The Manassas City Council put the brakes on a proposal to proactively enforce existing zoning laws and other measures that could be used to combat overcrowding.

The council demurred at a resolution that aimed to clean up the city because of concerns over "exuberant staff" members overstepping their boundaries and the possibility of having to hire more staff during the city's hiring freeze.

"Call it Big Brother or heavy-handed government," remarked Mayor Douglas S. Waldron (R), who said he was concerned over "unintended consequences" and how city employees would actively enforce codes on such matters as not allowing cars to park on grass and how to store trash. He pressed for the council to get a better understanding of what "the nature of proactive code enforcement" would be.

Council member Steven S. Smith (R) acknowledged the council's "heightened awareness" but said there would be "no constitutional issues" with this resolution.

"The trouble this council has had in the past involved particular laws that were changed, which did come in front of us. . . . I don't have as much heartburn, if you will, because I realize these are existing laws. . . . They have been tested, so to speak," said Smith, who supported trying "zealous enforcement."

In an effort to stop overcrowding, the council passed an ordinance last year that defined which members of a family could live together. It was forced to repeal that measure after learning it violated constitutional rights. A related Department of Justice investigation is ongoing.

"I thought it was wise to take a breather and maybe have a work session on it and further discuss what is meant by the pieces of it," said Vice Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II (R) Tuesday after the discussion.

Council member Jonathan L. Way (R) offered an alternative, to send the proposal to a land use committee. Way expressed concern that if the council endorsed the proposal, it would be viewed as endorsing the hiring of more staff.

"I didn't want to implicitly endorse an open-ended indication that we want to do whatever it takes and whatever it means, because we don't know whatever it takes or whatever it means yet," Way said.

The resolution directed the staff to review existing codes and report back to the council with suggested changes while trying a proactive, instead of complaint-based, enforcement system.

There is "some trepidation" from the mayor, Smith and Parrish since they were "involved in the overcrowding thing," said the resolution's creator, council member Andrew L. Harrover (R). "It gives them pause, and that is a fair complaint. We'll have to address it, but I'm not going to give up."