Commissioner calls for changes in code enforcement system

Commissioner Ann Murguia on Aug. 7 called for changes to the Unified Government code enforcement system.

As the system is now, it is not working, she believes. She added that the UG has been talking about code enforcement issues for the eight years she has been in office, and for years before that, also, and that she wanted to see improvements.

“I think that anybody who drives around our neighborhoods and sees the number of code violations would agree,” she said.

Murguia said the UG spent a significant amount of money to put in place a system that would provide real-time status on code violations. The system would have provided commissioners with direct computer access so they could provide feedback to constituents who called with code concerns.

Murguia said her remarks were about the code enforcement system, not about individuals’ work.

“The failure to have this system up and running is a huge failure of current leadership,” Murguia said at an Aug. 7 UG Commission meeting. “This must be fixed immediately. I therefore suggest that this system be up and running by Nov. 1, 2014, or at the next available commission meeting I will call for a vote of no confidence in this (code enforcement) leadership.”

She also proposed that no later than Sept. 1, the code enforcement leadership team gives to each commissioner a recommendation that would be designed to increase the number of average code violations annually by at least 10 percent. She added that citations should be appropriate and not actions to meet quotas.

Murguia said she had provided alternatives that could increase the quantity and quality of code violations being handled by the staff without increasing cost.

Murguia also said she made a recommendation to look at creating part-time code enforcement positions. She said she would expect to see a presentation from the UG staff at least evaluating this option.

During a UG meeting discussion on code enforcement, staff members said that they had a high percentage of compliance, about 85 percent, from residents who were asked to comply with codes.

Staff members said there were sometimes challenges in dealing with owners who did not live at the properties.

Mayor Mark Holland said that the UG wanted to be sympathetic toward people who were struggling financially, but that the vast majority of codes cases involved absent landlords who didn’t care about the city.

He said the UG Commission needs to talk more about policy issues concerning code enforcement that were brought up by Commissioner Hal Walker. Walker mentioned the process for code enforcement, including sending out letters, which adds a significant amount of time to the process. He discussed finding a way to cut down the time before it goes to court, and suggested eliminating the letters of notification.

Murguia also noted that code violations were the No. 1 issue on citizen surveys of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association and Rosedale Development Association. It also was at the top of a recent UG citizen survey.

Teachers sue Kansas over law that limits teachers’ due process rights

The Kansas National Education Association today filed suit in Shawnee County District Court against the state of Kansas over legislation that limit teachers’ due process rights.

Parts of House Bill 2506 came under criticism during the legislative session from the KNEA and from Wyandotte County Democratic legislators. The lawsuit does not apply to any of the financial portions of HB 2506, according to KNEA information. The law also contained school funding provisions.

House Bill 2506 canceled provisions in the previous law that allowed teachers with tenure to have hearings before they could be terminated. School districts are still allowed to have due process hearings for teachers, but they are not required to have them. The Kansas City, Kan., Public School district said previously it would still have due process hearings for teachers.

The KNEA earlier announced that it believes that parts of the bill that stripped due process “were enacted by an improper procedure and that they improperly deprive teachers of a basic expectation of fairness in termination decisions.”

“Today’s lawsuit by the KNEA is little more than an exercise in labor union politics,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in a news release responding to the lawsuit. “Kansas has high quality, well-funded schools and I signed HB 2506 to keep it that way. I am concerned this misdirected lawsuit may cast doubt on, or unwittingly endanger, school funding just as classrooms are convening all across Kansas.”

The case is Kansas National Education Association vs. state of Kansas, 2014-CV-000789 in Shawnee County District Court.

Body discovered floating in Big 11 Lake

Wyandotte County Sheriff’s officers discovered a body floating in Big 11 Lake at 11th and State Avenue today.

The body appears to be a male, but the age or race of the man is not certain at this time, said Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Lt. Kelli Bailiff. She added it appeared that the body had been in the water for quite a while.

She said the body has been taken to the Wyandotte County coroner’s office, which may be able to determine more information, such as approximate age and other details.

Lt. Bailiff said it cannot be assumed that the man died from drowning, since the cause of death has not yet been determined.

A call came in from a bystander at mid-morning about a body floating in the lake, she said. The Sheriff’s Department was brought in because it has jurisdiction over the parks.