An Appeal for Grace

As raised in the previous special meeting (summary available here: Council Meeting 09/12/2018), on Monday October 1 the Charlestown Common Council will address two ordinances that repeal the Unsafe Building Law and revise and clarify the city’s Property Maintenance Code. The revised Property Maintenance Code allows the city to impose immediate, daily, accumulating fines for property owners found to be in non-compliance with elements of the PMC. While most of us want the city to help ensure our safety and wellbeing, imposing immediate fines rather than giving notice and then allowing a grace period during which an owner can bring a property into compliance is aggressively punitive and unnecessary. 

The existing Property Maintenance Code can be found here: 2018-OR-6

The section that allows for immediate, daily, accumulating fines is 106 in that code. This section remains unchanged in the proposed revision for Monday night.

ring explosion pop art comic designPLEASE call your representatives and let them know if you think that we should be given a grace period in which to make repairs after violations are brought to our attention, prior to fines being applied.

I also encourage you to read the code and honestly ask yourself if your home would pass all of these standards. This code applies to all structures in Charlestown: rentals, businesses, and private residences that are owner occupied. If you own property here, this affects you.

Please ask our council members to work WITH us, not punish us without warning or sufficient notice.

Contact information for your Council Members can be found here: Charlestown Common Council Members

Block Watch Meeting 09/27/2018

images-4The Charlestown Police Department hosted a Block Watch interest meeting on Thursday, September 27 at 6:30 pm. The Block Watch will have regular meetings to help citizens become community parters with the department. Following is a summary of the meeting. Full audio (1hour 39 minutes) is available a the end.

Jessica Gideons welcome:

  • Thanks to Chuck Ledbetter for printing the flyers. Thanks to Kim Harris and the Hester family for passing out flyers.

Chief McDonald:

  • Thanked everyone for their enthusiasm and for being present tonight. It means a lot to have citizens who want to partner with the police department. The department works for the citizens and he wants to make sure they’re doing a good job.
  • One of the biggest hurdles they have is delayed reporting. It hurts their ability to solve cases in a timely manner when people delay their calls. They need calls to come in quickly and as a crime is occurring.
  • Introduced Chuck Ledbetter who has recently retired from the department but has taken a civilian position.
  • Foundational information:
    • This is the second block watch program that Chief McDonald has organized. Organization is important. They will have guest speakers occasionally to keep things exciting and interesting. The police department serves every neighborhood the same. The watch is what you make of it. The police can help it get started but the police will assist. As long as there is interest, they will continue to help.
    • They are not here to offend anyone. Often, people have had a negative experience with the police or they make unfair assumptions. He encourages people to remain consistent in coming and to be aware of how much the police force is limited by the judicial system. He hopes we can all learn from one another.
    • He recognizes that this is a political season and wants to keep this meeting focused on the Block Watch program, no politics allowed.
    • On vigilante justice: There are often comments on social media that raise eyebrows. People should not be making threats. They do respect the first amendment, but people need to be careful not to cross the line from free speech into threats. He encourages people to respect one another. He discourages vigilante justice and comments that suggest such. People should not assume to know the law, they might be surprised if a case is brought against them.
    • City limits vs. Charlestown township: he welcomes everyone, even those who might not be in the city limits. Please know that there is a boundary that the CHPD cannot cross. The sheriff department should be consulted for folks who live in the county. He does encourage county folks to come to these meetings to learn though.
    • Questions he cannot answer: The criminal and traffic law book is very extensive. If he’s unable to answer a question right away, please be patient and he will look it up and find out then get back to you. Laws change frequently and he doesn’t want to mislead people.
    • Mission: To bring the community together and bridge the gap. To learn from one another. He hopes to build a network with CHPD officers. He hopes to have a variety of guest speakers. The chief prosecutor is one he would like to have. Most crimes must be witnessed by officers in person. Learning how the system works is a goal of these meetings. He would also like to get a judge here to discuss how the system has changed in the time since they’ve been in service. He tries to keep his officers focused on their case presentation. The judicial process doesn’t always work the way folks want it to, but there is a delicate balance that judges must maintain so we won’t always know what is involved in their decision making. He would like to have a CPR/first aid night. They could have a basic, streamlined session. People can pick and choose what meetings they want to attend. He would like to get the school resource officer in to discuss trends among the youth. He would like to have the K9 unit in to do a small demonstration. He would like to have the narcotics detective in to discuss how crimes are associated to narcotic addiction. There is a full time narcotic position and the department also has a full time criminal detective. He would like to get the SWAT team in. There are only two officers on the SWAT. There is an interagency agreement but CHPD was chosen as the Indiana State Police backup. He would like to have CHPD detective Jason Broady. That would be a nice night to come to learn about crime prevention, how to log your valuables, and describe your property. The Southern Indiana Comprehensive Treatment Center – methadone clinic. He would love to have a representative come to discuss what they do and learn the facts about their services.
    • His goal is to train members of the community to organize to assist the department. He loves the Facebook Neighborhood Watch page because it reaches out and they are able to pass information along from what they see there. The Facebook page plays an important role in the block watch program.
    • He wants people to know when to call. He also wants to direct people to the anonymous tip line. Most important thing is to call.
    • Current city leadership, mayor and common council passed nuisance ordinance so that if a neighborhood or particular residence has repeat calls, the house can be submitted to the Board of Public Works for code violation.
    • One of the things that hurts a Block Watch program is setting the expectations too high. People are busy and there might be some participant drop off over time. He encourages us to spread out the meetings over time to boost attendance.

