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There was plenty of trash talk last Thursday at City Hall as a group of more than 20 residents threw new code enforcement officer Kelli Fenley under the proverbial bus.

Fenley had already been virtually tried and convicted online via social media innuendo and assumption by Wednesday afternoon, and those who perpetrated the Facebook thread were encouraged to air their complaints to the council in person.

Anything new is bound to meet resistance, but the codes are not new; they have been on the books since the mid-1990s. Local officials recently hired Fenley to step up enforcement to clean up Hamilton properties but in the process, have angered several citizens.

“Honestly, I feel like (Fenley) is a bully on a power trip,” said Rebecca Hinton, who said she has had multiple problems adhering to the code.

“There is no list of what’s acceptable,” she said. “It is all at her discretion.”

Hinton said she was told she needed a privacy fence or cyclone fence on her property. She purchased privacy panels and had them installed.

“It’s almost all up, and now I get a citation that I can’t have a fence across the front of my property,” she said, citing two other properties with similar fences.

Hinton said she has an autistic son with service dogs to help in his care.

“They are all vaccinated, flea prevention, all service animals with different skills,” she said. “It’s better than medication, and I have a service dog registration for every dog.

“I have signatures (from neighbors) saying my fence is fine and it’s OK to train dogs in my house,” she said. “I complied with the code, got a breeders and kennels DBA, paid liability insurance, and she refused to give me a permit, saying I wasn’t a kennel.”

But that’s not all, she said.

“Now I’ve been cited for having a business in a residential area because I got the DBA.”

“We can’t figure out what the codes are,” added Glen Jones, who questioned if Fenley also works for Christian Realty and if she was showing houses on taxpayer time.

(City Administrator Kampfer said Monday morning, “She is a full-time employee of the City not known to have any conflict of interest.”)

“The newspaper article was about junk vehicles, but what about the graveyard of golf carts on the corner?” Jones asked. “That’s been an eyesore for years. It’s the first thing people see when they come to town, and they think we might be a junkyard town.

“Also, we need clarification on toys in the yard,” he said. “Someone was not cited but told they couldn’t have toys in the yard. That’s what started this whole thing.

“Why are abandoned businesses and buildings not being cited?” Jones asked. “There are multiple houses. Are they on the market? Have they been cited? Is there a code that says houses have to be in a certain condition before they sell?

“Also the gas station across from Dairy Queen. Kids play in that grass on their way home from school. Is anything being done about it?

“In the codes it says the process starts with a complaint,” he said. “Why within a week were multiple sites cited? Or is it random?

“Why do we have to go online to read the 500-page code? Why do we only have 10 days to fix broken down vehicles when the potholes all over town are the reason vehicles are being broken? It doesn’t make sense.

“Since January, 37 citations were issued and only four fines paid. Was that because they were unfounded claims, or what happened with those?”

Although council members are not allowed to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting, city attorney Connie White explained that most of those properties were brought into compliance.

Jones continued, “The city streets and pavement (funds) are supposed to be dedicated and shouldn’t be used anywhere else. Does that include the airport? It seems all our street funds are going to the airport.”

“I want to ask ya’ll, you’ve heard about people in glass houses,” said James Quigg. “I can walk around this town and show you weeds this tall on city property.

“I’ve got an old car that I’ve been working on for several years and will work on for several more years, deep in my driveway.

“(Fenley) said it was an eyesore, so I threw a tarp over it. Evidently that was not good enough.

“I just have issues with someone telling me we’re going to make the city of Hamilton like a silvertown babydoll house, a beautiful place,” he said. “That’s good, and I’d like it to be a babydoll imaginary city, but until these streets are fixed, it’s still going to be Hamilton, Texas. That’s what you’re going to have.

“I feel like I’ve been picked on,” Quigg said. “I’ve received two different notices. When I contacted the first enforcement officer and explained, he said no problem. When I contacted the second one, she explained it had to be hidden from public view. She also said there was other rubbish, anything that’s not a yard ornament.

“What? Anything I’ve got that’s not a yard ornament I can’t have in my driveway?

“I draped a tarp over it, then get a letter in the mail saying I have a court date,” Quigg said. “I’m just frustrated with the whole deal, and evidently so are a lot of people.”

“Imagine my surprise when I received a court notice yesterday for June 20,” said Misty Clepper. “It’s the first notice I received on rental property I have.

“My tenants were evicted May 2 and given 30 days to vacate, and I can’t do anything until they are done. May 30 I was notified the tenant was out, and that very day we started trimming trees and hauling off trash. Two days later we had a contract for a new renter.

“The first and only notice I received was yesterday in the mail, and it was five days after I had it cleaned up.”

Clepper cited the newspaper article, which said property owners would receive a notice with 10 days to comply unless other arrangements were made, and cases in municipal court are reserved for those who refuse to comply.

“It looks like municipal court is the first and only resort for me,” she said. “It seems to me the code enforcer is the only one not complying and communicating.”

