Some citizens at the Curry County commissioner meeting Wednesday were appalled during a discussion about hiring a code enforcement officer when Commissioner Tom Huxley suggested the county hire a man, rather than a woman.
The job is needed because, without it, ordinances are often ignored because people know they can get away with certain actions, commissioners agree.
The job would primarily involve planning department work. Part of that job entails everything from ensuring people have building permits to addressing dilapidated houses that present a public safety hazard.
Community Development Director Carolyn Johnson was outlining a description for the new position when Huxley suggested they consider a man for the job.
He hedged into the discussion talking about the potential danger that can occur at sites where, for example, squatters have started to live or drug users loiter.
“I just see this as a very unique individual,” Huxley said. “A very unique individual. Men or women apply, but I think we should be really concerned — I’d have a concern putting a woman — and this is no disrespect or anything, but I wouldn’t have my wife go out as a woman versus have me go out into some of these potential environments that you would have for certain code enforcement.”
Johnson noted that, as in law enforcement, applicants usually know what they’re getting themselves into if they are serious about the job.
“And they’re not a lone ranger,” Johnson said, adding that if such an officer felt threatened at a site, they could certainly request law enforcement to come along. “Code enforcement is not for the faint of heart.”
The last code enforcement officer the county had was a woman — Kim Wood — whom some people have described as a “pit bull” who could “take care of herself.”
She worked for the Curry County Sheriff’s Office for eight years, two of which were in code enforcement.
“This ‘woman’ went into the far reaches of Curry County ‘alone’ to serve restraining and eviction orders, and ordered the clean up of multiple code violations that were unsightly as well as environmentally unsafe,” Wood said. “Agness, Wilderness Retreat and Langlois … I went alone.
“I came face to face with some of the most dangerous and difficult citizens that Curry has to offer,” she continued. “I encountered men and women who were not very happy to see me.”
She’s had a gun pulled on her twice — and has “many successful stories I could share with Mr. Huxley.”
Women said after the meeting that they thought his comments were “extremely inappropriate, as well as illegal.”
Julie Swift, the County Human Resources director said anti-discrimination rules are outlined in the personnel rules — but elected officials cannot be disciplined for violating them.
“They’re elected officials,” she said. “They answer to the public, to the voters.”
“It does not appear much of what I say would impact his perception of women in law enforcement — discrimination at it finest,” Wood said. “I would still be the code enforcement deputy today but the budget monster reared its ugly head. Maybe I should re-apply.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .