Franklin to hire code enforcement officer
The Town of Franklin is moving forward with plans to hire a code enforcement officer after adding the new position to this year’s budget.
The Franklin Town Council approved the job description at an Oct. 4 meeting and discussed their hopes and concerns for the new town employee. The code enforcement officer will be responsible for performing inspections to ensure compliance and will check for violations following complaints and issue violations and/or fines when violations have not been resolved by the offender. Salary range listed in the job description is $37,710 – $55,645 depending on experience and qualifications.
Based on recommendations from Town Attorney John Henning Jr. and Town Manager Amie Owens, the board agreed that the position would need to be filled by a sworn law enforcement officer but will be under the planning department umbrella.
Based on her experience in code enforcement, Owens said having a sworn officer makes it easier for the staff member to handle ALE (alcohol) regulations and deal with situations with the public that could escalate.
“From my personal experience, there were some compliance issues with enforcement where I would catch the brunt of things, but people show different behavior when it’s a police officer,” she said.
Henning agreed a sworn officer was the best choice, saying that Town Planner Justin Setzer sometimes takes a law enforcement officer with him on compliance calls for his own safety.
Since this is a new position and marks the town’s intentions to get more serious about enforcing ordinances, Owens said efforts would be made to let residents and businesses know what is happening.
“There’s going to have to be an educational component in the beginning for residents because they don’t exactly know what the code says. We’ll have information available on our website and we’ll send information out with the next water bill,” she said.
Councilmember David Culpepper said he was in favor of hiring a code enforcement officer but had some concerns about having overzealous enforcement.
“I think this is one of the more important hires we’ve done, and we need to tread lightly with this considering we haven’t gone crazy with code enforcement in the past,” he said. “I don’t want us to make it illegal to be poor in the town of Franklin. As we try to gain compliance, we may need to review our ordinances to make sure we’re not trapping people.”
Many residents have come before the Council in the last couple of years with complaints about dilapidated houses in their neighborhoods or residents with junk cars and trash piled up on their property, allegedly causing rodent and litter problems. Culpepper said he worries about how the town will define people’s property as junk or not.
“We may see stuff as unsightly, but it may not be junk or trash to them,” he said. “It may come down to semantics, and I’m not sure I want to throw the hammer down on people with stuff on their porches.”
The job description passed unanimously. The town will soon start advertising for the job opening.
In a related issue, Police Chief Bill Harrell and Capt. Devin Holland updated the board on the town’s growing homelessness problems — particularly the littering under the bypass bridge near the Little Tennessee River Greenway.
Holland said the problem was brought to his attention last winter when he found people living under the bridge with tents and trash thrown everywhere. Normally, he said, the N.C. Department of Transportation has “No Trespassing” signs posted on their bridges, but the bypass bridge doesn’t have one. Since DOT is recognizing the current COVID-19 recommendations, state officials are not enforcing any regulation that would require the removal or relocation of people experiencing homelessness.
“We can usher the homeless people out of that area, but DOT is not going to back us up if we charge them for trespassing,” Holland said, adding that pressing charges would be useless if DOT officials don’t show up in court to testify. “Arrest is our last resort because it’s just a temporary fix.”
Holland said offers to assist these unsheltered folks in acquiring a state photo ID or receiving services through No Wrong Door or Macon New Beginnings have not been taken.
Councilmember Dinah Mashburn, who works with No Wrong Door, said she appreciated the police department’s efforts to keep the town clean and safe, but admitted that there’s nowhere for those folks to go if they leave the bridge. The grant the organization received to pay for hotel stays has dried up and the long-term rental options in the county are slim.
“The last few weeks we’ve taken money out of our own pockets to put people in hotels,” she said.