“I like the idea of cleaning up the town,” said Misty Clepper’s father-in-law, Johnny Clepper.

“I work hard on my rent houses. That’s what I evict the people for most. Some people got notices, justifiable and some not. I got a notice the other day of eight chihuahuas in my house. It was not my house.

“Is the city still mowing the old nursing home on Grogan Street?” he asked. “Some of your properties are worse than my pasture. Why do you not do what you say to do instead of telling everyone else what to do?

“Is the code enforcement officer licensed by the State of Texas to do electrical and plumbing inspections? She’s not even licensed for dog catcher.

“And what happened to tags to be hung on the door? That’s not the case. And this trash was generated while people were paying water and utility bills. Why am I questioned when I clean up trash they generated in town?

“Properties need to be cleaned up,” Clepper said. “I evicted three people for not cleaning up. I really try to make Hamilton look better. My houses look better than when I bought them. Look in your own front yard first. I wouldn’t pick on you if you didn’t pick on them. It’s America. We have the right to make our own choices.”

Only one citizen spoke in favor of code enforcement at the meeting.

“I want to thank you guys for finally, finally dragging Hamilton into the 21st century,” said Marion Stanford. “There are so many unsightly buildings and situations in town.”

She turned to the audience and said, “Your rights end when they begin to infringe upon other people. And when you have unsightly property, it lowers everyone’s property values.”

Stanford said looking up Hamilton on websites like Zillow provides no information on the town.

“Some of them say, ‘this is a good place to buy’ or something about the community,” she said. “The only thing it says about Hamilton is ‘Texas real estate is on the rise two percent.

“They’re not saying anything about us because our real estate is flat because of homes not kept up.

“I know the transition will be rough, but I appreciate that (Fenley) is out there doing her job.”

In a later portion of the meeting, Hamilton Police Chief Robert McGinnis told the council that Fenley is working on licensing for plumbing and electrical inspection, but there is no state license for inspection for junk vehicles, debris and tall grass, which is what the focus is on during this phase.

“Our code enforcement person at this point has filed no charges on anything,” he said. “She observes or gets complaints, photographs, documents and contacts the owner, and if there is no communication it’s turned over to us and we create a case number.

“There is no license required because as licensed peace officers, we can write the citations and refer them to municipal court.”

McGinnis said that Fenley is working with a contracted person for plumbing and electrical inspection and accumulating observation hours required to become licensed.

“Have you or I talked about targeting anyone?” Kampfer asked McGinnis.

“Absolutely not,” he replied. “When she started, I told her to divide the town into sectors. At this point, we are only targeting three things – tall grass, junk vehicles and garbage – for cleanup efforts. We’re not targeting anybody.

“A lot of the streets, it could take a month to get down the street,” he said. “It’s broken into sectors for a reason.”

“What about the issue of no contact other than the municipal court date?” asked Mayor Mike Collett.

“(M. Clepper) had already called to talk to us, and we thought it was resolved,” McGinnis said. “The renters received the notice. We had a disturbance over there. They did evict them quickly, but in the process they received the notification.

“(Fenley) submits to us, and we submit to municipal court,” he said. “It’s clean. Absolutely. Is our system perfect? No. I thought it was worked out, notice was given. We do not give anybody first notice to come to municipal court.

“We’re not trying to fine everybody,” McGinnis said. “These are notices.”

He explained that the 10-day deadline is state law and most are granted latitude if they show progress.

“Our ordinances are not any different from any other city,” he said. “They are very minimum, and I struggle to understand the problem.

“I live on a corner. There is garbage thrown in my yard constantly, and I pick it up. Why? Because it needs to be picked up.”

“This has developed into something that’s way out of anything I’ve seen before,” Kampfer said.

“There’s a lot of misinformation,” McGinnis said. “No one was told no toys in their yard. That didn’t happen. But it took on a life of its own (on facebook).”

“The chief and code enforcement officer are doing a great job getting these properties cleaned up,” White said. “Thirty-seven properties and four fines means 37 properties got cleaned up, and that’s great.”

Council members discussed soliciting volunteer groups to help those unable to clean up their properties and the health ramifications that underscore the importance of getting rid of waste and high grass.

“Rats and mosquitoes are bad,” Kampfer said. “They are very serious health hazards.”

“And if it’s raining and it gets in old tires, then the mosquitoes come,” added council member Beverly Gilstrap.

“Code enforcement goes hand in hand with economic development,” McGinnis said.

“As a small community going forward, we need to talk about cohesiveness,” Kampfer said. “In the end, the confusion and misdirection have caused division inside city hall and outside. We need cohesiveness of what we’re doing; you’ve got to be squarely behind the ordinance. It’s critical.”

In other business, the council approved a residential bulk waste fee and discussed the city’s fire station and the possibility of bringing disc golf to Hamilton.

They also recognized the public works department, announced appointment of a school resource officer, approved appointments to the library and economic development board, elected a mayor pro tem, purchased software updates for municipal court and received an update on the opening of the pool for this summer season.

 

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