Clark is the one who tells residents to clean up their yards, mow their grass, and don’t leave trash out for city garbage crews that can’t be picked up, among other things.
“It can be confrontational,” he admits.
But Clark, who has been on the job for just a year, doesn’t spend the bulk of his time writing tickets. In fact, he wrote just two “notices of violation” during his rounds through the city Thursday morning.
“To get them to comply and ultimately be an ally (in keeping the city clean),” is the goal,” he said. “I spend a lot of time talking to people and following up. Follow up on this job is the key.”
Code enforcement is overseen by the LaGrange Department of Public Safety and Chief Lou Dekmar would rather see residents comply with instruction rather than wind up in court. In fact, the department’s annual report issued earlier this week touted the fact that 2,721 notices were issued in 2011 and just 14 resulted in a case heard at municipal court. That means voluntary compliance is at 99.5 percent.
Clark only will issue one notice, but keeps track of how many times he follows up. He will go back and talk to the resident four or five times before it goes to court.
Fines vary. A man with two inoperaple vehicles recently was fined $300. A littering case netted the offender a $162 fine.
Most of the calls Clark goes on are called in by residents.
“The number of messages varies,” he said. “Today there was only one. Some days there will be 10. I work them as fast as I can. You have in mind what you’re going to do that day, but the messages add spice.”
He keeps a log every day of where he stops and what he sees. A good day is about 25 stops, an above average week is about 115 total stops. Clark said this week will exceed 115 stops.
Clark is the only city code officer LaGrange has, although plans are to hire a part-time officer soon. That means he’s responsible for the whole city. The city has approximately 768 streets, 35 apartment and townhouse complexes, 42 subdivisions and nine mobile home parks.
“I could write citations for tall grass all day,” he said. The city will remind residents to cut grass when it gets too high. The thought is an unkempt yard can make the house a target for other crime.
“A criminal is going to look at a house like that when he’s up to no good,” Clark said.
Clark tries to educate the community about city policies. Yard debris can’t weigh more than 500 pounds and bulk items, like mattresses and other large furniture often left curbside, can’t weigh more than 400 pounds. It’s too much for the sway truck that picks it up to handle. Residents with trash larger than the rules need to make arrangements with a private contractor or rent a container from the city, which the city will come and pick up.
Clark also deals with what he calls “move out litter,” when residents move out of a rental house and leave everything imaginable on the curb.
“I try and find them,” he said. It’s hard to find homeowners these days since fewer and fewer residents have home telephones and listed phone numbers. He’ll check with the utility department to see if the residents left a forwarding address and visit them there to try and get them to go back and clean it up. Otherwise, the landlord is stuck with the job. About 85 percent of the houses he visits are occupied by renters.
Clark checked on an atypical situation Thursday at a Boulevard house. A man is keeping a large collection of chickens and other items in his yard. It’s fine to have chickens in the city, but the chickens are not housed in a proper coop, which is against city code. The back yard also is full of other items and the man could be cited for “collection of filth.”
The coops are made of old pallets stacked together with wood on top.
“This looks like Calcutta in India,” Clark said. “If I were this man’s neighbor, I would be irate.”
Clark has had to get police to come to a few situations he’s been in, not just for his own safety, but because of what he finds. Last year he was at a Mitchell Avenue house and a child, about 2, appeared to be home alone. He could see the child in the window and despite knocking, no one came to the door.
“I can’t just leave when I see that,” he said.
Police came and eventually did get the adults in the house to come to the door.
Clark took the job knowing there would be challenges and he’d be doing something different every day.
“I use a lot of the skills I learned from James Zachry at LaGrange Grocery Company back in the 80s,” Clark said. “He paid attention to detail and didn’t stand for anything less. He wanted to make things as right as possible and that’s what I want too.”