enforcement department, the area of the city that enforces property upkeep, does not have proper controls in place to oversee citations and hearings and failed to require its inspectors to meet job description duties, a new city audit shows.
The draft audit presented to the three-member City Council audit committee Thursday identified 25 faults with department operations, including the inability to track each citation or who has access to a file. The review also found the city employs a hearing officer that appeared to make arbitrary decisions, and the department made decisions not to abide by the city code when it came to collecting penalties.
The findings concerned committee chairman Councilman Jim Lane, who questioned why it took an audit to uncover these findings.
“We do have some real arbitrary judgments being made at a level that’s not appropriate,” Lane said.
Code enforcement officers are responsible for inspecting yards, visible abandoned or junk vehicles, accumulation of debris, graffiti, building exteriors and other property upkeep issues. Officers typically issue warnings to property owners, and, if necessary, issue administrative citations and civil complaints.
Some of the major findings include:
• The auditors had no way to determine the number of citations the department issued, and they could not locate 14 files selected for audit testing.
• There is no check-out procedure to control who had access to the files or to identify who pulled a file, and file cabinets were not locked on a regular basis.
• The administrative hearing officer has had no performance evaluation over the last five years, has no one to report to and appeared to have made decisions that were not based on statutory or city code provisions.
• Department officials intentionally disregarded the city code by allowing daily fines and penalties to go uncollected.
• There is no documentation to guide inspectors on how to assess penalties for a property. Interviews with inspectors indicates differences in how they count violations at a property.
• Six of the nine code enforcement inspectors that have been in their positions for at least a year do not have the American Association of Code Enforcement certification that is required as part of their job descriptions. Two of the three that are certified did so after audit inquiries.
Councilman Wayne Ecton, a committee member, said a lot of the issues came about because of resident and council member demands to increase the code enforcement levels.
“It ended up causing sloppy record-keeping without getting organized the way it should,” Ecton said.
Neighborhood Services director Raun Keagy said the department has set an aggressive timetable to correct the problems and plans to present proposed changes to the council in April.
There have already been some revisions. For one, cabinets are now locked and a formal file checkout procedure is in place. Also, the hearing officer’s final day was Thursday, and the officer will now be hired using a professional services contract, a move that officials say will ensure the person has the appropriate qualifications, training and oversight.
The audit could not determine which city department actually had responsibility for overseeing the actions of the hearing officer.
In addition, the citation forms will be changed to be more user-friendly and state that information is available in Spanish or large print upon request.
“The point of this is to keep improving the operation and as we go along. I think this helps us,” said Ed Gawf, assistant city manager.
Contact Brian Powell by email, or phone (480) 970-2341