Chuck Ledbetter:

  • Thanked everyone for coming. Discussion of dispatch and the changes. In 2005, Indiana legislators saw the need for agencies to work together. Decided to consolidate each county for central communication. When funding became available they consolidated. Meetings occur regularly between the fiscal and operations boards. Goal was to bring all law enforcement, ambulance, and fire services into the same dispatch system so that they can share real-time information with each other. This allows for dispatch to get the closest unit to respond in the most efficient time. December 2014 marked the date for this consolidation. He understands how nice it was to get to know people in the community and the appeal of calling a local number and speaking to a local person. There are significant drawbacks to that system, though. The consolidated dispatch has been beneficial to overcoming those drawbacks. Now, when you call 911 or the non-emergency line, those calls go directly into one room. There are designated staff in that room who answer those calls. They are not distracted and their only position is to take the calls and dispatch assistance. When they add information into the computer system, that information is shared in real-time with the officers. Sometimes the call takers ask questions that can be confusing to callers, but they are essential to the process. The computer helps prioritize calls based on emergent needs. Officers self-dispatch and the information they provide is fed back to the dispatchers. As the call changes or is updated, information is updated on the computer system. This process saves time and increases efficiency. Even though it is not as personal as it used to be, the assistance can arrive much faster. Another benefit to the consolidated dispatch is that the computer system is synchronized in the county. This enables the various units to share information as possible offenders move around. This makes it easier to locate people and increases the likelihood that they can stop crime. The consolidated system allows all the information that is reported to appear on a daily briefing screen. When a shift changes and new officers come on duty, they’re able to get caught up quickly.
  • When you see something suspicious, what do you do? Something “suspicious,” is something in your neighborhood (the place you call home) that happens outside the ordinary day-to-day activities and that looks like it could have negative outcomes. This includes something that’s out of place and someone participating in strange or out of the ordinary activity. Please feel comfortable calling in these situations. If you call something like this in, and an officer is involved, it gives officers a chance to run people through the system in case there are outstanding warrants and puts them in the system for possible future concerns. The more that is in the system, the more detectives are able to get out of it later. Even if someone is visiting a family member and you call, no officer is going to be mad. Officers are not going to mistreat people in their attempts to investigate suspicious activity. This kind of interaction sends positive messages. It shows people that folks are paying attention and fosters community connections. You can report anonymous if you call. Strict rules with dispatch ensure this anonymity. You help the officers in successful management of a case when you call quickly and provide detailed information. You can call (812) 256-CHPD or visit to make non-emergency reports. Call 911 if there is an emergency.
  • How do you report information? Police officers need certain information to be successful. Among the top information you can provide are:
    • directional information – What street? What direction (north, east, south or west)?
    • descriptions – Give details about cars (make, model, color), clothes (items, color, glasses and accessories), physical (hair color and length, height, build, gender).
  • If you have a problem, dispatchers are human too and sometimes things don’t work as well as folks might hope, try to be patient. If a dispatcher is out of line, notify the police department. There are procedures in place to address complaints. You can fill out a form online at the Clark County 911 webpage. The CHPD webpage has a large amount of information including staff names and contact information.
  • Technology enables officers to be out, in the community, taking action rather than being behind a desk.
  • The community policing survey on the website shared by the Charlestown Courier generated 24 new responses that helped give feedback to the department.

