The Council unanimously approved the first reading Aug. 13.
If the position is approved, the administrative hearing officer must be certified by the state. City Manager Janice Casteel recommended contracting with the same hearing officer used in other municipalities around Chattanooga.
She said violators would still be sent to Municipal Court Judge Bill Moss, but more serious cases could be diverted to an administrative hearing officer who could assess fines of up to $500 per violation in cases involving the primary residence of the owner or up to $500 per violation per day for rental or commercial property. Fines levied in municipal court are limited to $50.
Casteel said an example of where an administrative hearing officer is needed might involve cases in which the property owner has paid the fine but has not corrected the problem, or continual cases involving landlords, “so it doesn’t take us 18 months, two years or three years to get something done.”
The timeline could be shortened to as little as seven months unless a final order issued by the hearing officer is appealed to chancery court.
Second District Councilman Bill Estes recommended the hearing officer be brought into the process when violators are repeat or unresponsive offenders.
Fourth District Councilman David May mentioned a property for the third time because of high grass. He said staff contacts the owner, who eventually mows the grass.
“Somehow we need to incentivize people to keep up their property,” he said.
According to Tennessee Code, violations under the authority of the Office of Administrative Hearing include locally adopted building codes, residential, plumbing, electrical, gas, mechanical, energy, property maintenance; and, “any subject matter commonly found in the codes mentioned in subdivisions.”
The law states hearing officers must be a licensed building, plumbing or electrical inspector; attorney, architect or engineer. They are appointed to four-year terms and serve at the pleasure of the appointing body.
An administrative hearing cannot be scheduled less than 30 days after a citation is issued. If a fine is levied, the hearing officer can allow from 10 to 120 days for corrective action unless there is an imminent threat to the health, safety or welfare of persons or property in adjacent areas.
Violators can be held in default for refusing to participate in the administrative process at any point. The hearings are open to the public. Transcripts are not required under state code.
A final order may be reviewed in chancery court if a request is made within 60 days of the date of the final order. Filing a petition for review does not guarantee stay of enforcement. A stay must be requested within 10 business days after a request for judicial review. The chancery court decision can be appealed to a higher court.
The creation of the Office of Administrative Hearing is allowed under Tennessee Code Annotated: 6-54-1001.