Altering the Rule Book

At the January 22, 2018 City Council Meeting Mayor Bob Hall introduced Ordinance 2018-OR-6, an ordinance amending and clarifying the Property Maintenance Code for the City of Charlestown. During discussion of the ordinance, City attorney Michael Gillenwater claimed that the proposed amendments to the original 2008 Property Maintenance Code (PMC) were minor, needed to deal with outdated information, and that no major provisions of the code were modified.

Mr. Gillenwater was wrong.

Proposed Ordinance 2018-OR-6 significantly alters the enforcement of the City’s 2008 Property Maintenance Code in direct response to the City’s unfavorable outcome in the ruling on the Pleasant Ridge case. The revisions place an unfair burden on all property owners in town, and create a pathway for unethical selective enforcement.

On December 4, 2017, Scott County Judge Jason Mount issued a preliminary injunction against the City by finding, among other things, that Plaintiffs from Pleasant Ridge are likely to win in their claim that the City has violated its own rules for property maintenance. Central to the Judge’s decision is the City’s use of immediate accumulating fines against owners without following the procedures outlined in the PMC that allow a grace period in which property owners can bring their homes into compliance.

The City was wrong. Now, rather than admit they were wrong, the City is trying to re-write the rules in their favor.

Judge Mount noted that the 2008 PMC, “requires the City to provide a written order specifying the alleged problems and provide a reasonable opportunity to make repairs before fines may be imposed” (Ruling item #96, p 21). This claim refers to sections 106 and 107 of the 2008 Property Maintenance Code. The Judge went on to state that,

“In no case does the PMC allow the City to impose immediate, daily accumulating fines for violations of the PMC.”

Yet, this is what has been done to numerous residents and property owners in Pleasant Ridge.

images-2Ordinance 2018-OR-6 changes the language of and adds sections to the 2008 version of the PMC to place the City into compliance retroactively.

For example:

“Fines for violations of this Code are effective immediately upon discovery by the Code Official…(106.5 Ordinance 2018-OR-6, emphasis added)

“The correction order shall give the person responsible a reasonable time to make required repairs and improvements before actions beyond the imposition of fines are taken against the property” (107.2.4 Ordinance 2018-OR-6, emphasis added).

Judge Mount’s preliminary injunction also found that an improper relationship exists between the City and developer John Neace of Pleasant Ridge Redevelopment, LLC (PRR, LLC) due to the City’s willingness to waive fines for Neace but not for other property owners. The Judge pointed out that if the City is going to waive fines for one owner (Neace), then it must also waive fines for others who bring their properties into compliance. The proposed Ordinance adds a provision that gives the City the right to discriminate by waiving fines at its own discretion (111.2 Ordinance 2018-OR-6, emphasis added).

Finally, the proposed revision reduces the amount of time for residents to appeal citations from 20 days to only 10 (111.1 Ordinance 2018-OR-6, emphasis added).

This Ordinance passed its first reading and will be presented for second reading on Monday, February 5, 2018 at 6:30 during the next Council meeting.

I have provided a link to the 2008 Property Maintenance Code and a copy of the proposed Ordinance 2018-OR-6. Read them. You will note changes in the following sections of the revised version: 102.4, 102.7, 106 entirety, 107 entirety, 109.6, 110.3, 111.1, 111.2, 111.5, 111.8, 111.9, Definition added for “Weeds,” and at the end in “Ordinance Subject to Other Laws.” (All other sections remain unchanged.)

Read them.

Pay close attention to all sections in chapters three through seven and ask yourself if YOUR house is in compliance. Do you have a crack in your driveway? Is your exterior paint chipping? Do you have screens on all of your windows? Do you have a hand rail on all of your stairs?

Attorney Gillenwater used the analogy of speeding tickets to justify the use of immediate fines against property owners. This is a flawed analogy. This type of punitive bullying is not the way to govern. Just as a car must have time to decelerate upon entering a reduced speed zone, citizens should have time to bring their properties into compliance once they learn of their infractions.

I urge you to come to the next Council meeting. It’s too late to apply for public comment, but nobody is stopping you from bringing a sign that simply says, “NO!” to hold during the meeting. Contact your Council Members. Tell them these revisions are unethical. Come early. This concerns you, I promise.

Findings of Fact in Pleasant Ridge Injunction Case: PLED-Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

Order granting preliminary injunction: PLED-Order Granting Preliminary Injunction

Author: Treva Hodges

Resident of Charlestown, Indiana. Advocate.

One thought on “Altering the Rule Book”

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