Cindy Drake is a government employee who works daily to preserve property values and make neighborhoods nicer places to live for all residents. She is the Village of Wellington’s senior code compliance officer and was recently named the first vice president of the Florida Association of Code Enforcement, the state’s accrediting agency for code compliance officers.
With 30 years of experience in code compliance, first in Charlotte County on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the past 20 years with Wellington, Drake was among the three original officers hired by the village in 1998 when the department was established.
“Today, we have a manager, three administrative people, two senior code officers and nine code officers, for a department of 15,” Drake said.
As first vice president, Drake is also the president-elect of the association and the new chair of the committee planning and executing the group’s 30th annual convention in Orlando. It is held each June in a different Florida community.
“They’ve met in Naples, Jacksonville, Tampa, Palm Beach Gardens one year. It moves around the state as they try to make it available to individuals who can’t travel, because we’re all government employees with government budgets,” Drake said.
She explained that code enforcement officers are certified by the Florida Association of Code Enforcement and are required to take 16 hours of recurrent training every two years. “The conference offers 16 to 18 hours of training each year,” Drake said.
As the president-elect of the association, Drake will be installed as president at the convention on June 11, 2019 for a one-year term, after which she’ll serve as the immediate past president.
The association has about 2,300 members, some 375 or more who attend each annual meeting. Seminars, meetings, courses and speakers cover such topics as CPR, graffiti, the wording of documents, professional development, legal aspects, legislative action, things that the attorney feels should be brought forward to code enforcement officers, even human trafficking.
“We are blessed in Wellington that we have not run into these human trafficking issues, but in larger cities, there is a problem,” Drake said. “And code enforcement officers are in a position to see what is happening and do something about it.”
Human trafficking victims often arrive at a location of their own free will, but end up being exploited and held as prisoners. “They are told by keepers not to trust the police, that the police will arrest them and send them back, and they’re generally here because they’re trying to help their families back home,” Drake said.
Code enforcement officers are government officials but are not police officers.
“Code enforcement officers are uniformed, but don’t have the mistrust these victims associate with police officers,” Drake explained. “They are in the facility looking at other things, so this gives them a heads-up on things to look for — and code enforcement violations allow them find ways to help get the victims out of these situations.”
Human trafficking is just one area that code enforcement officers end up as the eyes and ears, on the lookout for people in need.
“In the code enforcement world, there are a lot of things that we are exposed to and that we can help with,” Drake said. “The courses teach us what to look for.”
She described additional challenges in encounters with “sovereign citizens,” who she described as “individuals who don’t believe the government has any jurisdiction over them.” Drake said that sometimes such individuals can be dangerous to their neighbors or to government people who come into contact with them.
In today’s era, code enforcement is more politely referred to as code compliance. Drake said that code officials are largely invisible unless there is a problem.
“People only think of code compliance when they’re told their roof has to be cleaned or they need to put their trash can away,” Drake said. “Residents generally find that whether they’re filing a complaint, or they have been cited for a violation, that the code enforcement people are not here to be punitive.”
The goal is to make sure that the rules are followed.
“They are there to gain compliance, so we can all live together, so residents have well-maintained properties, and property values remain their maximum,” Drake said. “When people move to Wellington, they don’t really think about all of the reasons why they liked Wellington until you ask them to think about it.”
A strong code enforcement department is one reason property values remain high in Wellington, she said.
“A Wellington resident may receive a letter that says they have to clean their driveway, and they’ll call up and say they’ve never lived any place before where they told them to clean the driveway,” Drake said.
She asks them, “When you looked into the Village of Wellington and wanted to move here, what attracted you?” They often answer, “The schools, family atmosphere, the low crime rate and the pretty neighborhoods.”
Keeping those neighborhoods pretty is the job of Drake and the rest of the code compliance staff.
“We keep property values up by encouraging compliance to code to promote well-maintained properties and neighborhoods that look pretty and are a pleasant environment where everyone can live,” she said.