City code enforcement officers work to maintain Morgantown’s image
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 07:10
Pieces of cardboard and empty boxes branded with "Amstel Light" in big block letters litter the small yard, while empty, upturned bottles line the outside wall and surround the porch. A mass of bumper stickers decorate the glass panels of the front door, each proclaiming a different message.
Morgantown code enforcement officer Tammy Michael tapes a notice just below one of the stickers. "Excessive garbage. The occupant(s) of this residence have 1 day(s) to…"
Michael, who has worked as a code enforcement officer for the city since transferring from Granville last August, has patrolled high-profile streets in the area for more than a year.
Along with four other city inspectors, her job is to ensure the city meets the guidelines of the city’s building codes – codes that outline everything from the number of pets a person can keep per household to the height of the grass surrounding a residence.
After busy weekends, her biggest concern becomes excessive litter.
"These girls here, I used to hammer them all the time," Michael said on patrol one morning, gesturing to an apartment along Beechurst Avenue. "They just – I don’t know. They played that ‘Oh, we didn’t know!’ card. Well, you do now."
Every morning, Monday through Friday, Michael drives her city vehicle, car No. 069, along the five "arteries" of Morgantown: College Avenue, Beechurst Avenue, Richwood Avenue, Willey Street and University Avenue.
The Morgantown Code Enforcement Division is one facet of the regulatory branch of the city and works closely with Morgantown Police Department, Fire Department and other agencies to combat the various issues that plague Morgantown.
The city issued 141 citations in August for various violations, including nuisance parties, excessive trash, underage consumption and malicious burning.
"Typically, when you have littering, you don’t just have littering, you have littering, you have underage consumption, you have nuisance parties, you have damage, you have battery," said Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston. "It’s not just a police issue – it’s a police and fire issue, or it’s a fire and code issue, or it’s a public works issue where we’re called in. It’s almost never just one department."
Terry Hough, Director of Public Works and Engineering, said each department contributes on weekends where instances of riots or large parties have occurred. Hough has been a resident of Morgantown since the early 1970s and has watched the student population expand and the partying reputation evolve during the last 40 years.
"When you have areas that were not planned, were not built for this kind of population, you’re going to have problems," she said. "I’ve seen it evolve. It’s been pretty interesting to watch it over the years."
Preston said the police department has developed and mapped a grid of the city, and has pinpointed "trouble areas" where there are a larger number of violations – areas that correlate with the streets Michael patrols on a daily basis.
The police force utilizes a "cops on dots" approach to determine where officers visit and how frequently. Densely populated student areas have encouraged an atmosphere of partying in large numbers, according to Preston.
"There’s a thing called mob mentality," Preston said. "Morgantown hasn’t grown geographically or physically in a number of years, yet the full-time residential population continues to grow, and the university population continues to grow.
"So if you imagine a bag of sugar – if you keep pouring into it, you get what you have today. The bag is full, and now it’s flowing over."
When Michael finishes her morning rounds, she returns to the office to enter her warnings and additional notes into the CED system. Code enforcement keeps an extensive list of citations and warnings to avoid confusion between officers.
Michael said CED officers assign the time of compliance at their discretion depending on the offense, but those with excessive trash are almost never given more than one day to comply.
"I can issue a warning at 10 a.m. and come back at 4 p.m., and if they haven’t done it, I can issue a citation," she said.
Preston said the MPD has increased its efforts to prevent residents from allowing garbage to go unattended.
"We’ve stopped waiting," Preston said. "I’ve got them out there picking up their trash at 3 o’ clock in the morning."
West Virginia University recently released its annual Clery Report, a campus-wide fire and safety report for 2011. The report, which includes campus crime statistics during the last three years, reported a drastic increase in liquor violations from 2010-11 – a number that may be attributed to the school’s distinction as one of the top "party schools" in the country.
"A long-term concern is the fact that a number of people will do what they can to live up to this reputation of being the number one party school in America," said city manager Terrence Moore. "It’s basically an invitation to outside visitors and outside students to come here for that particular purpose. It poses a particular challenge."