Clarke honored for job well done with SDML award

Keeley Meier, staff writer

Jill Meier/BV Journal 

Paul Clarke was named the South Dakota Municipal League’s 2020 Code Enforcement Officer of the Year. He is presented the award by Brandon City Councilor Barb Fish.

When Paul Clarke showed up at the Brandon City Council meeting on Oct. 5, he had no idea he’d be walking out with an award in hand.
Clarke, who is the building official and code enforcement officer for the city of Brandon, was named Code Enforcement Officer of the Year by the South Dakota Municipal League. The award was announced by City engineer Tami Jansma. 
“It’s super important to have coworkers that keep everything flowing smoothly at City Hall,” Jansma shared at the meeting. “One of those coworkers is always keeping me on my toes and keeping me on task. He is one of the first people to work every morning and is always willing to put in the time to make sure all of his work is done.” 
“Paul Clarke is pulled in a million different directions, but there’s always a smile on his face,” Jansma continued.
After Jansma completed her award introduction, Clarke was given another surprise when his family walked through the door carrying balloons and wearing proud smiles. 
With his wife, mother-in-law, kids in tow and another son on FaceTime joining in, Alderwoman Barb Fish presented Clarke with a plaque.
“Paul has a very tough position because he has to say ‘no’ a lot and make people unhappy,” Fish said. “It’s all for the benefit of Brandon so we have a nice, neat community, so we appreciate all that you’ve done.”
Clarke has been working for the city of Brandon for six years but has been in the code enforcement business for about 25 years—also working in Minnesota and Virginia. 
Clarke’s day-to-day responsibilities don’t vary much, but the situations do. From telling residents they can’t park on the grass or stressing the importance of a regularly mowed lawn, he works through each of the 25 to 35 complaints he receives per month. 
After receiving a complaint, Clarke visits the site to ascertain whether it violates a city or municipal code. If it does, he composes a letter to the owner, which grants them seven to 14 days to fix the issue. Clarke then goes back for follow-up check and will write a second warning letter if the situation warrants one. From there, the situation can escalate to the city attorney’s office, but Clarke said that’s rare.
“I think a strong and healthy community needs a strong code enforcement department, and I think we have that here—not because of me—because Brandon takes pride in their community and how it looks,” Clarke said. “I get letters from citizens saying that they are prideful of where they live, and they expect their neighbors to keep up the bargain on their side of the street.”
For Clarke, code enforcement keeps up both the aesthetic of a neighborhood and its property values. This goes beyond simply keeping up with Brandon’s codes and regulations. Brandon is a member of the American Association of Code Enforcement, and it follows South Dakota building code regulations, according to Clarke.
“We are engaged locally, statewide and nationally, so we can be on the cutting edge and find out what other communities are doing in code enforcement,” Clarke said. “I try to attend all the meetings I possibly can on behalf of the city.”
Because Clarke takes his job seriously, he doesn’t allow misguided situations, such as neighborly feuds, to get in the way of actual code violations. Although he’s often forced to play the role of the ‘bad guy,’ he says he just wants people to do the right thing. 
“We want to try to educate the people,” Clarke said. “Some people just maybe don’t know.”
Clarke attributes some violations to residents not being aware of certain codes or new residents who were not previously expected to follow the same regulations. However, he enforces the regulations no matter the situation. 
“When you come into a community, you’ve got to adhere to [the code books],” Clarke said. 
For him, this is made easier by his ability to work objectively. 
“Coming from out of state, I don’t have any ties to the community,” said Clarke, who is from Virginia. “I can just be neutral and go in there and treat everybody the same way because I don’t know anybody necessarily—although, in six years you get to know some people, and people are going to know you.”
Clarke is certainly known around town and in City Hall, which is why Jansma submitted Clarke as a recommendation for this year’s award.
“He never says things like, ‘That’s not my department,’ nor does he say, ‘I don’t have time for that.’ Instead, he always has a ‘what can I do to help?’ attitude,” Jansma said. “He helps shape our community every day, and he keeps it clean, safe and a wonderful place to call home.”
Clarke says he is appreciative of both Jansma and City Administrator Bryan Read. 
“For Tami to have taken the time out of her busy schedule—I really appreciate it, and I’m really thankful that she recognizes that I do the best I can every day,” Clarke said.
Clarke, though, is not in it for the recognition or accolades. He enjoys going to work every day, doing a job he finds rewarding.
“I don’t want to make it about me; it’s about the city or this position,” Clarke said. “I take the job seriously, and the citizens have a lot of love and pride for this community, and I’m trying to keep that up.”


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