City of Bristol Code Enforcement Study
by MTAS, February, 2002
In September of 2001 the Bristol City Council developed a Strategic Plan, the purpose of
which was to provide a blueprint for the City=s future. Emerging from this effort was the following
goal: Families Want to Live Here. One of the Aaction steps@ related to this goal was: Code
Enforcement - Enhancements (Including a Slum and Blight Study). In order to accomplish this
MTAS was contacted and asked to conduct this study.
The two MTAS consultants assigned to the study were Sharon Rollins, Manager,
Technical Consulting and Public Works Consultant and Pat Hardy, Municipal Management
Consultant. A legal review of the City=s ordinances and a comparison of these with those of
other cities and existing State law was conducted by Ann O=Connel, MTAS Special Legal
This study focuses on a few basic code enforcement functions. These are: deteriorated
structures, weedy lots, junk vehicles, and clutter (accumulations on properties).
In order to accomplish this study the following methodologies were used:
1. Interviews were conducted with the following persons:
Mayor Sue Ojanen
Vice Mayor Trish Bane
Council member John Gaines
Council member David Shumaker
Council member Kelly Graham
City Manager Tony Massey
Deputy City Manager Mike Sparks
Assistant City Manager Bob Wilson
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Maiden
Codes Staff Lonnie Barrett
Codes Staff Doug Reedy
City Attorney Jack Hyder
Judge Shelton Hillman
Citizen Penny Odom
Better Property Board Chairman Wes Griffin
2. Problematic areas of the City were toured with Council member John Gaines and
City Manager Tony Massey.
3. An examination of the code enforcement process for each area of the study,
including technologies used, paperwork flow, etc.
4. An examination of the structure of the codes division, including staffing, chain of
5. An examination of available codes enforcement data and processes used to produce
6. An examination of the City=s code enforcement ordinances and a comparison of
these with State laws and the ordinances of other cities.
7. A site visit and interviews with codes enforcement personnel in the cities of
Johnson City and Elizabethton.
8. A look at nuisance-abatement programs successfully implemented in other
First, it should here be noted that there are many positive components in the Bristol Codes
Division. Foremost among these are the people who work in the division and those who volunteer
their time to assist the division, such as the members of the Better Property Board. All of these
individuals have worked very hard to achieve the desired results.
The enforcement of Anuisance@ related codes involves a number of components, each of
which must work effectively in order to achieve results. Some of these include:
A. Effective code enforcement policies and support for these from the governing body.
B. A trained, motivated and effective code enforcement staff.
C. Nuisance abatement ordinances.
D. Code enforcement procedures and the technology and resources which support
E. The judicial system, including the City Attorney.
F. The citizenry.
G. The Better Property Board.
Needless to say, with this many critical components in the code enforcement Asystem@, a
less than adequate performance by any one component can have an enormous effect on the entire
system. Here too, if more than one component performs at a slightly less than satisfactory level, all
parts will feel the effect. In essence the code enforcement process is one in which all components
must function as a unified Ateam@, with common agreement on the mission, goals, and processes
used to make the division successful. Our review found that overall coordination of this Ateam@
approach needs to be strengthened.
S the division has essentially two Apart-time@ employees (because they have other
S they have a Apart-time@ Supervisor (because he has other significant duties)
S they are housed primarily at Station 3, with their Supervisor at Station 1, and
part-time office hours in the Annex
S they have no support staff and computer support needs to be improved
S the division has no formal goals and objectives to help guide their activities and
progress toward achieving their mission
Because of these issues success has been hampered, and thus problems persist. In this
report we will look at each component of the Codes Division and discuss the role each plays in the
code enforcement process. Recommendations will be made which we believe may help improve
Nuisances will never go away. As such, nuisance abatement will continue to be a long-term
issue. As the community ages and grows new nuisances will emerge and must be addressed.
Therefore any good solution which improves the code enforcement process must be focused
The Legal Foundation
The City=s Ordinances
Overall, Bristol has the appropriate ordinances to carry out an effective nuisance control
program, with only a few minor exceptions as discussed below. Some are in the Bristol Code and
some are in the Standard Building Code, which the City has adopted. Here are the applicable
Ordinances (including Standard Building Code sections) related to deteriorated structures:
S Sec. 14-274 (c) of the Bristol Code.
S Sec. 103.2.1 of the Standard Housing Code.
S Sec. 305 of the Standard Housing Code.
S Sec. 307 of the Standard Housing Code.
S Sec. 309.1 of the Standard Housing Code.
