Most people arent happy when they talk to Mike Haugen.
As the property maintenance manager for the city of Topeka, he fields a lot of angry calls. Someone has been fined for an overgrown yard, and they want to know why. Another person is complaining about a neighbor with garbage on the their lawn.
I could sit here all day with people yelling at me and say thats the way it is, he said. Im not going to do that. I want to use my creativity to help solve their problems.
Haugen, just over 50, has been active in the Topeka community since he moved here at 18. After 30 years with the Topeka Police Department, he retired, but still wanted to have an impact on the city. With a smile and an occasional joke, he now oversees the nine inspectors that make sure yards are mowed and sanitary and houses are repaired and safe. Haugen has been the department manager for two months, and he already has some ideas on how to improve.
I love Topeka and I want to make it better, he said.
First, Haugen said, his department needs to focus on customer service.
With property issues, there are two groups of people: those who are concerned about the condition of the property and those whose property may be in question. Both sides tend to point blame at the other, but it is important to treat each equally, he said.
We need to treat everyone with dignity and respect, he said.
Teamwork is second, Haugen said. Departments at any organization can focus too closely on their own business. Haugen would like to see the property maintenance, police, fire and public works departments work together as often as possible and build an understanding of how they can help each other.
We all have our own responsibilities, but when thats all we focus on, were not serving the whole community, he said.
Property maintenance is responsible for citing violations and making sure properties are up to code.
Besides being violations, unmowed lawns, trash in yards and aging homes can be safety and sanitation issues. Haugen said it is important for residents to be aware of those issues and keep their properties up to code. Information about city codes and the status of maintenance violations can be found in the citys e311 system at http://www.topeka.org/e311/.
I dont want Topeka to look run down or have the image of an unclean city, he said.