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Health Inspector tangled up

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE - Ellis County's Environmental Health Inspector, Pete Morales, is tangled up in uncut grass and other outdoor issues this time of year - leaving restaurant inspections on the back burner.

'This time of year, I'm bogged down with premises,' Morales told the Ellis County Press. 'I handle it all - junk cars, open wells, open sewage, illegal dumping, littering, uncut grass.' 

Morales indicated the process of getting property owners to clean up their unkempt premises is a long one.

'I go out and inspect it, write them a letter to clean it up, and if they don't, I do, and send them a bill,' Morales reported. 'It's time consuming.'

Meanwhile, as much as he would like to do so, Morales is unable to visit retail food establishments with any regularity. These include all types of restaurants, day care facilities, foster homes, even mobile units selling food. But Morales feels the city's record is a clean one, indicating he has only shut down three of the over 100 establishments he is responsible to inspect. 'If there's a problem somewhere,' said Morales, 'And we get a call, we make sure someone gets there.'

According to Janice Coates, Registered Sanitarian and Program Manager for the area's Retail Foods Division of the State Health Department, only Waxahachie and Ennis have city-run inspection programs. Responsibility for the rest of Ellis County falls to the State. 'I don't think it's falling through the cracks (though),' said Coates. 'We are committed to trying to protect the public.'

But Coates laments that reality sometimes falls short of theory when it comes to frequency of inspection. 'In theory, we want to get by one or two times a year,' Coates said. 'But in reality, there are three full-time inspectors and one part-time inspector. And that is not just for Ellis County.' Coates indicated that her staff covers the entire 49-county area of Texas Department of Health Public Health Region 2 & 3. 'It's a large geographic area and includes approximately 2300 restaurants and convenience stores which we are responsible for inspecting,' she writes.

The job is further complicated at present by the recent tornado that demolished the department's facilities. Inspectors are working out of their homes and other governmental offices, with a secretary housed in a small, temporary location. If citizens have questions or problems, they should call (817) 272-7602 to leave a message. 'We'll call them back as soon as we can,' Coates says.

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