The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 16, 2013

Increased technology

Environmental code inspectors now armed with iPads

The Commercial-News

---- — Being a new environmental code enforcement inspector for the city since earlier this summer, former alderwoman Nancy O’Kane, who also is the wife of current Ward 4 Alderman Mike O’Kane, has already had some rewarding experiences on the job.

She recounted two incidents where children had asked her why she was telling someone what they had to do with their property in a call that involved a mattress in a yard that was going to be removed, and a little boy whom she encouraged to pick up trash in his grandmother’s yard.

She asked the first group of children if they would like to live in a neighborhood where there were mattresses or other debris in each front yard.

O’Kane said the children then started to understand her job.

The job of the city’s four environmental code enforcement inspectors also has changed in the last couple weeks to have more technology at their fingertips.

They now are equipped with iPads out in the field throughout the city.

This allows for inspectors to spend more time on city streets instead of in an office inputting data.

They can also take photos with the iPad of properties and have FaceTime, which is video chatting, with other city officials if there are questions about a property.

It saves time and gas, said Bob Scott, public works service and operations manager.

Scott estimates inspectors’ time in the field is increased at least by 25 percent with the increased technology.

Inspectors also can cite certain ordinance sections word for word to property owners with the iPad, and they also can receive e-mails in the field.

“(The iPad) kind of becomes an extension of your hand,” Scott said of the inspectors now.

Code enforcement changes and increased technology are part of the city’s reorganization of departments.

The improved city code enforcement efforts, such as addressing tall weeds, inoperable vehicles in yards, a house needing a house number on it and other violations, also are tying in with the city’s Geographic Information System of computerized mapping and solid waste workers who are out in the streets, too.

The city has again been divided into areas for each code enforcement inspector. Those areas, however, also are divided into eight sub sections for more manageable areas to cover in a two-week cycle.

Public Works Director Doug Ahrens said the city had been divided into sections in past years, but they were much larger sections and inspectors rotated every three months. Now inspectors will stay with an area for their and residents’ familiarity.

He estimates the cost for the technology improvements per inspector is about $850.

The areas and their assigned inspectors:

Area 1: north of Voorhees Street and west of Vermilion Street, not including Holiday Hills. Inspector Mark Croy left for another job and the city is now trying to hire someone else.

Area 2: south of Voorhees and west of Vermilion Street. O’Kane is the inspector.

Area 3: Vermilion Street to Griffin Street. Jim Meharry is the inspector.

Area 4: East of Griffin Street and the Holiday Hills area. Rick Brown is the inspector.

O’Kane and Croy had replaced retired inspectors Bob Boards and Jim Pope.

Ahrens said inspectors must have “a passion for wanting to improve neighborhoods” and they also must “enjoy communicating with people”

The inspectors also must be able to learn the technology.

The division also has a new administrative assistant, Samantha McCoy. She creates the case files that generate city letters to property owners and she inputs data.

Plans are to update the city’s older software system.

Ahrens and Scott said the public indicated they wanted more consistency and for the city to be more proactive.

The inspectors are in the field four days a week and the fifth day is for circuit or city court time and other emergencies or issues that have popped up, such as a vacant house fire.

The inspectors are currently looking at every structure in the city to complete a structural survey.

They are noting issues with roofs and tarps, foundation and other issues.

Ahrens said persons not addressing roof issues early often lead to more houses that are demolished.

In addition to the structure survey, inspectors also are re-checking properties daily for violations.

The city continues to use a red tag system for solid waste, grass, inoperable vehicles and other violations.

City officials hang the red tags on residents’ front doors.

Ahrens and Scott said the public will see inspectors in their neighborhoods taking pictures and walking along the streets.

The inspectors also are coordinated for non-residential properties, along with firefighters, for building inspections.

O’Kane said she’s enjoyed getting to know the people in her area.

She said she can have five to 12 re-checks of properties a day for previous violations.

Then she goes back to the structure survey. She rates the exterior of a house and its roof and foundation.

She notes broken windows or holes in roofs and other issues.

Ward 1 Alderman Rickey Williams Jr. welcomes the changes, saying that they go “a long way in improving code enforcement.”