As code enforcement manager at Miami-Dade County's Department of Solid Waste Management, Kisha Murray shows that dirty crimes carry fines.
The only one of her siblings born in America - her family is from Jamaica - Murray's work ethic and dedication to the task at hand has always carried her through her various job roles from criminal court to code enforcement at the airport. Now, Murray leads a team of supervisors and code enforcement officers to operate a fully-integrated solid waste system and combat illegal dumping.
In a Q&A with Waste360, Murray discusses how she began her career in solid waste management, how technology helps cover one of the region's largest counties and how illegal dumping is affecting Miami-Dade's citizens.
Waste360: How did you start your career with solid waste management?
Murray: I was finished with high school and did not really know what direction I wanted to go in with my life. My sister worked for a judge in family court and I would volunteer in her office and basically perform clerical functions – filing, answering phones etc. There was a coworker of hers that just got promoted to a director position and she needed some help changing offices. As simple as it sounded, I helped her moved offices and organized her office space. She was so impressed with my work ethics that when a position in the county became open, she provided me a letter of recommendation to help me get the job.
My first county job was a part time mail courier delivering mail to the judge's chambers in family, civil and criminal court. And from there I remained in the court system moving up to a court clerk in criminal court. As a sworn deputy clerk of the courts, I would read the verdicts, swear in witnesses and the jury and mark exhibits. Being in criminal court, there were some very high profile cases so it was definitely an interesting position. Then I moved on to the airport where I became engulfed in code enforcement for the first time. From the airport, I moved over to solid waste management. That was about 2007. At the time I moved over, I did not know much about the industry or anything like that, but I knew it was code enforcement related and that's what kept me interested to learn more.
Waste360: What is your job like on a day-to-day basis?
Murray: It is extremely fast paced. There is never a dull moment - from responding to commissioner requests that we get in from the district offices to mayor's request, down to any requests received from other agencies and municipalities. I have 42 code enforcement officers, and four code enforcement supervisors under my purview so managing almost 50 people for the largest county in the Southeast region of the country is challenging as well. We cover a huge area addressing the huge issue of solid waste violations. From illegal dumping to contaminants in a recycling cart, we address it all. Trash is a public health issue that directly affects communities so everyone wants to see it gone. And if there is a problem, you will know right away because the phone does not stop ringing and the emails don't stop coming. They may not necessarily be concerned with the steps it takes to get it gone, but they just want it gone.
Waste360: What are the more interesting kind of violations that you've discovered throughout your career?
Murray: We've been expanding our surveillance camera program; implementing the use of technology to combat illegal dumping. Through our surveillance cameras and collaboration with Miami Dade Police Department's Illegal Dumping unit, we have been very successful in the issuance of citations, and even some arrests and some vehicle seizures of illegal dumpers that were caught in the act. There was one case where the police department’s camera caught a partial tag of a vehicle and our cameras caught the other part of the tag. We were able to put the information together and find the illegal dumper. We publicize these cases sending them to our public information and outreach division who creates press releases and sends it out to all the social media outlets. These cases are very interesting and when they are a criminal offense, they get even more so detailed and costly. An illegal dumping citation can run $2500 and up. And our code enforcement officers are involved from the start to finish – giving depositions to the State Attorney's Office and being witnesses testifying in court.
Waste360: Are there any particular challenges to operating within one of the largest counties in the Southeast region?
Murray: My success is dependent on the individuals that work with me, from the supervisors to the officers. Their eyes on the street are helpful to me, especially with such a large county, and I could not do what I do without them. I am truly blessed to be able to work with such an amazing staff. Understanding that for any given task, there is usually more than one player involved to get it done so there is a great deal of communication that occurs daily; from our own internal communication to the external communication with other agencies, county commissioners’ offices and the municipalities that we serve. Just the communication alone between the code enforcement officers who are out there in the field every day to the supervisors is very involved. When communication breaks down, it can cause a domino effect and be a difficult challenge for us. Tasks may not get completed as timely as we may have liked and we risk having unsatisfied customers - So in order to avoid that and keep up exceptional service and complaints to a minimum, communication is key in helping with the challenges of covering such a large area.
Waste360: What does it take to successfully operate this fully integrated solid waste system?
Murray: I try to emphasize the importance of communication. Let me know what is going on out there and let us always make sure that we're all on the same page. The Enforcement Division is separated into different regions and every region may have specific issues related to them, however, it is important for them to know the importance of communication because we are still one department, one division, and we have to operate the same. So, making sure that we communicate and making sure that we always stay on the same page is important to our successes. Also, ensuring that we enforce County Code to a tee and always follow department policies and procedures contributes to our successes as a Division. If we go outside of county code or department policies and procedures, it can get very sticky, especially when you go to court and you try to defend your cases. So, it is important to make sure we stay up to date on the Code and those policies and procedures.
One of the projects that I'm currently involved in is revising the county code to help us enforce by reducing loopholes and creating a standard operating procedure to help us internally with our own processes and procedures. Understanding what works and what does not work and not being afraid to change the process if needed is also crucial. Sometimes you create a process and when it is implemented in the field; it does not work out like you thought it would. So, you must be willing to regroup, reevaluate and re-implement even if it means starting over.
Waste360: Where do you see solid waste management in Miami-Dade County going in the future?
Murray: I think that as we continue to evolve, the use of technology will help the industry. The use of surveillance cameras has tremendously assisted us in combatting illegal dumping. It helps us put eyes in places where we cannot. I also see the collaboration between code enforcement and the community significantly improving and helping the industry. The assistance we have received from the residents and business owners, have allowed us to have successful cases. That collaborative effort between the average property owner that lives in the community and sees what going on every day and code enforcement is extremely helpful when investigating cases and following up on them. There are more eyes out there focusing on achieving the same goal.
One of the other projects that I've been working on is the implementation of a device that has multiple uses for the officers. In speaking of technology, our GIS team with ITD has been able to create apps on these devices for the code enforcement officers to help them perform their daily tasks more efficiently and effectively. For example, we are working on a no dumping sign pilot right now where commissioners are requesting the locations of no duping signs throughout the county. Covering such a large area, street by street, and having to log addresses of where these signs are located would have been a tremendous task without the technology. The app is just a click of a button and the data collected is disseminated to management in real-time.
We're looking at other projects on how to use technology to address the contamination in recycling carts. The department has also looked into offering services online such as - paying bills online and being able to request a permit online. Our division issues and regulates permits for waste tire haulers, waste tire generators, general haulers and landscapers. Currently, the permit application process is a bit cumbersome. With the use of technology, processes such as these will become streamlined and more user friendly for customers.