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(1) The City Council seeks to offer an alternative method of enforcement for city code violations rather than relying on the criminal court system. The formal criminal prosecution process does not provide an environment to adequately address the unique and sensitive issues that are involved in city code violations, including, but not limited to, neighborhood concerns, livability issues, economic impact, physical limitations of the offenders and the stigma and unintended consequences of being charged with or convicted of a misdemeanor offense. In addition, the court system is a slow, overburdened and methodical process that is not conducive to dealing with the violations in a prompt and timely manner. Finally, the penalties afforded the criminal court system are restricted to fines or physical confinement, which are not always effective solutions to address city code violations.
(2) In order to provide more flexibility in addressing city code violations on an individualized basis that will be more efficient and effective, the City Council finds that an alternative enforcement process is necessary. Therefore, to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the city, it is the City Council’s intent to create a process for the use and imposition of administrative civil penalties that will provide the public and the city with a more effective alternative method for addressing city code violations.
(2001 Code, § 120.01)
(B) Alternative methods of enforcement. A violation of the city code is a misdemeanor pursuant to § 10.99; however, this section seeks to gain compliance with the city code as an alternative to the commencement of any formal civil or criminal court action. The administrative civil penalties proceedings are in addition to any other legal or equitable remedy available to the city for city code violations. The city may, in its discretion, choose not to issue an administrative citation and may initiate criminal charges instead.
(2001 Code, § 120.03)
(C) Authority to issue compliance letters and administrative citations. The city employees and agents identified in § 10.17(B) are authorized to issue compliance letters and administrative citations for violations of the city code.
(D) Compliance letter.
(1) Contents of compliance letter. If a city employee or agent determines that a city code violation has occurred, when appropriate, a compliance letter shall be issued. The compliance letter shall contain the following information:
(a) A description or address of the property on which the city code violation has occurred;
(b) The nature of the violation, including a reference to the appropriate city code section;
(c) A compliance deadline, providing a reasonable time for compliance based on the nature of the violation; and
(d) A statement that failure to correct the violation may result in the imposition of an administrative citation, including a civil penalty and stating the amount of the penalty as provided in the fee schedule.
(2) Service of compliance letter. The compliance letter may be served on the offender by certified mail, regular mail sent to the last known legal address, by personal service or by posting a copy in a conspicuous place in or about the building or property affected by the letter.
(3) Reasonable extensions. Following service of the compliance letter, the city shall attempt to work to resolve the violation, including, but not limited to, offering reasonable extensions for compliance.
(4) Exceptions to issuance of a compliance letter. For violations of any of the following sections, the city shall not be required to issue a compliance letter and may proceed directly to issuance of an administrative citation as provided in division (E) below.
(a) Repeat offender. If the same offender commits a subsequent violation within 12 months after a compliance letter has been issued for a same or similar offense.
(b) License violations. For any license violations, including, but not limited to, not having a license.
(c) Traffic or parking violations. For traffic or parking violations issued under Title VII.
(e) Noise violations. For any violation of § 133.01 (unnecessary noise).
(f) Fire prevention violations. For violations of Chapter 91, Fire Prevention Code.
(g) Emergency situations. When a condition exists that requires immediate action to protect the public health, safety and welfare.
(h) Disorderly conduct or other similar behavior that tends to disrupt, injure or annoy a reasonable person for which a compliance letter would be moot, as the conduct or behavior has terminated.
(E) Administrative citation.
(a) Upon the failure to correct the violation specified in the compliance letter within the time frame established in the compliance letter or any extension thereof granted by the city, or for any offense for which a compliance letter is not required, an administrative citation may be issued.
(b) The administrative citation shall be served by certified mail, regular mail or by personal service and shall contain the following information:
1. A description or address of the property on which the city code violation has occurred;
2. Reference to the city code that is alleged to be violated;
3. The amount of the administrative civil penalty for the specific city code violation, which shall be due and payable to the city within 30 days of the date the citation is mailed or personally served;
4. A statement that the violation must be corrected or a subsequent administrative or a criminal citation may be issued;
5. A statement that the city code violation and the amount of the administrative civil penalty may be contested to be heard before an independent hearing officer by notifying the City Clerk in writing within ten days after the citation was mailed or personally served; and
6. A statement that failure to pay the administrative civil penalty may result in it being assessed against the property as provided in Minn. Stat. Chapter 429, as it may be amended from time to time.
