San Marcos hasn’t enforced city councilman’s code violation for years

Investigations

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Within a few hours of Richard Pfeil’s truck tire coming to a stop on a grass strip alongside his driveway, a San Marcos Code Enforcement Officer showed up to his Hilltop Road home.

Pfeil said he was in a hurry, he guesses, when he pulled into his driveway, and the front tire of his Chevy truck was parked in his front yard.

Richard Pfeil shows how far off his driveway his truck tire was that he said caused a San Marcos code enforcement officer to make a trip to his home and place a notice of violation on his door. Pfeil said the notice gave him 10 days to remove his truck from the grass of his front yard. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

“It was 10 inches,” Pfeil told KXAN, as he kneeled down on the ground to show how far he’d missed the concrete.

“Someone had time to call and report this, they came out, issued a warning on my door saying that I need to have this tire removed from this property within 10 days. Of course, it was attached to my truck, so it was very easy to move,” Pfeil said.

Just three weeks ago, Pfeil said he got a $30 ticket from a code officer for parking his truck and partially blocking the sidewalk that runs through the end of his driveway. He was unloading tiles from his truck for a contractor who was replacing tiles inside Pfeil’s home, he said.

“I apologized for that, but they did cite me within three hours,” Pfeil said. The $30 ticket went unpaid and has now doubled to $60, but Pfeil said he’s not paying the fine.

Since 2018, Pfeil said the city’s code enforcement department showed up to his house 14 separate times. Each visit, they left a yellow Notice of Violation on his door, he said. From the looks of Pfeil’s front yard, even Pfeil admits he understands why someone in his neighborhood is complaining.

“This was thrown out—it’s a copier and it works,” Pfeil said pointing to a printer he picked up off the side of a street in San Marcos. His truck bed and front yard are loaded with things people have thrown away.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, you know,” Pfeil joked as he gave us a tour of his front yard on Nov. 16. Pfeil said he collects peoples’ discards and restores them or gives them away to others who might be able to use it.

“Something to do, I lost my job with the COVID crap,” Pfeil, who was a bartender, told KXAN. “Something to pass time.”

Richard Pfeil’s front yard is littered with items he said he picks up along San Marcos streets, then brings home to restore or to give away to people. The city issued Pfeil a ticket on Oct. 5, citing a violation of the city’s lot maintenance ordinance. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

Pfeil showed a picture of a ticket he said code officer Korbin Weese sent him on Oct. 5. The violation is listed as “prohibited conditions” under the city’s code concerning lot maintenance. The ticket does not include a fine amount or even the date of Pfeil’s court hearing.

After 14 visits concerning different supposed code violations, which Pfeil said he’s corrected within a couple days in the past, he’s not sure exactly what the city ticketed him for. Records provided to KXAN under the Texas Public Information Act show the purpose of the ticket was for “WEEDS/BRUSH/TRASH/RUBBISH ACCUMULATE,” according to city records.

Pfeil said the code officer texted him a picture of the ticket, but it does not have anything written on the section showing the appearance date or any information about the amount of the fine associated with the charge.

“I still don’t know what it’s for or when I need to show up to court,” Pfeil told KXAN.

Councilman’s Neighborhood Dealership

In February 2017, a San Marcos Police officer was on patrol on Second Street when he noticed “multiple unregistered vehicles on the roadway” near the intersection of Lockhart Street.

The officer met with the owner, Shane Scott, and determined Scott was running a car dealership in the middle of a neighborhood. The officer referred the matter to the city’s code department for investigation.

Shane Scott posed in front of his German Elite dealership during an Oct. 7, 2020 interview with KXAN. Scott said his business is “grandfathered” into an old zoning classification, but the city determined car dealerships cannot legally operate in a neighborhood zoned “mixed use.” (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

Within 30 minutes, San Marcos code enforcement Officer Celedonio Mendoza, Jr. researched the property owner records and the zoning classification. Mendoza, with pictures in hand, sent Scott a certified letter, formally notifying him that the city determined he was operating an illegal car dealership in a neighborhood.

Scott served as a city councilman from 2010 until 2015. Scott was reelected to his former council office on Nov. 3.

“I can’t recall any notice I’ve gotten from the city,” Shane Scott told KXAN in an Oct. 7 interview at his dealership. Scott said he’s never received any certified mail at his Second Street address concerning the city’s investigation into his dealership.

“This is my home; this is where I make money,” Scott told KXAN during the Oct. 7 interview.

Scott’s dealership, German Elite, operates out of a large steel building behind his home along Second Street. It doesn’t appear Scott’s made any attempts to conceal the business since a large yellow sign with “German Elite Car Sales” is bolted to the front of the building.

Scott said his property was “grandfathered” in since a commercial business existed on the lot before Scott purchased it in 1993. In 2012, Scott had the property rezoned to “mixed use,” a designation that would allow limited commercial business to be performed there.

But emails between the city’s code enforcement and planning departments show a car dealership is not allowed in mixed use zones.