Chief McDonald:

  • One thing that needs to be clarified, although the Facebook page is useful in sharing information, it is NOT a formal mechanism for reporting crimes. Officers cannot create database information from that page. Call to make a report.
  • They have separated the city into four districts. The maps are available. People can sign up to be Block Watch Captains and Co-Captains for their district. These folks are the “boots on the ground” and can help spread information about upcoming meetings.


Comment 1: There is a speed issue on High Street between Market and the Middle School between 7-8:30 am and 2:45-4:30 pm.

Chris Upton, employee of Clark County 911: If you want to let them know about an ongoing issue you can call in and request an extra patrol in any affected area. But call the non-emergency number (812) 246-6996, not 911. You can also call (812) 256-6345, but you’ll have to listen to the call tree to get to a person.

Chuck Ledbetter: How to know which number to call? If it is going on now, call 911. This includes suspicious activity.

Comment 2: How many units on patrol at any time? Usually two or three. Often there will be reserves out among full time officers. Day shift there will be more out because there are detectives moving in and out as well.

Comment 3: What is the responsibility of the Block Watch Captains and Co-Captains? The captains will be contacted by the department as organizers of meetings and organization matters. When it comes to reporting suspicious behavior, call the police.

Comment 4: Is there going to be a meeting at some point on issues related to kids? Yes, there will be some conversations from the school resource officer on that. Another topic of discussion will be children and social media and the dangers of mixing the two.

Comment 5: If I have something stolen and I report it, how can I find out if there is an update on my case? Currently there is no online mechanism for getting an update. You will have to remain in contact with the investigating officers. Every six months they will do an audit of what is in the database and if an arrest is made on a case, there are links on the website that can help you track that arrest. You’re encouraged to remain in email contact with officers for updates.

Comment 6: On highway 3, folks don’t always stop for school busses. The department focused on that area for a number of weeks. If you see anything recent, please let them know so they can revisit.

Comment 7: Three stop signs in Glendale and Lisa are a problem. They will follow up.

Comment 8: Speeding is a problem on Lisa and Hodge (west). They will follow up. They will do a stationary patrol first because they need to see the event in process.

Comment 9: Denham Lane near Cardinal close to Family Dollar is having a problem with excessive school buses where the road is not wide enough for them to meet. The buses have specific routes to follow and that’s a complicated issue to solve.

Comment 10: There is a homelessness issue behind the Northside/Creekside Apartments involving some theft. (The woods between Presbyterian Church and Creekside.) There is an individual that they have trespassed a few times that is on the watch. It might be the same person.

George Roberts addressed the school bus issue.

Comment 11: Recommended that people notice shoes when making a report.

Comment 12: Problem with a dog. (Crowd noise made it difficult to hear.)

Comment 13: People are driving on the Eickholtz farm.

Comment 14: Is there anything that can be done about kids cutting through near Sunnyside? Call 911 when you see suspicious activity – needs to be the people who own the property though.

Comment 15: Can we get neighborhood watch stickers and signs? Yes but the best deterrent is active community members.

Chuck Ledbetter: There has been an upswing in door-to-door sales activity. Remember that these folks are required to get permits. If they come to your door, ask them to show you their permit.

Chief McDonald: They’re getting ready to start their beard charity program. They donate $10 each week from their paychecks into a pot until March 1 and this year they’re donating 100% of the proceeds to Stella Keith and her battle with Leukemia. If any of you want to donate, you can do so at New Washington State Bank to the FOP.

Comment 16: Owner of the Charlestown Buy/Sell Facebook group is concerned about people selling stolen goods.

Comment 17: Is there a safe meeting spot with a camera so that sale exchanges can take place? Jay C and Police Station.

