Getting into the weeds in Sisters
Last updated 8/23/2022 at Noon
It was in April that the City brought Jacob Smith on board as its first ever code enforcement officer. He had been in a similar position in Redmond for 13 years. Our July 5 story on overgrown weeds and grass pointed out a sizeable part of Smith’s job.
We wanted to get more in-depth with him, to get the bigger picture on his role and how he’s adapting to it. True, “vegetation” issues as he calls them are at the top of his work pile, as we are now into the peak of the summer growing season. He seemed to want to avoid the use of the word “weeds” when he sat down with us last week for a lengthy interview.
In fact, weeds are popping up all over town, especially those around the post office, which have garnered considerable conversation and consternation in the community. So we brought it up.
“Off limits, pure and simple,” he said. “Federal property and we have no authority.”
According to postal workers who would prefer to remain unnamed, only the postmaster or postmistress can issue a work order to get the weeds weeded. Sisters has not had a postmaster for several months now, unable to fill the position, normally a highly sought-after civil service job.
Somewhat related, the post office, according to staff, has not paid its bill to Republic Services, the trash hauler, and trash was piling up last week as shown below. Again, nothing Smith can do about it. Efforts to reach a regional postal employee with authority to intervene yielded no results when The Nugget attempted to make contact.
Smith talked eloquently about the fine line between using a carrot versus a stick in gaining compliance. It’s his and the City’s preference to use the former, and it must be working. In May, Smith issued 30 notices and 28 have been remedied by the offender. In June it was 52 of 54. In his entire career with the City of Redmond he had a 96 percent compliance rate.
The Nugget asked if most of his work was pro-active or reactive and he did not hesitate: proactive. That’s not to say that citizens don’t call, mainly for questions, and occasionally with complaints.
Some of the more vocal of citizen complaints deal with the Dark Skies initiative, to which the City gives full-throated support. Smith himself is personally a Dark Skies advocate.
Other than “vegetation” (weeds), Smith covers a broad range of municipal codes, from signage to construction sites, the latter seemingly a full-time job in itself given the ongoing, nonstop construction boom in Sisters.
When we asked about the amount of litter at construction sites for example, Smith told us that litter is one of those things that is complicated. While true that litter on a property is the responsibility of the property owner, the owner probably didn’t put it there. The wind did, or perhaps nearby workers. He’s not inclined to penalize the property owner and works softly to get resolution.
He seemed surprised when we asked about cracked and broken sidewalks caused by building contractors. That was an area among others where he hasn’t received complaints. Unless and until citizens complain, some codes do not get attention.
He and the City are driven first by safety. He’s had to get a number of sidewalk signs by merchants removed, for instance, code violations of course, but potentially an immediate risk to an accident.
We talked at length about the emphasis on safety versus aesthetics. Neither he nor his bosses see their role as enforcing some code of beauty. Safety is objective; aesthetics are subjective.
He pointed out the high expectations Sisters citizens have for how the city is managed and maintained — expectations he is trying to meet.
“Sisters is a town of 4,000 but expects services as if it were 50,000,” Smith declared.