(2) Payment of penalty and correction of violation. If the offender pays the administrative civil penalty and corrects the city code violation, no further action will be taken for that same violation.
(3) Payment of penalty without correction of violation. If the offender pays the administrative civil penalty but fails to correct the city code violation, the city may issue a subsequent administrative citation, initiate criminal proceedings or initiate any other proceedings or remedies available in order to enforce correction of the city code violation.
(4) No payment of penalty and no correction of violation. If the offender fails to pay the administrative civil penalty and fails to correct the city code violation, the city may do any of the following, or any combination thereof:
(a) Assess the administrative civil penalty against the property pursuant to Minn. Stat. Chapter 429, as it may be amended from time to time;
(b) Issue a subsequent administrative citation, thereby commencing a new administrative penalties process;
(c) Initiate criminal proceedings; and/or
(d) Initiate other enforcement action authorized by law.
(2001 Code, § 120.09)
(5) Failure to pay an administrative citation for which the costs cannot be assessed shall be a misdemeanor.
(F) Contesting the administrative citation.
(1) An offender receiving an administrative citation may contest the alleged city code violation and the amount of the administrative civil penalty.
(2) In order to contest any part of the administrative citation, the offender must notify the City Clerk in writing within ten calendar days after the citation is mailed or personally served, stating that the offender contests the alleged violation, the amount of the penalty or both and pay a $200 non-refundable filing fee.
(2001 Code, § 120.11)
(G) Administrative citation hearing.
(1) Scheduling the hearing. After receipt of the written notice to contest the citation as provided in division (F) above, the City Clerk shall schedule a hearing before an independent hearing officer, which will be held within 60 days, unless otherwise agreed to in writing by the parties. The City Clerk shall notify the owner of the date, time and location of the hearing.
(2) Independent hearing officer. An independent hearing officer, who may be from the office of administrative law judges, shall preside over the administrative citation hearing.
(3) Conduct of the administrative citation hearing.
(a) At the hearing, both parties may be represented by counsel, shall have the opportunity to present testimony, shall be able to call and question witnesses and introduce any exhibits; however, strict rules of evidence shall not apply.
(b) The hearing officer shall receive and give weight to the evidence, including hearsay evidence.
(c) The hearing shall be recorded and a full record of the proceedings shall be maintained by the city according to its data retention schedule.
(4) Authority of hearing officer. The independent hearing officer has the authority to do any of the following, or a combination thereof:
(a) Make a finding that a violation has occurred;
(b) Reduce, stay or waive a scheduled administrative civil penalty either unconditionally or upon compliance with reasonable conditions;
(c) Require compliance with the city code within a specified time frame; and/or
(d) Make a finding that no violation has occurred and dismiss the administrative citation.
(5) Decision and order.
(a) The hearing officer may announce a decision at the conclusion of the hearing or may take the matter under advisement.
(b) The hearing officer shall issue a decision in the form of an order and shall serve a written copy of the order upon the parties no later than ten days after the hearing.
(c) Any administrative civil penalty that the independent hearing officer imposes must be paid to the city within the time frame established in the order. If no date is specified, it must be paid within 30 days of the hearing officer’s order.
(d) If the administrative civil penalty is not paid, the city may assess the civil penalty against the owner’s property pursuant to Minn. Stat. Chapter 429, as it may be amended from time to time.
(e) If the hearing officer determines that no violation occurred, then the city may not proceed with criminal prosecution for the same act or conduct.
(6) Finding of violation. If the violation is upheld, then the offender must pay for the cost of the hearing, not to exceed $1,000, toward the cost of the hearing.
(7) Failure to appear. Failure to appear at the hearing shall result in a default judgment against the party who fails to appear. If the offender fails to appear, the administrative citation shall be sustained and the fee for the cost of the hearing shall be imposed. If the city fails to appear, the administrative citation shall be dismissed and the filing fee shall be refunded.
(2001 Code, § 120.13)
(H) Appeal. The hearing officer’s decision is final and may only be appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
(2001 Code, § 120.15)
(I) Schedule of administrative civil penalties.
(1) The city shall adopt a fee schedule of administrative civil penalties for city code violations by resolution.
(2) The maximum amount of an administrative civil penalty may not exceed twice the maximum fine authorized by state law for misdemeanor offenses or the maximum fine authorized by state law for an administrative process.
(2001 Code, § 120.17)