Ordinances (including Standard Building Code sections) related to junk or clutter:
A. Sec. 14-274 (c) of the Bristol Code.
B. Sec. 38-2 of the Bristol Code (applies specifically to junkyards).
C. Sec 50-14 of the Bristol Code.
D. Sec. 58-2 of the Bristol Code.
E. Sec. 58-6 (a, c, and d) of the Bristol Code.
F. Sec. 58j-7 of the Bristol Code.
G. Sec. 307 of the Standard Housing Code.
H. Sec. 14-274 (c) of the Bristol Code.
Ordinances (including Standard Building Code sections) related to weedy lots:
A. Sec. 58-8 (a) (with definitions in 58-1) of the Bristol Code.
B. Sec. 58-2 of the Bristol Code.
C. Sec. 307.4 of the Standard Housing Code.
Ordinances related to junk (inoperable) vehicles:
A. Sec. 58-6 (c) of the Bristol Code.
B. Sec. 307.4 of the Standard Housing Code.
Together these sections appear to cover nearly every situation related to deteriorated
structures, weedy lots, and clutter or junk. Additional ordinances provide the authority to enter
premises for the purpose of inspection and the procedures necessary for remediation of
Regarding Ajunk vehicles@, the Bristol Code could be amended to provide a stronger
definition. The two sections which deal with such vehicles merely define them as Ainoperable@. A
stronger definition could require that a current license be attached to the vehicle.
RECOMMENDATION: Develop an ordinance which provides stronger definitions for Ajunk
For ease of clarification, Sections 58-14 and 58-6 both deal with appliances and are quite
redundant. RECOMMENDATION: During the City=s next recodification these sections should
One other point of clarification should also be made during the next code update process.
Currently, Section 58-8(c) of the Bristol Code implies that costs related to bringing a property
Ainto compliance@ are a Atax@. However these costs are not a Atax@ but instead are a Alien@
against the property. RECOMMENDATION: Section 58-8 (c) of the Bristol Code should use
the same language as TCA 13-21-103(6) and TCA 6-54-113(c)(1).
On the Aenforcement@ and Anuisance resolution@ side of the process the City is in need of
additional authority. RECOMMENDATION: The City should adopt by ordinance the provisions
of TCA 13-21-201 which grants the authority to acquire, (by eminent domain) vacant blighted
property, both residential and commercial. Such properties can then be sold, rehabilitated,
demolished, or granted to an appropriate user. Attached in the Appendices to this Report is an
example of this language from the City of Knoxville Code (see Appendix A). Knoxville has also
developed a program specifically designed to return these properties to a decent condition. It is
called the AHomemakers Program@. Details of this program are also provided in the Appendices
(see Appendix B).
It should also be noted that the City Attorney has identified a few additional ordinances
which somewhat relate to codes enforcement and which he believes are needed (e.g. an ordinance
dealing with abandoned swimming pools). His recommendations for additional authority should
In general, the legal end of the process could be improved. A more proactive stance by all
of those involved in nuisance abatement is encouraged. They should decide a course of action and
see it through.
During our interviews it became apparent that nearly everyone in the nuisance abatement
Achain@ has a great desire to Awork with@ property owners. Inspectors may Awork with@ property
owners several months before a case comes before the City Judge, then the Judge may Awork
with@ the property owner over a period of weeks or months. When each element of the chain
adopts this attitude the process is pushed along for an extended period of time, and results do not
occur as expected. During our interviews it was expressed that staff was not aggressive enough
and/or that the Judge was not aggressive enough.
However there has recently been improvement in this area. It is strongly encouraged that
this be continued and that the process be Atightened@ in order to narrow the time period for action.
This should be communicated throughout the Division and to the City Judge as well.
It is possible that more properties will have to be ordered for demolition or acquired by the
City in order to move forward. No one wants to take the process to this level, but this should be an
option for the most difficult cases. RECOMMENDATION: The City Council should budget
additional dollars toward a Acampaign@ to eliminate and/or acquire certain Aproblem@
properties (currently $10,000 is budgeted). This recommendation must be done in coordination
with the next recommendation identified below.
In cases where a $50 fine is not effective, it is recommended that a more direct action be
taken . RECOMMENDATION: Direct corrective action should be taken on more properties and
a lien placed against such property. Though the City will have to fund such actions, this
investment will be recovered when taxes are paid, when the property is sold, auctioned, or when
the property is rehabilitated and placed back on the tax roles.
TCA 13-21-103 provides cities with the authority to undertake this recommendation.
However, in order to make the process effective the City should meet with the County Register of
Deeds and County Trustee in order to coordinate recovery of the city=s direct-action investment.
