October 31, 2013

Council's code enforcement report questioned

Just when I thought this issue would fade away until after the election, kapow!, it is back on the campaign agenda. The following emails related to this report, issued by the entire City Council and Mayor Art Ward in September and read into the record by city Councilor Derek Czenczelewski at the September council meeting.

Here's an email that Democratic council hopeful Ellen Zoppo-Sassu sent to Czenczelewski this morning:

Hi Derek,
I have been playing with the numbers from my FOI request to you  based on the data you included in your Code Enforcement report to the City Council at the September meeting. 
 In those comments you said that “the City established the Code Enforcement Committee in 2008” and  claimed that  $1,121,417.27 in fines have been collected to date.
First, I found it intriguing that you claim that code enforcement began in 2008, when in fact the drive to tighten the City’s enforcement capabilities began in 2001. I am sure that Health Director Patricia Checko, Assistant Corporation Counsel Dale Clift, property owner Karen Pio, and the many city employees involved with revamping the City’s Property Maintenance Code would take issue with this statement.  
 But I was also curious about the dollar amount being touted.   I asked a few people in City Hall about it, but no one seemed to know exactly where the number came from which is why I did a FOI request for your report and the source information you used to compile it.  
 According to the data on properties that had been the subject of code enforcement actions, the total amount billed to code violators since 2008 was $1,339,044.28.  You then apparently subtracted $217,626.95 (which represents the amount that the City has not yet collected, but expects to) to reach your number of $1,121,417.27.
But you did not subtract fines which the City has deemed uncollectible, which total $384,467.72.  This is a misrepresentation of the numbers, or a case of you not understanding the data that you was given.
If you reduced $1,121,417.27 by the uncollectable amount of $384,467.72, it leaves you with only $736,949.55.   This is the true amount of code enforcement fees collected.  That’s an error of 35%.
Apparently no one questioned your report or your calculations during your presentation that evening. That's even more disturbing to me. 
I am also concerned that the members of the City Council, especially Councilman Cockayne, will interchange the terms “lien” and “fines”. A lien is not a fine. The $1,121, 417.27 figure does not represent fines – they are liens recorded in the City’s land records against these properties to recoup monies that the City of Bristol spent doing code enforcement to keep our buildings safe.
 Your presentation at the September City Council meeting also included the statement that “seven arrests were made over this span”  which is not true.  Infractions are not arrests.
 I commend you for submitting a report on blight and code enforcement at the September City Council meeting, especially in light of the events that have put the West End in the spotlight over the summer. Your report included data from code enforcement programs that have been in existence for a number of years prior to your election and the election of most of your colleagues on the Council. And while some might say that was simply an attempt to pad your presentation, I think it IS important that city resources be coordinated to provide a seamless network of services with common goals, and to avoid duplication.  The fact that this communication and coordination did not exist was the premise for several of us creating a comprehensive code enforcement program back in 2001.
In the 2 years since Democratic City Councilman Kevin McCauley left the Council and his role as chairman of the Code Enforcement Committee, City Councilmen have been noticeably absent from the monthly code enforcement meetings. That sends the clear message that code enforcement is not a policy priority for our current leaders…at least, not until it’s time to run for re-election.
I find it ironic that Ken Cockayne is running for mayor, boasting at the Chamber debate that he both works and lives adjacent to the West End and downtown neighborhoods he was elected to represent, yet he did not attend a single Code Enforcement committee meeting in the last 2 years.  According to the minutes, Councilmen Martin and Mills made occasional visits to the meetings. No one else did. Actions speak louder than words.
This is clearly too much of a "inside baseball" policy wonk discussion to have with voters 5 days before the election. I wish that it had been a discussion at the Chamber debate or that I had been able to drill down to these numbers sooner so we could have had a policy discussion about it. I look forward to correcting the misrepresentation after Election Day so that whatever the mix of new elected officials ends up being, they will have an accurate foundation from which to begin the next chapter of Code Enforcement over the next two years. 
Ellen Zoppo-Sassu

And here is Czenczelewski's response to her, sent out about half an hour ago:

Thank you for your email. The numbers you are questioning came directly from information I received from the various department heads and City employees tasked with providing said information. I did not manipulate the numbers in any way. They were reported as they were given to me. 
I have CC'd each member who helped compile the information, as it sounds your greivance is with them, not me. Hopefully they will be able to correct any misinformation you found from your expert analysis.
Thank you,

And here is Zoppo-Sassu's response to Czenczelewski a few minutes after that:

Derek - 
I look forward to it.
And for the record, my "grievance" is most certainly not with any city employee who supplied you with exactly the information you requested. I am taking issue with how you calculated your numbers as represented in the report you read, from the material given to you by the city employees, at the September City Council meeting. If someone else wrote that report for you, please let me know and I will re-direct my question.
I stand by the number of $736,949.55.
And for the record, my email to you did not include any cc's or bcc's. That being said, since you chose to cc people, I encourage you to share it with your other Council colleagues and any others who endorsed the report as given in September. 

Anyone else have something I should share? Send it along!

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

1 comment:

Craig said...

Why did Derek go public with this, when Ellen sent it only to him? Is he trying to throw city staff under the bus for his math error? I saw the raw data he prepared his report from, and there is no way he can say it came "directly" from that info.