Maps of the districts are here: Block Watch District Maps

Full audio available here: 

Redevelopment Commission 09/27/2018

The Charlestown Redevelopment Commission met on Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 9:00 am for a regularly scheduled meeting. Following is a summary with full audio (6:26) of the meeting:

  1. Call to order/Pledge of Allegiance
  2. Determination of a Quorum and Roll Call: Members present were Bob Hall, Ted Little, George Roberts, John Spencer, and Eric Vaughn (arrived late). Also in attendance were City Attorney Michael Gillenwater and Clerk Treasurer Donna Coomer.
  3. Approval of prior meeting’s minutes, current claims, and payroll allowance docket combined into one motion for approval.
    • motion to approve made by John Spencer
    • seconded by Ted Little
    • No discussion
    • Unanimous approval
  4. No business – Mayor provided an update on several projects
    • Renaissance I Project – In conversations with the developer to discuss financing and to redo the design.
    • Renaissance II Project – Still waiting for appraisals on the property they want to purchase (L&M Bag co, Mac Daddy’s, and Clark Nickles property). Should be in within the next 30 days and they will begin negotiations to purchase.
    • Springville Manor – They are finishing the fencing and landscaping, replacing sod, and installing lights.
      • George Roberts asked how many people are living there now. Mayor Hall confirmed with Geneva Adams that there are 17 homes sold with a few others in process.
      • Mayor Hall noted that at some point they will need to discuss releasing the remaining vacant properties for the general public if there will not be additional interest.
      • Ted Little asked if there was any interest in the surrounding property outside the existing houses. Mayor Hall said that there is and he has been asked about single family homes. Mayor Hall noted that there will be a need to discuss what role the City will play in assisting with those purchases, if anything.
    • Ted Little asked about the construction work at the corner of Main and Market streets. Mayor Hall noted that the state is putting in crosswalks and crossing signals.
  5. Adjournment
    • Motion to adjourn made by Eric Vaughn
    • Seconded by John Spencer
    • Unanimous approval.

Audio of the meeting available here (6:26): 


Broken Promises, Shattered Trust: Charlestown Files Eminent Domain Lawsuit


During the most recent special meeting of the Charlestown Common Council, Mayor Bob Hall cautioned the community to “Please watch what the city does and not what our opposition say we are doing” (09/12/2018 meeting audio at 54:33).

A quick review into exactly what the city has done lately reveals another broken promise in what seems to be a growing list of hypocrisies and misleading statements.

On August 15, 2018, city attorney Michael Gillenwater filed a lawsuit in Clark County Circuit Court 2 naming the City of Charlestown as the plaintiff in an eminent domain condemnation case against Richard Wheeler, who owns a tract of land containing approximately 58 acres along the back side of Pleasant Ridge neighborhood.

Mr. Wheeler has rejected the City’s offer to purchase his land and the City is now taking him to court to use eminent domain to force him out so that they can build a park.

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In addition to this case filed last month, the City also recently concluded condemnation proceedings and used eminent domain to take small parcels of land for the Community Crossings Road project into Pleasant Ridge…a road that many people say is unnecessary…

During his statement to the Citizens of Charlestown last Wednesday night Mayor Hall boasted,

I’m glad that we’ve never used eminent domain. This one has puzzled me more than anything. In our redevelopment plan it states clearly that the plan, that eminent domain is not planned to be used” …

“We’ve not done it, we’ve not even proposed it to the City Council or the Redevelopment Commission to use eminent domain” (09/12/2018 meeting audio at 49:32). 

What Mayor Hall SAYS the City has done appears to stand in stark contrast to what the City has actually done

One part of the Mayor’s statement is true. I have provided audio for every Common Council and Redevelopment Commission meeting for the previous year in this blog and you will not find in any of them a mention of using eminent domain to take Mr. Wheeler’s property because the Mayor has never presented it to these bodies in a public meeting.



This begs the questions…

Who authorized this purchase offer?

Who gave the order to proceed with an eminent domain lawsuit when Mr. Wheeler said he didn’t want to sell?  



Mayor Hall’s statements are available in the full audio of the 09/12/2018 special meeting of the Common Council located at the end of the entry HERE: Special Meeting 09/12/2018

City of Charlestown v. Richard Wheeler case complaint HERE: Eminent Domain Lawsuit – City vs. Wheeler

All public court documents for lawsuit available HERE. You’ll need to enter the case number in the search box: 10C02-1808-PL-0000098

The Ethics of Code Enforcement – Protection or Bullying?