Those emails also show the communications between the code enforcement officer and the SMPD officer where the city determined Scott was in violation. The SMPD officer sent an email to his boss, then-police Chief Chase Stapp, “Just FYI, this is Shane Scott’s place,” the email showed.

Within 15 minutes, Stapp’s “heads-up” email made its way to the city manager’s office.

City email records show Scott was aware the city wanted to prosecute him when City Planner Tory Carpenter emailed him on March 27, 2017 to inform Scott he would need to apply for a zoning change before he’d be allowed to continue to operate without enforcement consequences.

Carpenter’s email shows code employees were working to file a formal violation against Scott, but after three months passed, the city’s top administrators intervened, and the case went cold.

City Bosses Step In

Carpenter’s March 27, 2017 email to Scott gave a deadline of April 24 for Scott to file an application to have his property rezoned “to avoid enforcement action for operating a use that is not permitted in your current zoning category.”

Former Sam Marcos Assistant City Manager Steve Parker told KXAN he never “asked anybody to look the other way” when it came to the Shane Scott investigation. Parker was hired as Seguin’s city manager in January 2020. (Photo Credit: City of Seguin)

One month later, in an April 26, 2017 email the city’s then-Planning and Development Services Assistant Director Kristy Stark wrote the city’s “not moving forward with any enforcement” against Scott. That decision came after city Planning and Development Services Director Shannon Mattingly met with then-Assistant City Manager Steve Parker after the city threatened to carry out enforcement actions against Scott, according to the email.

Stark is now the city’s communications director. Parker is now the city manager of the City of Seguin.

“I never asked anybody to look the other way,” Parker told KXAN investigator Jody Barr when contacted by phone on Oct. 8. Parker said he wasn’t involved in the Scott investigation, despite what the city emails seemed to indicate.

An email sent the day after SMPD filed its complaint on Scott shows Parker giving then-interim City Manager Collette Jamison notice that the property belonged to “former City Councilmember Shane Scott,” and telling staff to “Please continue your investigation, but let’s give Colette a head'[sic]s up before we take any action.”

City emails show code enforcement stopped pursuing Scott’s dealership for the next two years.

“Code Compliance has received a formal complaint” O’Brien wrote to her bosses and code enforcement officers on May 15, 2019. “The complainant has stated that the property owner is running a business out of their home (used car lot) and the vehicles are parked all along the street creating a traffic hazard.”

O’Brien didn’t receive any response to that email.

“I didn’t hear back from anyone regarding a discussion or direction. This complaint is now overdue, and I need to have an answer for the complainant,” O’Brien wrote on May 31, 2019. The next email came on June 11, 2019 when O’Brien wrote to Stark asking for direction on whether code enforcement could perform its enforcement duties.

That same day, then-Neighborhood Enhancement Director Jeff Caldwell wrote he’s sending the complaint to the city’s planning department for “determination and action.” The city’s emails do not show the complaint was ever resolved.

Now, three months shy of the four-year mark, the city hasn’t charged Scott.

“For it to not be resolved in almost four years, does this seem wasteful?” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Scott in an Oct. 7 interview. “Extremely wasteful. It’s extremely wasteful, and if they would’ve even told me I would have tried to help them with this. But I had no clue this was even going on,” Scott said.

On May 10, 2019 San Marcos code enforcement issued the owner of this property on Mill Street a violation for what the city called a nuisance vehicle. The property owner declined to be interviewed, but said because this truck was parked on private property without a current registration, the city ticketed the owner and forced them to place a cover over the truck. This truck is located just one block away from Shane Scott’s dealership. (KXAN Photo/Jody Barr)

Scott said he “had no clue” so much work had gone on inside city hall concerning his property over the past four years and only found out about the communications when we contacted him last month.

Although Scott called some of the administrators involved in the email chain “good friends,” he scoffed at the assertion that city administrators worked to protect him over the years, “They have no reason; no reason to cover for me. Check their phone numbers and emails and anything back between me and them—there’s not going to be any because I didn’t know anything about it.”

During the lull in the investigation the city appointed Scott to the San Marcos Neighborhood Commission on March 1, 2019. The commission advises city council to “seek solutions to common problems and issues within neighborhoods,” according to the commission’s web page.

Just two months after Scott was appointed to the commission, the city received the second complaint against Scott.

Yet again, the investigation went cold.

No Resolution to 4-year Investigation

The city’s internal communications restarted just days past the three-year anniversary of the SMPD officer’s complaint into Scott’s dealership. In February 2020, the city received another complaint regarding the dealership.

“Just curious if there has been any movement on Mr. Scott’s property? Only asking because we received another complaint about junk vehicles on 3rd St. and I know that he will probably redirect us back to Mr. Scott’s property,” O’Brien wrote in a Feb. 19, 2020 email to Planning and Development Services Director Shannon Mattingly.

This April 26, 2017 email from the city’s Planning and Development Services office shows the city stopped pursuing the code enforcement against Shane Scott after a city staffer met with then-assistant city manager Steve Parker. The city got a citizen complaint concerning Scott’s dealership again in 2019, which led to another round of email discussion among city staff.

