Reporting Jason Allen
TARRANT COUNTY (CBS 11 NEWS) – Hundreds of citations for code compliance violations in Fort Worth have been dropped this year, when officers failed to show up for court dates.
Former officers who were told not to return for court appearances say it is thousands of dollars in potential fine revenue that is lost. City officials however say many of the citations should never have been written, or would have been thrown out of court anyway for lack of evidence.
A check of Fort Worth’s municipal court cases through October 10 shows 231 cases involving a code citation officer, that were dismissed when that officer failed to appear for the court date. A total of 44 officers were listed as failing to appear.
Cases dismissed include citations for high grass and weeds, dumping of solid waste and illegal signs.
Bud Bishop, who left his job as a code officer in January, was responsible for missing dozens of those cases. He began receiving notices from the court at home. He said he offered to come back and be paid to finish work on the cases, but management turned him down.
“You’ve written this guy a ticket for doing it, and it gets dismissed in court.” Bishop said. “What does that say to me the taxpayer, to you the taxpayer? That’s not right.”
Ken Sauer said he made the same offer when he left the city, and was also turned down. Management showed little interest he said, in paying him to complete the citation process. “If they’re not willing to pay a minimal amount to go to court, why did I do all that?” he asked. “Why do the officers do it at all, right now?”
Citing personnel issues, the code compliance department would not agree to an interview with CBS 11 News about the missed court appearances. In a phone call though, director Brandon Bennett said it wouldn’t pay to bring officers back once they have separated from the city. They are not credible witnesses after separation he said, and the amount of citation revenue isn’t worth the extra cost.
Many of the citations, Bennett said, like those for illegal signs, should never have been written anyway. They are difficult to win in court he said, and the violation is essentially corrected once an officer removes and discards the sign.
Bennett said many officers listed as missing court, may not have been code officers. There were at least nine with absences he was researching.
When cases are dismissed for failing to appear, they can be reassigned to another officer, who is directed to work them until the violation is corrected. Neither Sauer or Bishop said they remembered ever being re-assigned a case from an employee who left the city.
Bennett said there had been “a lot” of employee separations in the last year, due to a certain level of productivity and leadership expected from employees.
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