- Posted On: February 12, 2021
The City of Sedalia, MO works hard to improve the quality of life for residents. From grassroots efforts like Clean Sedalia, to implementing modern Code Enforcement software, this city of 21,000 is meeting today’s needs while honoring its rich past.
Founded in 1857, the City was the terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad a key element in the country’s westward expansion. Today, the City is an industrial hub with a vibrant community. I sat down with Community Development Director, John Simmons, to learn how the City of Sedalia uses Code Enforcement to move the City forward.
Can you tell me about your role?
I’m in charge of planning and zoning code enforcement, the building department, and city owned facilities as well as retail and downtown redevelopment. I’ve been with the city for 15 years and was previously a Main Street America manager for Sedalia.
What are some of the City’s challenges that Code Enforcement is addressing?
Over the past 10 years, we’ve noticed an uptick in weeds and tall grass, as well as trash and rubbish. Really an overall problem with the physical appearance of houses. We’ve seen deterioration of our housing stock. The average age of a house in Sedalia is 70 plus years old.
With new people coming to town, we’ve had a housing deficit where we we’ve built a lot of new housing, but we need to go back into our old neighborhoods and take care of them and make sure that they’re up to snuff for people that are coming to town for new jobs.
As the Community Development Director, how do you measure success?
It comes down to whether we’ve had an impact on the community. Have things improved? Have we started to turn these neighborhoods around? I think we’re seeing that. I heard a councilman comment that things are looking better.
During annual evaluations we’ll use the data gathered to discuss whether the officer has achieved what we expected them to achieve. I’ve always been careful with Code Enforcement. I don’t want them to just go out and create numbers. I want them to be driven by the relationships they’ve established. As long as we’re making progress down the road we promised we’re being successful.
Before upgrading to Comcate, how were officers managing their cases?
Notebooks. Our code enforcement officers were out in the field doing the paper method and coming into the office to enter cases into their computers while trying to communicate with everybody. We used spreadsheets to try and keep track of everything but that became unmanageable. It was a very frustrating system. You had to stay on top of your cases and follow paper trails.
Why did the City to decide to modernize its Code Enforcement processes now?
Over a 10-year period we formed a Clean Sedalia Committee of citizens and council that looked at our problems from a code standpoint and asked, “What’s wrong with our code? Why is this grass getting so tall? Can we get a lower measurement to get to it quicker?” So we changed a bunch of our ordinances thinking that would solve it. Well, that didn’t solve everything.
We still didn’t have visibility into how cases were moving through the courts and whether or not we were getting relief there. We took another hard look at the challenge three years ago when a new mayor and council came in. They really wanted more accountability from Code Enforcement to the citizens.
How were elected officials affected by an outdated Code Enforcement system?
The council and mayor field a lot of complaints daily. Someone calls in saying that the house next to them has had trash cans tipped over for the past seven days. And why isn’t anything being done about it?
Then council members would come to the department for answers. From there it took even more time to find the code officer, that was probably out in the field, and wait another five hours until she came back into the office to get answers. Leadership wanted a more in-the-moment, trackable system that could quickly provide answers back to citizens.
And now that all our council members are issued tablets, they can go straight to the case, by address, and have the answer right at their fingertips. There has been a noticeable decrease in calls from council members trying to figure these things out.
For you, what does a well-run Code Enforcement department look like?
I can tell when things are working well when my investigators are out in the field. They’re not spending inordinate amounts of time at their desks. They’re actually out in the neighborhoods talking to people and getting things done. That’s a big indicator. I see a lot less desk time.
The point and click software they’re using from Comcate is so much more efficient. Investigators don’t have to come into the office and assemble 20 photographs into a file, staple things, and send it to the secretary to print letters. It’s all automated now.
Can you tell me about your software selection process?
The push came from staff. They were being asked by council to improve the system. All our officers and department members poked around and asked, “What’s out there?” We kept coming back to Comcate.
Comcate turned out to be such a good fit because their software could be tailored to our community. And your customer service is just incredible. Kolten, our implementation guy, was full of personality and gave us a lot of attention.
How important is customer service after the sale?
It makes a world of difference. When we have a problem or don’t know how to do something Comcate is right there for us. With other vendors we’ve had it can be bureaucratic to get through to the right department. Or they’ll ask for an add-on fee.
Not Comcate. From the get-go the team worked hard to uncover our expectations and then delivered on them. It has been an involved process and you have been there for us.
What did the adoption curve look like for your Code Enforcement officers?
The initial resistance was overcome when they saw how easy it was to assemble their files without spending 30 minutes on a case. Now, they understand what’s really important to council and the metrics that are being looked at. They understand that it’s not necessarily about how many cases they started. It’s about how many cases they started and got a result with. And officers can now easily track that themselves.
How has Code Enforcement’s relationship with the public changed?
Now that our inspectors are out in the neighborhoods with iPads they’re more identifiable. Residents have actually come out of their houses and been like, “Who are you? What are you doing?” It shows that we’re in their neighborhoods and we’re approachable.
We’re not just driving down the alley in a pickup truck writing people tickets. We’ve even had neighborhoods invite our code officers to come and explain what they do. We’ve all become a little more human in this technological process.
Any words of advice for departments considering new Code Enforcement software?
You have to kick the tires really hard when you’re doing this. This isn’t an easy decision. Comcate has been a tremendous asset to us. You all have a system of boiling things down and getting to the heart of the matter, uncovering what our true issues are. There are several good companies out there but our experience with you has just been phenomenal.