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Lee hires Code officer

Ben Roberts

Ben Roberts

LEESBURG -- You can't call Jim Wright the "Lone Ranger" anymore.

While serving for the past five-plus years as Lee County's sole Code Enforcement officer, Wright has been responsible for investigating all code complaints and monitoring the county's Environmental Protection Division-mandated stormwater outflow.

The backlog that built up in his office prompted Planning and Engineering Director Bob Alexander to request the addition of another Code officer in his Fiscal Year 2012 budget request. Alexander's argument for the officer was so compelling, even in a tight economy the frugal Lee County Commission OK'd the request.

On Monday, former Department of Natural Resources Conservation Ranger Ben Roberts started moving into his office on the second floor of the T. Page Tharp Governmental Building. The 29-year-old father of two was selected as Lee's second Code Enforcer from what Wright called a "strong field of qualified candidates."

"We were very fortunate to attract the candidates that we did, and we were even more fortunate to be able to add someone like Ben," Wright said. "He met every qualification we asked for, and his experience with the state gave him enough of an edge that he emerged as the top candidate."

Roberts grew up in Albany and Leesburg and graduated from Lee County High School and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College before landing a position with the state DNR. He worked six years as a game warden before applying for the job in Lee County.

"I met Jim in the past while working with the DNR, and I was impressed with his Code Enforcement work," Roberts said. "I wanted to help this community, plus I saw this position as a more family-friendly type job. With the DNR, I had to work most holidays, and I spent a lot of time away from my family.

"I'm not really a paperwork kind of guy, and I definitely can't see myself doing 8 to 5 behind a computer. I plan to be out in the community, meeting as many people as possible."

Wright, whose stormwater management efforts earned statewide recognition last year, said Roberts will allow Code Enforcement to continue the stringent EPD monitoring along the county's waterways while easing up the backlog of code cases that have built.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to respond to citizens' complaints better and quicker now," Wright said. "We're backlogged several hundred calls, and I know that can be frustrating for citizens. I've had to do triage with all the calls, try to prioritize by responding to the ones that involve health and safety first.

"We plan to start tackling that backlog today (Wednesday), and I hope we'll be able to start catching up by the end of the week."

County Administrator Tony Massey said the hiring of Roberts fills a vital need in the community.

"We're pleased to be able to bring on an individual of that caliber with a background that fits so well with the job," Massey said. "During the budget process, (the Code Enforcement position) was identified as one of the county's most pressing needs. Jim Wright had so much on his plate, he was being overwhelmed at times.

"The Board of Commissioners understood the need, and they supported this hire even with such a tight budget."

Like Wright, Roberts is Peace Officer Standards & Training-certified and can legally carry a firearm in the line of duty. The County Commission created a Marshal's/Code office recently so that their Code Enforcers could carry weapons.

"That's a big thing," Roberts said. "You never know what you're going to run into when you're alone in a rural area. I think it's foolish to have unarmed enforcement officers."