This section of TCA requires that the County Trustee collect the Acosts@ of corrective action which
are placed as a special lien (see TCA 13-21-103(6)). These Acosts@ are to be collected at the same
time and in the same manner as property taxes are collected.
In addition, the City may want to encourage the use of garnishment as a means of providing
Ateeth@ to the fine(s) which are assessed against a violator (see TCA 6-54-303 and Title 26,
The Codes Enforcement Division currently resides in the Fire Department, with Deputy
Chief Gary Maiden as Supervisor. As we understand it the Codes Enforcement Division was
placed in the Fire Department 8 years ago due to structural problems and in order to improve its
An MTAS survey of 7 Tennessee cities (population range 20,000-38,000) in 1998
indicated that codes personnel are usually placed in the engineering, planning or public works
department of the city=s organizational structure. The survey is included in the Appendix to this
Report (see Appendix C).
We are not recommending that the codes enforcement division be placed in another
department of the City, but it should be considered. In any event, we do believe that the dispersed
physical location of the Codes Division inhibits an effective working relationship with other
departments. The lack of centralization of codes staff and constant in-out schedule of staff makes
good customer service more difficult. In addition it does not allow for effective coordination and
supervision of activities. RECOMMENDATION: The Codes Division, including the Codes
Division supervisor, should be physically housed in the Department of Development Services
and a close working relationship be developed. Additional recommendations regarding the
relationship with other departments is discussed later in this report.
In terms of the Division=s supervision, the City may want to consider that another frontline
supervisor be designated. The current arrangement makes effective supervision difficult.
Goals, Objectives, and Coordination of Activities
The Codes Division does not have a specific set of goals and objectives which support their
mission. RECOMMENDATION: The Codes Division should develop a yearly set of goals and
objectives to guide achievement of their mission. Each year a group of Aproblem properties@
should be identified and a strategy developed to abate the nuisances related to these properties. At
the same time strategies should be developed to attack the baseline services provided by the
division, i.e. junk vehicle removal, weedy lots, complaint response, etc. All of this should be
accomplished at a yearly Aplanning session@ which involves key staff from other related
Within the Codes Division itself, better coordination of activities is suggested. In
addition, to improve the effectiveness of the Codes Division, better coordination with other
departments is encouraged. This will improve coordination with other City departments. It will
also improve interdepartmental teamwork.. RECOMMENDATION: Monthly coordination
meetings should be held in the Codes Division (these should include staff from other
departments as needed).
It has been difficult to determine specific problems or areas of improvement in the Codes
Division because much of the information has been oral. There is very little documented data
available which would permit an accurate view of outcomes. It is recommended that a better
documented procedure be used in order to more accurately measure the effectiveness of nuisance
For example, a review of the limited available data indicates that there were approximately
1,302 housing and code inspections in the year 2000, and approximately 1,234 (through
September) in 2001. If only January through September figures are used there were 1,023 in 2000
and 1,234 in 2001 (a 21% increase from 2000 to 2001). However, these data include inspections
other than those related to nuisances. This being the case it is impossible to determine the number
of nuisance-related activities undertaken by the Division.
As of October, 2001 the Deputy Chief began to provide a more detailed report of the
Division=s activities. This report is a great improvement. The report shows Aslum and blight@
issues which have been corrected. For example, in September of 2001 there were 13
In order to improve these reports, it is suggested that all actions related to nuisance
abatement activities be included. This will better illustrate the department=s activity levels and
provide a continual update regarding specific properties.
We have also examined the currently utilized software which produces an Ainspection
record@ for each Acase@ in the system. These records do not generate adequate aggregate data and
are lacking in terms of their ability to Aguide@ each case as it proceeds through the process, which
can be lengthy.
RECOMMENDATION: The Codes Division should acquire and fully utilize a quality
Acomplaint/case/inspection tracking@ software. Such a software will provide quality data which
accurately reflects the activity levels of the Division and which induces accountability for results
based on these data. The software will also help to guide each Acase@ which enters the system,
thereby moving it along in a more expeditious manner and providing improved case
documentation. A list of complaint tracking softwares is provided in the Appendix to this Report
(see Appendix D).
It should also be noted that inspector casework may need improvement in terms of
documentation. The Division recently began to use a digital camera. This is an excellent addition.
This, coupled with the recommended software should improve documentation for nuisance
RECOMMENDATION: Quarterly reports should be generated which reflect the full
scope and status of the Division=s efforts. These reports can also be integrated in to the City=s
GIS system so that physical tracking of problem areas and progress toward resolution can be made
(and communicated to the general public). The City of San Antonio, Texas provides a good
example of this integration (see: www.sanantonio.gov/codecomp/Statistics.asp#District 9). These
reports will help the City=s management in evaluating code enforcement efforts.