On Wednesday, September 12, Mayor Bob Hall called a special meeting of Charlestown’s Common Council so that attorneys for the city could explain the recent Court of Appeals ruling in the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Case that overturned the preliminary injunction and remanded the issue back to Judge Jason Mount for further consideration.  During this meeting, Mark Crandley, an attorney from Barnes and Thornburg who represented the city in the appeal, and City Attorney Michael Gillenwater recommended that the council vote to rescind the ordinance that adopted the Indiana Unsafe Building Law because doing so will clarify property maintenance in the future. Council members should move carefully on this issue, however, since the information presented in this meeting was misleading. 

The attorneys suggested that the City’s own Property Maintenance Code, which was adopted in 2008 (available here 2008-OR-1) and revised in 2018 (available here 2018-OR-6), will be the most effective way to ensure that Charlestown has safe and habitable buildings. The attorneys base their recommendation on their interpretation of the order issued by the Court of Appeals and imply that the ruling prevents cities from having both the UBL and a PMC that work in conjunction with one another.

This interpretation appears to be wrong.

According to Mr. Crandley, “what you can’t do under the Court of Appeals’ decision is both, you can’t have your own property maintenance code and adopt the unsafe building law” (6:32 on meeting audio). The order issued by the Appellate Court does find that Charlestown’s previous USE of the UBL and the PMC seem to be in contradiction with one another, but it does NOT say that a city can only have one or the other. The order states,

female-judge-with-gavel“Specifically we conclude that because the City has adopted the UBL, the City is required to act in accordance with its provisions. That does not mean that the PMC is without legal force, but rather that the City is precluded from enforcing the PMC in a manner that is inconsistent with the UBL…Therefore, we remand for the trial court to consider how the UBL and the PMC work together in light of our conclusion that the PMC must work within the confines and strictures of the UBL” (Order pp 4-5, paragraph 3).  

Knowing that the Court of Appeals leaves room to see how the two codes can work together, we should look carefully at the codes to understand how they can be applied in Charlestown to help meet our goals of ensuring the safety of our residents.

COP-ICONCharlestown’s Property Maintenance Code is much more specific than the Indiana Unsafe Building Law. Specificity is often good. The standards in the PMC are more precise in their description of what a “safe” structure includes, and they cover everything from electrical and heating/cooling to handrails and tears in window screens. In this regard, the PMC appears to be the better choice (if indeed a choice must be made).

The major problem for Charlestown residents lies in the area of code enforcement and fines for non-compliance. As noted in the Appeals’ Court Order, the Indiana Unsafe Building Law “provides procedural protections” for property owners who are notified that features of their property are in non-compliance (Order pg 6, paragraph 5). Specifically, the UBL gives owners “sufficient time” to repair their property before fines are imposed and limits the amount of fines and the rate at which they accrue (Order pg 7, paragraph 5). These protections prevent municipalities from abusing their authority and bullying property owners with excessive, accumulating fines.

Charlestown’s PMC as revised in 2018 removed these protections and allows the city to issue IMMEDIATE and ACCUMULATING fines, regardless of how quickly an owner brings his or her property into compliance. 

Attorney Michael Gillenwater views the ability to issue immediate, accumulating, and unforgivable fines as a good thing for our citizens because he thinks that a grace period “will only encourage people to allow their properties to become unsafe” (10:08 on meeting audio). Mr. Gillenwater concurs with Mr. Crandley that the council must choose between the UBL and the PMC. He notes that his efforts in March of this year to reconcile the two were not sufficient. Unfortunately, Mr. Gillenwater has left off an important piece of information about that 2018 PMC revision.

When a city adopts an ordinance that addresses fire safety and prevention, they are required to submit the ordinance to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission for approval. This board checks the ordinance to make sure it is in compliance with state law. In June 2018, Mr. Gillenwater notified this commission that the City of Charlestown failed to do so on the 2018-OR-6 ordinance and he, on behalf of the City, requested a variance be given to approve the ordinance (Variance Request City of Charlestown Ordinance No. 2018-OR-6 – Property Maintenance Code.) The commission met on Tuesday, September 4, and DENIED the City’s request to approve the ordinance because, among other things, they found the the code enforces international law, not state law and was inconsistent with the goals of the state. (Additional materials related to this case are provided at the end of the entry.)

