This is the fourth of five questions posed to those running for a seat on the Walton County Board of County Commissioners. The five questions came from concerned voters in the community who want to know where the candidates stand on this topic.
This week's question is: "How can Code Enforcement become more proactive with enforcement?"
FROM DISTRICT 1:
Incumbent Bill Chapman responds: "Code Enforcement can be as proactive as they are directed to be by the BCC. Currently, in most instances, code compliance is complaint driven. There are violations where Code Officers have been given latitude to act proactively, primarily those involving Scenic Corridor guidelines. The objective of being complaint driven is to not have Code Officers "on patrol" looking for violations. While it is important that compliance is met, it is also important that forced compliance does not rise to a perceived level of harassment."
Chapman challenger Richard Bryan responds: "Code Enforcement is overwhelmed with complaint response and administrative duties in Walton County. They need more personnel to become more proactive. Weekend enforcement is needed to deal with illicit activity occurring when violators know that no Code Enforcement Officers are present to even respond to complaints, much less be proactive."
Chapman challenger Bill Fletcher responds: "My sense is that they are understaffed, and if true, that needs to be addressed. I also think we have to make sure our codes are reasonable, have zero tolerance for those who disregard the codes and ensure we are consistent in enforcement."
Chapman challenger David Kramer responds: "Code Enforcement does not need to become more proactive. Code Enforcement needs consistency and direction. I would suggest an environmental officer to be mainly dedicated to environment issues south of the bay. There should be a written case report given to each complainant with regular written updates of the case. Follow up with the public is crucial. I spent 14 years on the Code Board. No decision ever made in those 14 years was overturned by the District or Supreme Courts. It is and should always remain about compliance and not be seen or act as the police. We are a county of neighbors and all should be treated as such."
Incumbent Bill Imfeld responds: "Staffing and training have always been issues for Code Enforcement. We need to increase both, and also enhance coordination with the TDC's Beach Ambassadors to provide better education of the public and regulation enforcement of beach usage."
Imfeld challenger Melanie Nipper responds: "The TDC Code Enforcement Office is completely understaffed. Currently we have only five officers on duty to patrol 26 miles of beaches with 16 different neighborhoods. There needs to be enough officers present before a conflict occurs on our beaches, not after, and officers should become more proactive. Understandably, beachfront property owners have become angry. With more than 3 million visitors a year, there will always be some who are not responsible. We need to identify this irresponsible behavior early to prevent an unnecessary burden on our Sheriff's Deputies."
Imfeld challenger John Dixon responds: "The BCC should either enforce the existing codes or review, remove, or rewrite those deemed unenforceable. Code Enforcement historically has been selective and complaint driven. This is an acceptable approach for a sparsely populated county. However, the times have changed and due to the increasing population density and unique challenges facing Walton County, our growing neighborhoods and industrial areas need a new approach to Code Enforcement. I will move to add Code Enforcement Officers to keep pace with our growth and expansion throughout the county as well as becoming more proactive in enforcement.
Incumbent Cindy Meadows responds: Code Enforcement needs to be given the authority by the Commissioners to address code violations on a daily basis other than waiting for complaints.
Meadows challenger Tony Anderson responds: First, Walton County's codes should be enforced fairly and equitably, not selectively. Commissioners must take care not to micromanage the day-to-day operations of the code enforcement department. As commissioner, I will work with the county administrator and code enforcement staff to increase communication with the public. With more communication and greater public education, we can reduce the incidences of code violations; this is a more positive way to approach this. Additionally, I strongly support more funding for enforcement of beach rules; we have significant need for more staff along our coastline to improve the beach environment for everyone.