Codes Division does not currently have any support staff. The activities of the Division
require numerous mail-outs, letters, and other communications with citizens and groups such as
the Better Property Board. RECOMMENDATION: Consideration should be given to hiring a
secretary or Aadministrative assistant@ to help the Division with these activities.
As it is now, the codes inspectors must return to their offices to produce these
communications and enter inspection notes and documentations into their computers.
RECOMMENDATION: Laptop computers should be purchased and issued to inspectors so
that inspection documentation and legwork can be completed in the field.
Standard Operating Procedures
No AStandard Operating Procedures@ exist in the Division in order to provide protocol in
terms of standardized approaches to nuisance abatement. We asked for and received a written
description of existing protocol and we are, for the most part, satisfied with the process (with some
exceptions as noted later). However, the basic procedures should be nearly the same in each case
and should be consistent from inspector to inspector. RECOMMENDATION: A set of Standard
Operating Procedures should be developed and utilized. An example of Standard Operating
Procedures (from the City of Oak Ridge) are provided as an attachment to this Report (see
In the past the City Council has indicated they would like to see more Aprogress@ from the
Codes Division, and on the other side the staff did not feel Asupported@ by the City Council. Thus
we believe that a part of the quarterly reporting process discussed above should include
information which helps the Council understand, through real examples, elements of the nuisance
In addition, as part of the development of the Division=s goals and objectives, the Council
should express their expectations for the Division. They should know of the specific Aproblem
properties@ which have been identified for yearly action, and should be prepared to support the
staff when a course of action is taken.
An equally important element in nuisance abatement involves the citizenry. As mentioned
earlier, the citizenry is a key link in the nuisance abatement process and a lack of Aparticipation@
on their part can be detrimental to the accomplishment of the Division=s goals. The citizenry must
clearly know what is expected of them and what the consequences are if they don=t participate.
RECOMMENDATION: The Codes Division should develop and implement a basic Apublic
relations@ campaign designed to communicate nuisance-related codes and the consequences
for violation. This should include a presence on the City=s web page (see the City of Knoxville
web page for a good example), written pamphlets, handouts for customers, guidelines, etc.
The Division may even want to consider a more comprehensive campaign which involves
community groups, beautification awards, a yearly Aclean-up@ campaign, etc. This creative
approach would involve the community at the early-solution stage. One councilmember gave us a
good suggestion - to send a card of Athanks@ to the person who responds within an allotted time
frame to a Codes Division request to correct a violation.
RECOMMENDATION: The Codes Division should develop and use its own letterhead
when communicating with citizens (they currently use Fire Department letterhead). They should
also have their own phone number.
Citizens often do not feel comfortable initiating a complaint with the Codes Division.
There is a fear that their name may be made know to the offender. Citizens should be able to
communicate that a violation of the City Code has occurred. It is the responsibility of the Codes
Division to see that the violation is corrected. This is a fundamental component of a division which
has a regulatory function. However, due to State open records laws, the name of the person
initiating the complaint must be made available if a request for such is made. This being the case it
may be best to not record the name of the person making the complaint unless they agree to such.
We also became aware that in some cases there may be an unspoken focus on Awhere
complaints come from@. It goes without saying that a violation is a violation and should be treated
as such, regardless of the source of the complaint.
Here too, if citizens want to know what happens as a result of their complaint the Division
should follow-up and let them know. This is an important part of the Apublic relations@ process.
RECOMMENDATION: The Codes Division should not reveal the name of the person
complaining unless a specific request for such is made, and should follow up with citizens who
do complain (if they so desire) in order to make them aware of progress toward remediation.
Implementation of This Report
There are a wide variety of recommendations contained in this Report. As previously noted
there have recently been improvements made in nuisance abatement efforts. The suggested
recommendations in this report should be implemented in order to continue with improvements
over the long-range.
Many of these recommendations will be difficult to put in place and will not happen in the
short term. A long-term commitment is needed in order to improve the fundamental nature of the
nuisance abatement process. RECOMMENDATION: Appropriate management staff should be
identified and assigned the responsibility to oversee implementation of the recommendations in
this report. Support for these efforts should be sustained for a number of years.
We believe these suggested improvements will greatly enhance the nuisance abatement
function of the Codes Division and related components in the City of Bristol, Tennessee. They
will build on the positive efforts of the many persons who contribute to making Bristol an
attractive place to live and work.
