Code enforcement and the Ernie Effect

  • Palm Coast Observer
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After reading last week’s cover story, “When code enforcement becomes a weapon,” I wanted to share my recent experience with code enforcement. Or, fortunately, the lack thereof.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my lawn. Well, I’ll be honest, it’s about 1% love and 99% hate. I’ve been tagged by code enforcement a couple of times before I made time to get the job done. Like some of you, when I’ve had that paper taped to my garage door, I have taken a look around at my neighbors’ houses to see if anyone is suspiciously watching me through their blinds, smirking an evil smirk.

I know one neighbor who has never ratted me out, and that’s Ernie. He’s a retired, jolly neighbor who, as a perfect stranger, mowed my lawn for me one day, just because. He has since become a good friend. While I was on vacation, he agreed to mow my lawn, and when I got back, he mowed it for me again as a surprise act of kindness. He has a riding mower, and I just have a push mower, so on extra hot days, he feels bad for me, and he knows that when I don’t mow my lawn, it’s because I’m busy being a dad. That, and sometimes I’m just a bad procrastinator, but he doesn’t judge me.

Instead of mowing my lawn that last time, Ernie could have called code enforcement and said, “Look, I’ve got this jerk on my street who let his grass get shaggy again. He’s really bringing the whole neighborhood down.”

But because he took a different approach — as a result of his kindness — I was inspired to use my Saturday lawn-mowing time for something else. First, I cut back my wax myrtle that has been growing out of control in my front yard (see the sidebar below, “Uh, where’s our bush?”). Second, I borrowed Ernie’s pressure washer and spent hours working on my driveway and on the windows and the rest of my house.

Now, my yard looks great, and the goodwill between two neighbors has blossomed.

Are we too scared of our neighbors to help them?

Maybe we don’t need stricter code enforcement. Maybe what we really need is a few more Ernies.

If you have been helped by a neighbor, or if you have helped your neighbor, I’d love to hear all about it. Send your stories to [email protected].

‘Uh, where’s our bush?’

I spent Saturday morning sawing away at the wax myrtle in front of my house. Notice that I didn’t say I was “trimming” or “pruning” my wax myrtle. There wasn’t much subtlety or finesse in my approach.

“Let’s see,” I said to myself. “I’d like this tree to look more like a bush.”

I had second thoughts after cutting the larger branches — some hacker’s remorse. But I left a few flourishes, some leaves on some scrawny twigs, sort of like parsley on a plate of fine cuisine, and I brushed my hands of it.

I walked inside and announced to my family that I was done with the bush, and if anyone wanted to see it, I was willing to let them look.

“Hold on, let me get my glasses on,” said Jackson, my 11-year-old son.

“Might be better without your glasses,” said my wife, Hailey, without looking.

They both followed me outside. Jackson look at my handiwork and said, “Uh, where’s our bush? Why did you do that? It looks sad.”

My wife gave me a pat on the arm and said, “I don’t know how to cut a bush, but, good job.”

As I often say after cutting my sons’ hair, “I’m sure it will grow back.”




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