Friday, February 1, 2013
The Signal Mountain Town Council recently amended Title 12 of the municipal code to establish the office of an administrative hearing officer. According to town officials, an officer of this kind will streamline the process of dealing with building and code violations.
“This came out of concerns that sometimes these are safety issues and $50 a day doesn’t always make someone want to fix a problem,” said Signal Mountain Town Manager Honna Rogers. “This is not for a basic codes violation. This is for something that you have not been able to resolve.”
The Tennessee state Legislature added an administrative hearing option for when there are building or code violations that are outstanding and can’t be resolved through the town’s normal methods. The town’s usual methods have included citing a violator to municipal court with a possibility of fining violators up to $50 a day, at the judge’s discretion, Rogers explained.
“Any building, plumbing or mechanical dispute that you might have with a person in the town, the hearing officer can give them a prompt, quick hearing on that and actually has more authority than your municipal judge would have to assess a fine, because there is a provision for up to $500 for fines under this section,” said Town Attorney Phil Noblett. “Your municipal court only has the power to assess someone $50 in cost.”
Rogers said there have been instances in the past when a hazardous violation of the building code was sent to municipal court, and the process was very long and drawn out in the court system. The court only meets so many times a month, and even one delay can dock the issue for weeks at a time, she said.
She added that the administrative hearing officer is under strict guidelines to hear cases in a timely manner, so the process should be more efficient than going before a judge. Also, there is no retainer fee; the officer would only be paid when he or she is called upon to solve an issue that arises from a building or code violation.
“This [amendment] has it on the book. If it is ever a problem in the future in the town, the town would have this in place,” said Rogers. “I hope we never have to use this, but it’s good to have in place in case you do.”
The town’s next step is to contract an administrative hearing officer to be utilized when needed. Potential administrative hearing officers must have certain certifications to act in the position, or be an attorney, said Rogers.