Summary of Recommendations
1. Develop an ordinance which provides stronger definitions for Ajunk vehicles@.
2. During the City=s next recodification sections 58-14 and 58-6 of the Bristol Code should
3. Section 58-8 (c) of the Bristol Code should use the same language as TCA 13-21-103(6)
and TCA 6-54-113(c)(1).
4. The City should adopt by ordinance the provisions of TCA 13-21-201.
5. The City Council should budget additional dollars toward a Acampaign@ to eliminate
and/or acquire certain Aproblem@ properties.
6. Direct corrective action should be taken on more properties and a lien placed against such
7. The Codes Division, including the Codes Division supervisor, should be physically housed
in the Department of Development Services and a close working relationship be
8. The Codes Division should develop a yearly set of goals and objectives to guide
achievement of their mission.
9. Monthly coordination meetings should be held in the Codes Division (these should include
staff from other departments as needed).
10. The Codes Division should acquire and fully utilize a quality Acomplaint/case/inspection
11. Quarterly reports should be generated which reflect the full scope and status of the
12. Consideration should be given to hiring a secretary or Aadministrative assistant@ to help
13. Laptop computers should be purchased and issued to inspectors so that inspection
documentation and legwork can be completed in the field.
14. A set of Standard Operating Procedures should be developed and utilized.
15. The Codes Division should develop and implement a basic Apublic relations@ campaign
designed to communicate nuisance-related codes and the consequences for violation.
16. The Codes Division should develop and use its own letterhead when communicating with
17. The Codes Division should not reveal the name of the person complaining unless a
specific request for such is made, and should follow up with citizens who do complain (if
they so desire) in order to make them aware of progress toward remediation.
18. Appropriate management staff should be identified and assigned the responsibility to
oversee implementation of the recommendations in this report.
City of Knoxville Ordinance
(With Eminent Domain Sections)
City of Knoxville AHomemakers Program@ Description
MTAS Location of Inspection Division Survey
City Name & Organizational No. & Positions for Other Building
Population Location of Certification of Commercial Inspection
Building Building Plans Review Dept.
Inspection Inspectors Employees
Columbia Engineering under 2 total City Engineer 1 admn.
32,043 City Manager 2-building Secretary; 1
Cleveland Planning & 4 total Chief Building 1 secretary
33,755 Inspection under 3-building, Official
City Manager mechanical and
Franklin Codes Admin. 5 total Plans Examiner 2 full time code
29,259 Under City 5-building enforcement
Administrator officers; 3
Gallatin Technical 3 total Building 1 secretary
20,551 Services under 1-plans review, Inspector II
Director of PW plumbing,
Hendersonville Codes Dept. under 3 total Director of 1 secretary
37,898 Mayor 2-building Codes 1 business tax
Oak Ridge Development 4 total Primary 1 secretary
27,310 Implementation 1-planning, Building
under Asst. City mechanical, Inspector
Smyrna Codes Building 3 total Plans Examiner 1 admn. assistant
19,909 Official under 2-building
Complaint Tracking Software Sources
BRISTOL: COMPLAINT TRACKING SYSTEMS RESOURCES
1. JPH International has ASuite Response CRM@. Contact is: www.jphint.com or
2. Sanderson Co. has different packages.
To get their info package call Derick Amos in Englewood Ohio 937-836-4499 ext 3158
3. Bakersfield CA has a web based system for tracking. 616-326-3000.
4. Roanoke VA uses ARespond@. Call them at 540-981-2000
5. Des Plains IL has a system in public works at 847-391-5460
6. Dallas has a system. Contact Eva Imhonde, Manager of Information Systems at 214-670-3944.
7. Atlanta GA
Has a correspondence tracking system.
Ed Laster 404-730-7200
8. San Bernardino, CA has a case system.
Dianah Neff at 909-387-7278
9. Jackson, TN
Has a hot line system. Talk to Ron Barry at 731-425-8582
10. City of Roswell
Uses ACTion!, Sungard/Pentamation product which is a customer request tracking software.
Kelly Tate, Community Information Manager
11. Mesa, AZ
Uses an automated system call ASuiteResponse@ (the company can be found at www.jphint.com).
It notifies staff by e-mail of a citizen contact requiring their attention. It also tracks responses.
Jenny Sheppard, Assistant to the City Manager
12. Milwaukee uses AContrack@ (from Daystar Computer Systems at www.daystarnet.com).
Contact in Milwaukee is Ronald Leonhardt, City Clerk 414-286-2221
City of Oak Ridge Standard Operating Procedures