Rusty Hughes receives a lot of "thank yous" in his job. That's not the phrase most people would think of when it comes to a code enforcement officer.
But in his decade of working for the city of Galt, Hughes has used his friendly personality to win over even the angriest people he encounters.
"When I pull up in front of your house, you probably don't want me there, but it almost always has a good ending," he said, though he added that most residents initially take issue with him telling them what to do on their private property.
"It's not all roses all the time," he said. "I'm going to ask you to make some changes you've got to do to make your property safer, to make it cleaner."
The mission of the city's Code Compliance Division is to work with property owners and tenants so that their property complies with the Galt Municipal Code primarily related to property maintenance or zoning standards. Typical activities include helping to clean up sub-standard and unsanitary residences, regulating unregistered vehicles on private property and responding to nuisance or health-related complaints.
Cities often employ an entire department to handle these issues.
In Galt, however, Hughes is the city's sole code compliance officer. He works in the community development department and handles between 400 and 500 cases a year.
On a typical day, Hughes starts by checking on past code infractions. While in the field, he takes complaints to respond to. By the time he returns to the office in the afternoon, there are often another eight to 10 calls waiting for his attention the following day.
"It's definitely enough to keep one guy busy," he said.
Last September, in one of the code enforcement department's busiest months, Hughes closed 39 cases and proactively opened 40 new ones, according to Galt City Manager Jason Behrmann, who has praised Hughes publicly for the excellent job he performs daily.
"The council is always interested in code enforcement because that's often what they hear about most from residents so we try to report on our efforts often," Behrmann said.
Hughes recently helped remedy a very public issue after receiving numerous complaints about a pigeon mess near storefronts at the Galt Plaza shopping center. Behrmann said the property owner and city worked together to install pigeon netting in the open rafters and roof sections to keep the birds from congregating.
Hughes sees his work to clean up blight and demolish unfit residences as a boon for growth and development, such as a planned entertainment complex in Galt's downtown area.
Since fall, progress has also been made on a blighted property in the 300 block of Oak Avenue. The former owner was a bit of a hoarder, Hughes said, and was content with the property being the way it was for some 60 years.
When he died, his family was proactive in cleaning up and stay in regular contact with Hughes.
"Instead of forcing our hand and saying, 'We're just going to take it because you missed a date,' I have walked them through every step of doing what they could," he said.
Since then, all 18 cars have been removed from the property and 14 to 15 Dumpsters full of other junk have been hauled away. In addition, the owner worked with PG&E to cap a non-operative gas line in preparation for demolition.
"That will be my proudest moment, when it's complete," Hughes said. "I have been dealing with that while handling 500 other calls a year."
On Monday, he drove by another house that has been a public nuisance for some time. The property on Park Terrace Drive adjacent to McCaffrey Middle School just received a fresh coat of paint, new windows and a new fence.
"It makes me feel good I had a hand in that. It's that sense of accomplishment," Hughes said. "Just like law enforcement trying to make the streets safer, I'm literally trying to make the streets nicer. If you live in a community, you want it to be nice."
For Hughes, the work he performs is not just a job, but a labor of love, since he spends 99 percent of his time in Galt, he said.
In the evenings and weekends, he coaches both his sons' baseball teams. They are ages 9 and 14.
"I'm proud of this community. I want it to be nice for my kids," Hughes said.
When he moved to his wife's native California and found employment with Galt as its code enforcement officer, he ended up becoming a certified building inspector in order to be a more versatile employee.
It's a portion of the job he's very proud of, since he sees a number of projects on the horizon. A new Walmart and Central Valley Waste relocating will both bring jobs to Galt, he said.
Other good news, Hughes said, is that foreclosures are down in Galt due to engaged investors coming in and not only buying the properties, but repainting and maintaining them. This makes his job easier.
"I don't have to worry as much beating the bank's door down to get them to do something," he said. "Especially being one person, that helps."
It's these things Hughes wants Galt to be remembered for, not for two recent shooting incidents in which Galt Police Officer Kevin Tonn and Sacramento County Animal Control Officer Ray Marcum where killed.
The Marcum case affected Hughes, as he had grown to know suspect Joseph Corey personally; he estimates he had been to the property close to a dozen times in the last eight years for calls related to property maintenance, such as weed abatement and clearing clutter from the front yard, as well as for barking dogs.
Corey is in a Sacramento jail on charges he fatally shot Marcum when the animal control officer came to retrieve pets from Corey's former home.
"It definitely hit home that I was standing right where that officer was standing," Hughes said. "But we got a rapport going after so many years. We had the same truck, a public safety background."
Hughes previously worked as a police officer in his home state of West Virginia, something he draws on daily — from the training he received to read people, to being aware while approaching houses.In 2010, he was named Galt's employee of the year. The anonymous nomination form noted that Hughes excels in the area of judgment and works in a very cooperative manner with a variety of city departments, among other things.
Hughes' case closure rate exceeds 95 percent on average, meaning he has successfully worked with the property owner to comply in most cases.
"I'll work with them ... and just come back on the compliance date and talk to them instead of just getting out of my vehicle and handing them a notice," he said. "I have a lot of people that thank me."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.