Lakeway council amends code regarding city representatives entering homes in response to incidents involving municipal employees

Lakeway City Council chambers hosted a packed house during the Feb. 19 meeting.

Lakeway City Council chambers hosted a packed house during the Feb. 19 meeting.

Lakeway City Council unanimously approved changes to Lakeway city code language to clarify policy involving entry into private property.

Among several changes approved during the Feb. 19 meeting, the new code language states a city official or other authorized agent of the city shall only enter into any property within the city for the purpose of administering or enforcing the provisions of the city’s code of ordinances and ensuring compliance.

"This turned out to be a lot more than we thought," City Attorney Cobby Caputo said, adding that as the working group that was formed in November that consists of several city representatives dove into the issue, they discovered there are many provisions in the city code allowing for people to enter property.

The changes come following an official report filed in late 2018 against a city employee alleging improper actions as well as several complaints from Lakeway residents.

"This is the product of about three months' worth of meetings," Council Member Laurie Higginbotham said.

Officials took the matter public at Lakeway's Nov. 19 City Council meeting. Lakeway City Manager Steve Jones said a code-enforcement officer, responding to a complaint, drove to a residence to perform an inspection and determined that a permit was required for construction work taking place at the home.

The homeowner later filed a police report claiming the city employee entered his home illegally while he was not home.

The Lakeway Police Department investigated and determined the code-enforcement officer did enter the residence without permission, but the resident declined to press charges. The city employee was suspended with pay during the investigation and suspended without pay following the conclusion of the investigation, Jones said.

Higginbotham said in November she would serve as a council liaison to help further amendments to the city code preventing similar incidents from happening in the future.

“I think these are serious allegations. I want to make sure the investigation is thorough. I think we need to make some changes to the code, and I’d like to help do that,” Higginbotham said at the Nov. 19 meeting.

Among numerous other additions and adjustments to city code involving entry of property approved at the Feb. 19 meeting, language was added stating a city representative must first identify him or herself, present the proper credentials and request permission to enter a property from the owner or resident, tenant or lessee if it is occupied.

Other stipulations in city code:

1. If a property is not occupied, the city’s representative will make a reasonable effort to locate the owner or the designated agent of the owner regarding the property to request permission to enter.
2. If entry is refused, or if the premises are unoccupied and the owner or designated agent cannot be located, the enforcement officer or representative may seek to obtain a lawfully issued administrative warrant.
3. The code official shall be the sole code-enforcement officer to whom an administrative search warrant may be issued pursuant to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 18.05.
By Brian Rash
Brian has been a reporter and editor since 2012. He wrote about the music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth before becoming managing editor for the Graham Leader in Graham, Texas, in 2013. He relocated to Austin, Texas, in 2015 to work for Gatehouse Media's large design hub. He became the editor for the Lake Travis-Westlake publication of Community Impact in August 2018. From there he became a dual-market editor for Community Impact's New Braunfels and San Marcos-Buda-Kyle editions. Brian is now a senior editor for the company's flagship papers, the Round Rock and Pflugerville-Hutto editions.