It took eight days before Mattingly responded writing, “I apologize it seems that there has not been progress made. I have asked staff to start working on it.”

The next communication happened on July 10, 2020 when O’Brien wrote to Planning and Development Services Assistant Director Michael Ostrowski and Neighborhood Enhancement Director Greg Carr.

“I hate to pile things on you, but this case has been open for a LONG time. I believe since 2017. “We are unable to conduct any code compliance in his neighborhood because all of his neighbors know he is in violation,” O’Brien told Ostrowski and Carr.

The email also indicated the city manager’s office directed city staff to send Scott another notice of violation. The emails do not show whether that notice was ever sent.

Ostrowski held a meeting concerning Scott’s property on July 16, 2020, but the emails do not show the results of that meeting.

Carr wrote in a July 14 email that all Scott had to do is to apply for a conditional use permit to be able to continue operating the dealership. “If denied, it would make it much easier for us. If he get [sic] approved, then our concerns are over,” Carr wrote.

O’Brien did not receive an update, writing in a July 22, 2020 email to Ostrowski “Circling back on this one. I hate to be a pest. I’d love to be able to work on some open complaints in that neighborhood.”

When we interviewed Scott at his dealership on Oct. 7, he had not applied for the permit and was continuing to operate his dealership.

Internal Investigation Requested

We made multiple requests to interview San Marcos City Manager Bert Lumbreras about his administration’s four-year delay in resolving the investigation into Shane Scott’s code violation.

Lumbreras never agreed to an interview.

On Oct. 8, we sent the entire email chain concerning the Scott investigation to San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson and each member of city council. The only official to respond was Councilman Maxfield Baker.

San Marcos City Manager, who took over the city in August 2017, would not agree to an interview with KXAN concerning how his code enforcement department handled the Shane Scott investigation. Lumbreras has also not indicated whether he plans to open an internal investigation into how the matter was handled. (Photo Credit: City of San Marcos)

“I was a bit shocked to see that an issue like that had gone on for so long and seemed to kind of put a back burner or totally ignored. And I got to say, I expect more from our city manager, you know, being responsible and accountable,” Baker told KXAN.

Baker said he heard rumors of some code enforcement staff being frustrated over not being able to carry out their enforcement duties.

“This is the kind of thing that they’ve been talking about and they’ve been concerned about it. And sure enough it’s, you know, now here in broad daylight that they were seemingly intentionally not pursuing a code enforcement violation against a former city Councilman,” Baker said.

Baker said he wrote the mayor and City Manager Lumbreras to ask to have a council discussion and an investigation into what we uncovered placed on the council agenda. Baker said he never received a response to that request.

“You know, those emails make it pretty clear there was a staff member waving her hands trying to do everything they could to bring this to account and to make sure that, you know, as part of code enforcement that they’re doing their job in an equitable fashion. And these emails you sent us corroborate the fact that they’re, they’re not, they haven’t been willing to do that,” Baker told KXAN.

Lumbreras needed to answer for what happened in this case and city council needed to act to hold Lumbreras and “all of his staff accountable,” Baker said.

City enforcement records show code enforcement officers have been busy issuing violations across the city. During the same time the city’s worked to figure out whether to charge Scott, code officers have issued 66 violations for various violations of the city’s code ordinances.

In fact, on May 10, 2019—just five days before a second complaint was filed against Scott—code officer Korbin Weese wrote a violation to a man just four doors down from Scott’s dealership. The violation was for a truck the officer determined was “a nuisance vehicle” parked on the man’s property on Mill Street.

San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson presents City Councilman Shane Scott a certificate certifying his electoral win during the Nov. 3, 2020 election. Scott was sworn in during this Nov. 16, 2020 ceremony broadcast over the internet.

The truck was in working order, but had an expired registration sticker, according to the property owner.  

Instead of an interview, the city issued this response on Nov. 17, showing the city isn’t any closer to resolving the Shane Scott investigation today.

Staff continues working to follow through on questions about zoning and use of the subject property and recently corresponded with Mr. Scott via mail and phone.  They are still working to set up a time to discuss options for the property and how Mr. Scott wants to move forward.  This use is not new to this property so as with any zoning issue or question, our staff will work with the property owner to review options.  This same consideration would be given to any property owner within the City.  Mr. Scott is correct that he hasn’t received a citation and he also doesn’t currently have a conditional use permit.  Determining if a CUP would be an option in this case, is currently part of the staff review, and will be communicated to Mr. Scott when the determination is made. 

Kristy Stark, City of San Marcos Communications Director

Stark declined our interview request with Lumbreras writing that the city manager is “not available” for an interview.

The city has not indicated whether it plans to enforce the code violation against Scott or whether it’ll allow Baker’s request for an investigation to move forward.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Austin-Travis County

More Austin-Travis County News

More Investigations

More Investigations

Latest Central Texas COVID-19 Cases

More Coronavirus Live Blogs

Trending Stories

Don't Miss