They Can Sit There ...

District 4 Councilman John Hancock Jr. literally offers his chair and workspace in council chambers to those fighting El Campo blight during the last session.

A city councilman stepped down from dais last week literally offering his chair to anyone ready to clean up El Campo.

The symbolic effort came along with District 4 Councilman John Hancock Jr.’s admonishing staff during public comments.

“It’s past time to clean up the city. We can get it done ... we take one step forward and two steps backward,” he said.

A member of council’s Blight Committee, Hancock is the self-appointed successor of the blight fight effort started by former city Mayor Randy Collins in 2018.

The multi-year effort, Hancock said, isn’t moving fast enough and it isn’t accomplishing what it should.

Trash concerns and weedy lots often obscure the main issues, he said, adding those are easily solved.

“If the city can’t get the trash contractor to pick up (the brush and other curbside rubbish) the city should and revise the contract,” Hancock said.

Whole buildings need to be addressed as do junk vehicles, business practices and more.

“There’s a failure of the city to enforce ordinances,” he said.

That statement echoes District 2 Councilwoman Gloria Harris’ oft-quoted remark that, “We have a lot of codes that we are not enforcing ... There’s no use making ordinances, city rules, if we are not going to enforce it,”

The effort to reduce blight isn’t over, City Manager Courtney Sladek said Monday.

“City staff is committed to the improvement of the quality of life in El Campo, and this includes addressing blight,” she said. “We will be providing a presentation in the form of a workshop, to council on Jan. 10 regarding the city’s progress, a plan of action and possible options for further addressing (of) blight.”

He’s willing to wait and hear what’s presented on Jan. 10, Hancock said.

One major concern, however, is the follow-through on efforts. “We don’t go back and follow up on enforcement,” he said. “They say we don’t have enough office space, we don’t have enough staff, we don’t have enough judicial support ... if we have to be hiring people, they can put them in my city council chair.”

The city issued a report on blight in 2019.

Targeting primarily the Jackson and Mechanic Street corridors, the effort was met with divided results - some businesses revamped their grounds while others did so just long enough to fall out of the spotlight.

During that 2019 survey, 66 of 81 properties on East Jackson Street had no violations, eight quickly cleared up issues including cleaning property, mowing, fixing driveways and the like. Three had major violations.

On South Mechanic, almost three quarters of properties needed some work although most were minor. Four needed major maintenance. North Mechanic didn’t have any properties needing major repairs, but had 35 of 170 needing minor repairs.

A call for another major effort went out in August 2020 with no major actions released to the public.

Past concerns have ranged from a lack of “teeth” in city ordinances which was broached by Planning Director Jai McBride in 2019.

The question is whether more ordinances are needed, or whether those in existence are being enforced and/or adjudicated.

A proactive response is what Hancock said he’d like to see – whether that is Inspection Department workers or police patrol. “If we really want to do it, there (are) lots of ways to do it.”

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