By Alyssa Schnugg
During the summer months, Oxford Code Enforcement Officers Johnny Sossaman and Jeff Edge spend a lot of time watching the grass grow – and grow and grow.
Many of the town’s rental properties are owned by people who live out of the area and the renters, many of them students, have left Oxford to go home for the summer while school is out. That leaves lawns left unattended during the rainy season.
According to Oxford’s Code of Ordinances, grass should not be taller than 12 inches.
Riding around an Oxford neighborhood Thursday, Sossaman spots a townhouse with grass growing well over 2 feet. Edge places a green-colored notice on the door reminding the occupant of the city code. They’ll ride through again in a day or so to see if the lawn has been mowed.
“We try to educate people first,” Sossaman said. “We’ll tell them about the code and then ask to comply. After we do that a couple of times, if they still haven’t come into compliance then we have to write a citation.”
“I don’t like having to do it (write citations),” Edge said. “But sometimes we have to do it.”
The two officers, who work under the Oxford Police Department and are certified police officers, enforce the entire city code inside the city limits.
In the summer months, along with grass growth, the officers ride around to the many construction sites to make sure their stormwater fences are holding up through the rain. They also look for trash that’s been tossed out by people moving that wasn’t bagged properly and is now scattered about.
In the fall, they respond to calls about furniture, beer bottles and bonfires on front lawns, too many people living in one house, cars parked on the wrong side of the road or in bike lines and a slew of other code violations.
The officers also work with local businesses to make sure their signs and outdoor advertising methods meet city code.
“Oxford is a special place,” Sossaman said. “We have that old-town feel. It’s beautiful. And it’s our job to keep it that way. You go to other towns and you see big flashing signs or that blow-up man flapping about. You don’t see that on West Jackson Avenue because our codes don’t allow it and we enforce them.”
Sossaman has been a code enforcement officer for three years. Prior to joining Code Enforcement, he worked as a patrol officer for OPD. Edge joined Sossaman just under a year ago after working as a school resource officer for 16 years.
On Thursday morning, the men passed a construction site and noticed two vehicles parked in the bike lane.
“I want these two cited,” Sossaman said, pulling over. “They’ve been told several times not to park here.”
The officers wrote two citations. One of the vehicle owners walked over and shook his head but smiled.
“I can’t complain,” he said. “They’ve told me not to park here but I was only stopping for a few minutes.”
The recipient of the citations even thanked the officers for their professionalism.
Lately, the two officers have spent time riding just outside the city limits in neighborhoods that are currently in Lafayette County but will soon be annexed into the city. A pending annexation is currently in the court system. If approved, the city of Oxford, now 16-square miles, will grow by 12-square miles. OPD is requesting a third code enforcement officer in their budget this year to handle growth.
“I drive around to familiarize myself with these areas,” Sossaman said. “It will be quite a change for these folks who are going from having no regulations to having to follow the city’s codes about grass, parking on lawns and dogs running around without leashes. There will be a lot of work to do. But we’ll handle it professionally and politely.”
Once annexed, the new Oxford citizens will have a year to fully comply with city codes.
“We’ll spend that time educating folks about the codes,” Sossaman said.
Before stopping for lunch Thursday, the officers pulled over to help a young couple move a U-Haul trailer after seeing the young man and woman struggle with it.
“No sense in just driving by when they needed help,” Sossaman said getting back into the white pickup truck.
Edge said he’s enjoyed his new role and knowing he’s helping to keep Oxford a town everyone is proud to live in.
“It’s a rewarding job,” he said. “It’s a lot to learn, though.”