Katy promotes new fire chief, adopts sex offender ordinance at April 12 meeting

Animal control and permitting discussions held but no action taken

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 4/12/21

Katy City Council approved an ordinance that tightens restrictions on where registered sex offenders may live or go within city limits during its Monday evening meeting. The city also heard updates …

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Katy promotes new fire chief, adopts sex offender ordinance at April 12 meeting

Animal control and permitting discussions held but no action taken

Posted

Katy City Council approved an ordinance that tightens restrictions on where registered sex offenders may live or go within city limits during its Monday evening meeting. The city also heard updates regarding permitting and animal control and promoted Interim Fire Chief Kenneth Parker to head up Katy Fire Department permanently.

“This is a wonderful moment – not only in (Parker’s) life but in my life also,” said Mayor Bill Hastings. “I’m honored to be able to appoint him the fire chief. He has done an excellent job so far. He has the utmost respect from everybody in the department, and I know we’ve got a great bunch of happy firemen this night.”

Parker had served as interim fire chief since former Fire Chief Rusty Wilson left the department last October.

A protective buffer

The ordinance, which passed unanimously, restricts registered sex offenders by not allowing them to live within 2,500 feet of any child area, according to a copy of the ordinance provided by the city. A child area, as defined by the new city law, includes schools, playgrounds, school bus stops, youth centers, video arcades, public parks, private recreational facilities, pools, playgrounds skate parks and youth athletic fields. Registered sex offenders also may not enter these facilities. Violations of the ordinance are punishable by up to a $500 fine per offense and each day of violation is considered a separate offense, according to the ordinance.

"Today, I am pleased to bring forward this ordinance, to protect our families and citizens.  After being approached by several residents, Mayor Bill Hastings, the Police Chief (Noe Diaz), the City Attorney (Art Pertile III) and I worked to craft this legislation that will create a buffer zone around places children gather, including a potential new (Katy) ISD school in Cane Island and new city parks,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chris Harris.

Sex offenders who are minors or already reside within 2,500 feet of a child area are excepted from the ordinance’s provisions, though they may not move out of the city then back into an area within the city that is restricted by the ordinance.

About a dozen sex offenders live within Katy’s city limits already and more than 100 reside in the Katy area outside of city limits.

The ordinance also prevents property owners from renting a home within the 2,500-foot threshold to a registered sex offender.

Harris said he had been trying to get the new rule set up for some time, but there had been legal concerns until the beginning of this year. Once clarity had been established at the state level, the work with Hastings, Diaz, Pertile and fellow Councilmember Dusty Thiele began, and they were able to develop and bring forward the ordinance which is modeled after a similar city rule in place in nearby Sugar Land. Harris said Hastings was glad to support the measure.

“That was something that he had wanted to do when he was police chief, but there was not much to support him as police chief because of all the legal (clarity) issues,” Harris said. “Well, now that that has been resolved, he was very happy we were moving forward.

Permitting progress

Council also heard from Lee Swain of SAFEbuilt, Inc., a third-party contractor that has been reviewing the city’s Permitting Department. Swain said SAFEbuilt was recommending several improvements to make the permitting process easier for both city staff and permit applicants such as contractors and residents.

Swain’s first recommendation was improving technology used by the Permitting Department to streamline processes. The department currently uses seven different pieces of software, but Swain recommended narrowing that down to two pieces of software – one for residential clients and another for commercial clients. Both pieces of software would plug into an online portal that would allow applicants to track their permit requests online. Swain said the transition would include activating more features in the city’s Energov permit tracking software system and adding another piece of software known as Bluebeam. Deployment should cost only a few thousand dollars and add efficiency to the department, Swain said.

 Swain also said training would need to be addressed, not only for the new software but for internal communication among staff for consistency when inspecting a location multiple times and to ensure everyone performing inspections is properly certified.

“(The city needs to) make sure that the staff is on a path to obtain their state plumbing inspectors license – that’s … extremely important,” Swain said. “(It’s a) class C misdemeanor to inspect plumbing without a plumbing license.”

Swain said making the recommended changes, which also included procedural rewrites to match technology changes, would take 6 months to a year to fully implement.

Animal control

While no formal action was taken, council heard an update regarding a complaint filed by Chelsea Gerber, a part-time employee with Katy Animal Control. Gerber had filed the complaint with the police chief in December and an investigation into her accusations which included improper euthanizing of animals, improper dumping of animal carcasses in city dumpsters and on city property and falsification of records, among others.

Katy Police Department Detective Lee Hernandez did not provide detailed results of the investigation but said it had been completed on March 15. The investigation led to a report of nearly 800 pages, he said.

The Katy Times will be reviewing the investigation report and follow this story with full coverage of the case after we have had a chance to fully analyze the investigation and talk to the parties involved.

At least two council members wanted to take steps to improve practices within Katy Animal Control. Councilmember Rory Robertson suggested a budget amendment to add about $7,700 to the department’s budget to allow Animal Control Officers to adjust practices to a care-based model that provides for vaccinating animals upon intake to improve outcomes for animals.

Katy Finance Director Andrew Vasquez said he was reviewing the Animal Control Department’s budget and felt that amending the departmental budget to make it more specific would help determine the department’s budgeting needs.

Generally, both Robertson and Councilmember Jenifer Stockdick said they felt significant improvements in the department could be made by providing staff with the resources they needed to be successful. Those resources included a volunteer program, better management of the budget, improved partnerships with pet-oriented nonprofits, a vaccination program and a catch-spay/neuter-release program.

“I want to prove it – that we can do this successfully,” Robertson said. “Then next year, let’s shift that budget from the euthanasia drug or the disposal fee more towards a treatment fee.”