People often strive to improve the town where they grew up, giving back to the community so it can be better for the generations to come. Richard “Dickie” Thomas is one of those people who had the opportunity to do that.
Thomas retired from civil service effective Friday after completing an important transition role as Princeton’s code enforcement officer.
Having worked for 25 years in with the planning and zoning commission and the last three as the code enforcement officer, Thomas has reshaped code enforcement into a more proactive office.
“Mayor Danny Beavers asked me to build the department (in 2017),” he said. “It had always been part-time and, of course, they wanted to have a full-time eventually.
“When I started out in January 2017, it was part-time, and the passing of Ms. (Diane) Knox (who headed the finance department for 31 years), I had been on the city’s planning and zoning commission for 25 years.”
When Knox passed away in September 2017, Beavers asked Thomas to move to full-time status as the city’s code enforcement officer, overseeing planning and zoning, emergency management, flood control and stormwater management.
Born and raised in Princeton, Thomas began his working career at First Bank & Trust before opening his own lawn and garden supply business in 1978.
Thomas said he got burned out and, at age 50, went back to college to complete his degree, then went to work at Cayce Mill Supply in Hopkinsville as a corporate credit manager, where he worked for eight years before retiring after a brief working stint at Trice Hughes Inc., retiring (the first time) in 2008.
Thomas came out of retirement nine years later to help build the city’s code enforcement program.
“When I graduated from here, I went to Georgetown (College) and played football for Georgetown,” he said. “I came back home and went to community college for a while, then I went down to Mayfield to Mid-Continent and finished my degree there in organizational leadership.
“It was a rewarding experience. My graduation paper was on why counties won’t adopt zoning ordinances.”
Thomas said his ultimate conclusion was that mayors and magistrates were afraid they wouldn’t get re-elected if they supported zoning ordinances.
Thomas’ work in code enforcement will help the city become better organized and have a better appearance.
“We instituted an alliance with a company called ComCate, which has planning and zoning and code enforcement incorporated into one program,” he said. “They have a dedicated (computer) program.
“We had to send them all of our ordinances and record them so that we fill out a notice or a violation, we get a menu where we can pick what the violations are. We send out notices, violations, stop-work orders through one system. (Princeton) never had anything like that before.”
Thomas said that taking part in the West Kentucky Code Enforcement Officers — an organization of area code enforcement officers — helps him and other code enforcement officers in western Kentucky learn from each other.
Thomas said there are risks involved with code enforcement that few people may know about. Citing a resident for a code violation can become hazardous.
“It can be a very nerve-wracking job at times,” he said. “In fact, nationwide, there’s code enforcement officers being shot all the time. Out in Colorado, I just read of a recent case where a code enforcement officer knocked on door and asked the guy to mow his grass, and (the resident) shot him dead.
“The city of Paducah is now wearing body (cameras). There’s a lot going on in the code enforcement world. A lot more needs to happen for code enforcement officers.”
Thomas said he had a lot of support from the Princeton Police Department and Chief Chris King as well as Mayor Kota Young.
As his last City Council meeting on Sept. 24, Thomas advocated the creation of a rental inspection program that would benefit landlords and renters alike.
“It’s protection for property owners as well as landlords,” he said. “Property owners need a decent place to live. When they move into a house, they should be assured that it’s a decent place to live.
“Landlords are like people: some are good, some are not so good. All cities face the same problems, and the ones who are incorporating rental inspection programs, a structure has to pass certain regulations and conditions in order to be able to rent.”
The inspection assures renters that the structure is habitable as well as protecting the landlords from damage caused by renters.
Thomas said he hoped the local department would increase its staff size over time, making doing the work of code enforcement more efficient.
Thomas was asked what he got out of working for the city he grew up in.
“I had a chance to make a difference,” he said. “That’s all it is. I had my chance to make a difference. I was born and raised here. It’s a way to give back.”