Editorial: Wondering what they expected

November 6, 2013 

A trio of speakers paraded before the Wendell town commissioners at that body’s last meeting to complain about letters that informed some of them they were in violation of a town ordinance.

The letters came in the wake of a decision just a few weeks earlier to step up enforcement efforts by making the code enforcement officer’s job a full-time position instead of a part-time effort. In so doing, they asked for a change in the town’s practice of responding to complaints about violations and to actively seek out problems.

So what happened? The number of violations rose... dramatically. And now people are mad.

We’re not sure exactly what commissioners were expecting when they made that change, but it certainly stands to reason that violations would rise. More people would get violation notices. And more people would be upset by those notices.

The town board hemmed and hawed publicly over their consternation that people were upset. Privately, they wondered what people expected. After all, rules are rules. We want them when they help us, but we don’t like having to be subjected to them ourselves.

That’s a bit two-faced in our opinion.

To be fair to the town board, we think their primary focus when they changed the workload of the town staffer was that more housing standard violations would be the result of their action.

But the code enforcement officer polices much more than that. So people with grass that’s too tall, people with junky yards and people who park in their front yard started getting violation notices.

Commissioners agreed to stay the violation letters for now. Whether they will wither in the face of last week’s criticism or decide that rules are rules remains to be seen. It’s hard to explain to an angry person why the rules are in place. It’s hard to defend a decision when the complaints are about an unintended consequence. And it’s hard to defend a decision when you realize it wasn’t really well thought out.

So commissioners now know their work will be scrutinized even more closely. It is our hope they will consider all the possible ramifications of a decision before they make it.

Politicians are not elected to make popular decisions. They are elected to make difficult decisions. And when they do, they are expected to stand behind their decisions and explain themselves patiently. In the end, there may very well be some hardship cases that merit special consideration. But if the decision was a sound one in the first place, then leaders wouldn’t back down.

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