By editorial board • 

Time to put gentler face on McMinnville code enforcement

Something Planning Director Heather Richards told city councilors about local code enforcement sounded the tiniest bit creepy.

“Communities put together plans for how they want the community to be,” she said. “We have codes to support those plans.”

While that statement may sound benign, it conjures up images of prying neighbors with rigid ideas. Say they are fussy about the style and placement of garden gnomes, and rat out the guy next door because his look a mite disheveled.

Like rules enforced by an overzealous homeowners’ association, codes governing community aesthetics walk a fine line between upholding basic neighborhood standards and forcing coercive conformity. It depends on the codes we set and the person we pick to implement them.

McMinnville councilors are considering moving the code enforcement function from the police to the planning department. That would put it under Richards, who is promising to employ a light touch.

She is well versed in bureaucratic language. There could be a drinking game for the number of times she uses expressions like “think outside the box.” However, she projects the right attitude toward the new role being proposed for her.

Rather than going through the court system, code enforcement would be a civil matter involving warnings, reminders and citations. Only when all else failed would the city step in to take care of the problem and bill the offending property owner.

Richards is promising to emphasize compliance over enforcement. She is even proposing the function be dubbed “code compliance” rather than “code enforcement.”

Such linguistic sugarcoating could be dismissed as bureaucratic nonsense. But it suggests Richards’ heart is in the right place. She is trying to strike a we’re-all-in-this-together posture, which we consider the correct call.

It’s not that Police Chief Matt Scales ever proved an unyielding martinet. However, the change, which appears on its way to approval, offers an opportunity to put a kinder face on the code function by emphasizing moral persuasion over legal consequences.

Our only misgiving is McMinnville’s penchant for wanting everything just so, especially near its downtown core. Downtown resembles something from a Norman Rockwell painting, and locals prefer it that way.

If Richards wants to place a new face on code enforcement, she needs to ensure everyone in the neighborhood is willing to play nice.

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