Stanford Planning and Zoning attorney disagrees with city attorney on commissioners’ role in code enforcement

Published 10:28 am Thursday, August 16, 2018

STANFORD — Attorneys for the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council don’t seem to agree on who should be enforcing property code violations in the City of Stanford — or how to enforce them.

“There seems to be a lack of enforcement of the ordinances we have in the city,” said Kirk Correll, attorney for Stanford’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Correll addressed City Council members during the regular meeting earlier this month, in response to a previous discussion regarding the enforcement of the city’s property codes.

During the council’s July meeting, questions were asked about a specific property located behind Walmart in Stanford — specifically, why a citation has not been issued for apparent violations such as tall grass and inoperative vehicles.

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Correll made it clear that he wasn’t blaming the city’s Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Knouse for the “lack of enforcement in terms of what types of ordinances are being enforced and what persons the ordinances are being enforced against.”

“I think he gets some mixed signals from us sometimes when we ask him to do something…” Correll said. “…I think it ought to be the Planning and Zoning Commission to determine whether or not violations of ordinances have taken place and to say ‘please issue a citation’ unless he does so independently. Do you all agree or disagree?”

City Attorney Christopher Reed disagreed, saying that it creates a separation of powers issues.

“You all (Planning and Zoning Commission) are a judiciary portion of it, he’s (code enforcement officer) the executive,” Reed said.

“What if he chooses not to enforce an ordinance we (Planning and Zoning) feel has been violated?” Correll said.

“You take what’s submitted to you and make a decision on it and leave the executive to go around and enforce the ordinance,” Reed said. “You are there to determine the cases that are brought to you.”

Correll said he believes it’s Planning and Zoning’s job to see that ordinances are enforced.

“…There’s a lot of violations that are taking place that are not being dealt with, and we want to put a stop to that, because we don’t think it’s fair to enforce against some and not others,” he said.

Reed attempted to halt the discussion and recommended tabling the topic until the council’s next meeting, during which they can enter into executive session to discuss pending litigation.

“I think you are getting into the portion where we talked about earlier where we need to go into executive session to discuss,” Reed said.

Correll said there was no need to go into executive session to discuss the process of how ordinances should be enforced.

Council member Peggy Hester asked if a lawsuit had been filed. Reed said no lawsuits have been filed against the city but threats have been made.

“That’s a threat, that’s not a reality,” Hester said. “You’re supposed to be the attorney for the city. Is there a conflict of interest here? Are you also representing Mr. Owens in (a case)?”

Reed countered, suggesting Hester “step aside” herself, due to her previous relationship with the property owner.

“No, I don’t have to step aside,” Hester said.

Correll said Knouse shouldn’t have to worry about being sued for doing his job as Code Enforcement Officer.

“I don’t think that should be his concern, that he’s going to get sued, because he’s a city employee, he knows the city should defend him if he does something that he gets sued for,” he said.

The Planning and Zoning Commission wants to make the city better and more appealing to people, Correll said. “But, what good are we if we don’t see that the city’s ordinances are enforced?”

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jim Jarrett said it’s up to the Code Enforcement Officer to recognize violations and issue citations.

“What should happen is, when he sees a violation, he issues a citation. If they disagree, then they can file an appeal with the Board of Adjustments or they can file an appeal with the Code Enforcement Board,” Jarrett said. “Our job is to see that these ordinances for planning and zoning are followed.”

Jarrett said the problem comes when Knouse is allegedly directed by other city officials not to issue citations to certain property owners.

“No one has told him not to issue a citation,” Reed said. “I’m just going to be honest with you, your actions of going out and investigating these different things and riding around town and directing an officer to go make citations, has subjected this city to the specter of liability…We are going to have, probably, a series of executive sessions to discuss pending litigation as a result of your actions.”

Reed maintained that he did not instruct Knouse to refrain from citing the property located behind Walmart, owned by Tommy Owens.

“That’s zoned as B-3. Jeff Knouse told us that he was afraid of being sued and that you told him, ‘do not issue any citations.’ He doesn’t work for you, he works for the mayor,” Jarrett said.

Stanford resident Amy Lu Hazlett said she agrees with the Planning and Zoning Commissioners, that ordinances are not being evenly enforced across the city.

“I agree with them because there is a lot of favoritism shown in this town. Somebody’s property can be nasty and the next person’s property can look good. I can understand why he’s (Jeff Knouse) afraid to go out and give a citation, because I’ve heard words of people telling him not to give them,” Hazlett said. “You shouldn’t be rude to these people who are actually trying to have a conversation.”

Carter said the City Council is not a court or jury and recommended tabling it until an executive session can be held during a later meeting.

“We’ve got some legal issues that we need to talk about,” he said. “I listen to our City Attorney…I’m listening to him and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The City of Stanford will hold a special meeting on Aug. 16 (today) at 6:30 p.m. at the L&N Depot. The following items are listed on the meeting agenda: presentation of audit ending June 30, 2017 (Craig Butler will be available to answer any questions); Request motion to add Jone Anderson to the First Southern Accounts and to sign checks for the City of Stanford with Mayor Eddie Carter and remove Peggy Orberson from signing checks; executive session to discuss proposed litigation and employee discipline.