With feedback from Roswell Police Department officers, the Roswell City Council’s Public Safety Committee made revisions to the proposed nuisance properties ordinance and the item will go before the Legal Committee later this month.
Councilors Jeanine Corn Best, Barry Foster and Angela Moore were present at the meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Another committee member, Councilor Steve Henderson was absent.
Councilor Judy Stubbs, chair of the Legal Committee, attended Tuesday’s meeting to “wordsmith” some of the language in the proposed ordinance and to ask questions before it is presented at the Legal Committee. Stubbs offered suggestions with minor language changes with feedback from city staff and other committee members. Since Stubbs is not a committee member of Public Safety, she gave input but did not formally cast a vote.
Councilor Best, chair of the committee, made the motion to send the revised drafted ordinance with the suggested changes to the legal committee and Councilor Moore seconded. The final vote was 2 to 1 with Councilor Foster voting in opposition.
Foster said he voted against the measure because the ordinance is “unrefined” and needs to be concise if passed by council. However, Foster said he believes the city needs a nuisance ordinance, but added the listed nuisance offenses are not “equitable.” As the ordinance reads now, Foster said it equates an offense of yard weeds with a drive-by or drug offense.
At the public hearing on Dec. 13, City Council unanimously decided to send the proposed nuisance ordinance back to Legal and Public Safety committees to additionally examine and potentially revise the proposed ordinance. Prior to Tuesday, the proposed ordinance was also reviewed in city committees in September and October.
The proposed ordinance would modify current city code and adding a new article pertaining to nuisances properties. Bill Morris, the city’s community development director, said a premise is deemed a “nuisance property” when three nuisance activities occur on that property during a 12-month period. It would provide a pathway for the city to cite property owners of nuisance properties for the city to recover costs spent when the RPD and code enforcement respond repeatedly at those properties, Morris explained.
Morris said the idea behind the proposed ordinances is to resolve instances of multiple nuisance offenses by implementing the fines and creating an abatement plan between the city and the property owner. As an example, Morris said the city has responded to one property that had 26 violations in one year. City Manager Joe Neeb added that three arrests had also been made at this property.
At the previous meeting, councilors were concerned about citizens being cited for three violations in one day. Morris said the language now reads that in a 24-hour period, many nuisance activities would count as one violation. After the 24 hours passed, Morris said a subsequent violation would be counted as a second offense.
Neeb said even in the event that the city is called out three times to one property, or three separate incidents are found, these do not automatically qualify as nuisance offenses. Neeb said when a written citation is issued, this determines a true offense.
“I don’t see this as a real gray area for the police department,” Police Chief Phil Smith said of the proposed ordinance. “I see it as an additional tool that we can use after we’ve had police action. We’re not going to go in there and go, ‘Hey, I need you to pull your weeds up,’ and you know that … There are certain residences — I can think of one off the top of my head — we are continually there. We continually take action. This is just an additional (tool) from the city and the ability to retrieve some of the loss for the cost of services because of these nuisance households. But the police department is going to do what they’re going to do …”
Deputy Chief Mike Stanton said the abatement plan would be educational for the property owner to hold them accountable in understanding the city code. Stanton said documentation of the education would be available if the RPD responded to the property again.
As an officer in the field, Stanton said a “vast majority (of) properties” interacting with the city’s code enforcement are the same properties the RPD visits. He said the proposed ordinance could provide “education and preemptive study” for these properties.
“In the abatement plan, we’re trying to achieve compliance,” Morris said. “We want to fix the problem. We’re not looking to try to punish people. We just want the problem to go away …”
Councilor Best asked if this ordinance would have assisted with the Town Plaza Apartments and Morris confirmed this. In support of the measure, Best said in her “little pea brain,” all the city departments would be involved with the “common sense” ordinance.
Councilor Moore said, in her opinion, that three violations is different than 26, adding the situation needs to depend on the offense. Moore also voiced potential issues of neighbors abusing the ordinance against other neighbors and brought up domestic violence. Morris said there has been discussion that the ordinance could be “weaponized,” but said the offenses would be noncompliant with city code.
Morris and Neeb clarified that domestic violence is not included in the city’s nuisance activity list. In addition, Smith said genuine instances of domestic violence are “beyond a nuisance” and are crimes with associated police procedures.
Finance Director Monica Garcia asked how the fines would be billed and Morris said original intent was to have the fines on the property owner’s utility bill. Garcia asked for the city’s legal team to ensure the possibility of including nuisance fines with utility bills.
City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.