Residents back ordinance officer

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer October 03, 2012 02:31 pm

ELGIN — Support for Elgin Ordinance Officer Mike Little and for the city’s fledgling ordinance enforcement program was overwhelming during a special city council meeting Monday at Elgin City Hall.

The city council recently suspended ordinance enforcement activities pending inquiries into complaints about Little. Because of a lack of a quorum Monday, no vote was taken on resumption of those activities.

But for the most part, people at the meeting made it plain they want to see ordinances enforced and the city cleaned up. And nearly everyone had good things to say about Little.

“I think you’ve got a whale of a good man,” said Elgin resident Bob Wiles. “We can lift our image and that is what he’s trying to do.”

Earlier this year the city decided to contract for law enforcement services with the Union County Sheriff’s Office, rather than rebuild a city police department decimated by the resignations of Chief Kevin Lynch and Officer Erik Kilpatrick. 

Under terms of the law enforcement contract, the Sheriff’s Office does not enforce city ordinances dealing with such things as trash, weeds, pets and vehicles parked in the city’s right-of-way. The council decided to hire a part-time ordinance officer to work 40 hours a month at $10 per hour.

Little, a Boise Cascade employee, was hired and went to work July 2. But the council called a halt to his activities after receiving some complaints alleging harassment, intimidation and inconsistent enforcement.

The three councilors present Monday — Duffy, Brent Linville and Dick Miller — did not talk about results of the inquiry into the complaints. Instead they listened as citizens expressed their views on the need for enforcement.

“There are a lot of us who have been unhappy for years because police did not enforce ordinances,” said Evelyn Spikes. “When Mike volunteered, I thought there’s nobody better than him to do this. I still think that.”

During the nearly two-hour meeting, only one person, Richard Mackey, said he thought current enforcement efforts have been unevenly applied.

“The ordinances are designed to help keep the city picked up, but when one person is singled out it doesn’t work for the city,” Mackey said. A member of Mackey’s family is among those who have complained about Little.

At a council meeting in September, three residents lodged complaints. One woman said Little’s enforcement was not applied evenly to everyone, another said she felt harassed and intimidated when Little talked to her about vehicles parked in the city right-of-way, and a third complained that Little walked around her yard to inspect it.

Little himself spent significant time Monday talking about his efforts since starting the job, and disputing some claims made against him in an email from a local resident.

Little admitted to making some mistakes, but said he has been reasonable in his approach, providing residents with copies of ordinances in question and allowing ample time to fix problems. He said he has rarely resorted to issuing citations.

“I don’t like to give tickets. I would first assume we would work it out. I’ve given only two or three,” he said.

Duffy said during the meeting that the council decided to call a time out on ordinance enforcement activities because of a “significant” number of complaints.

“When you hear, ‘If he comes into my yard, I’m going to shoot him,’ we need to stop and take a look,” Duffy said. “We need to look at those complaints and make a plan to make it better.”

Duffy also said that as the enforcement program gets off the ground, there is a need for public education.

“All I want to make sure of is that we’re educating the public that we are enforcing the ordinances. Let’s get them aware that we’re out there doing this to improve our community,” he said.

Duffy said the council did not vote to suspend Little, but to suspend ordinance enforcement activities until the controversy over enforcement had been dealt with. Duffy, who along with Miller sits on the city’s public safety committee, said he supports Little.

Some people in the room, however, said they thought Little isn’t getting the support he deserves.

“I’m disappointed in the council, to make ordinances and then suspend someone because you get complaints. You might as well tear up the ordinances and don’t mess with them,” said Risa Hallgarth. “Ordinances are made to better our community. The main thing is, why would you not back your enforcement officer?”