Additionally, a request for information about the City’s filing of the original 2008 ordinance produced no results. At this point, the legality of the PMC is questionable and it seems as though the entire code requires re-writing and reconsideration by our Council. 

The council indeed needs to take action on the UBL and PMC. While changes made now will not affect the City’s alleged improper application of the two in the existing court case, they will help ensure that the rest of us remain protected from abuse in the future.

In its review of these codes, however, the council should look carefully at the enforcement provisions. Mayor Hall has been in office since the time the original 2008 PMC was adopted. He was also Mayor when the UBL was adopted in 2001. Problems that he cites in Pleasant Ridge therefore evolved under his leadership, and can often be attributed to his improper application of the process he adopted. In 2014, the Board of Public Works issued fines on a number of property owners (mainly landlords) in Pleasant Ridge. Rather than enforce these fines and require that the owners bring their properties into compliance or pay, the City waived the fines in exchange for the owners’ signatures on letters of intent to participate in the Blight Elimination Project (see here: Council Meeting Minutes 11/03/2014). At this meeting, when called out on this issue, Mayor Hall confirmed that “multiple” fines were “levied throughout eleven years” with only one actual owner being required to pay. We are left wondering what would have happened if the City had, in accordance with the UBL and/or PMC,

  1. properly notified landlords/owners that their properties were in non-compliance,
  2. warned them of impending fines if repairs were not made, and
  3. held those owners accountable and followed up on those fines after the grace period if the repairs were not made.

Now, in 2018, we are still having conversations about this issue because the City’s actions have forced the issue into court as residents who are in compliance fight to protect their property and constitutional rights. Trust in our government is sorely lacking today and much of this distrust can be attributed to the ineffective, inaccurate, and misleading communication provided by our leaders.

In case you think this issue doesn’t affect you, keep in mind that Mr. Crandley reminded us all in the meeting on Wednesday night that, “there is no Property Maintenance Code for one neighborhood, there’s a Property Maintenance code for the City of Charlestown and that every action you lay down applies to all” (17:30 on meeting audio).

If you own property in the City of Charlestown you should be concerned with how the Property Maintenance Code and Unsafe Building Law ordinances are applied.

If you are a council member who has been entrusted with the responsibility of representing us, then you should read the PMC carefully and make sure that YOUR property is in alignment before you advocate a code that unfairly and unethically fines people out of their houses.  

Additional resources:

  • Full audio of the Special meeting of the city council referenced in this article can be found HERE.
  • The Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission has additional documents related to the Charlestown Variance Request HERE

Redevelopment Commission Meeting 09/13/2018

The Charlestown Redevelopment Commission met for a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, 09/13/2018 at 9am. Following is a summary and full audio (7:13):

  1. Call to order/Pledge of Allegiance – led by Nancy Rogers
  2. Determination of a Quorum and Roll Call  – Members present were Mayor Bob Hall, John Spencer, Ted Little, Eric Vaughn, and George Roberts. Also in attendance was Deputy Clerk Treasurer Nancy Rogers.
  3. Approval of previous meeting’s minutes, current claims, and payroll allowance docket from 08/20/2018 to 09/09/2018 combined into one motion:
    • motion to approve made by John Spencer
    • seconded by Eric Vaughn
    • No Discussion
    • Unanimous approval
  4. Items of Business
    • Mortgage releases for properties in Springville Manor
      • Lot 117 – Davis
      • Lot 125 – Akemon
      • Lot 126 – Belcher
      • Lot 132 – Mason
    • Motion to approve releases made by Ted Little
    • Seconded by John Spencer
    • During discussion Ted Little said that he has known Ms. Belcher for years and she’s on oxygen and he’s so happy that the city was able to help her and that she is happy in her new home as well. John Spencer asked how many releases have been done and Bob Hall said around 17 or 18. Geneva Adams confirmed that the approval of the Mason house at lot 132 marks the last of the current sales.
    • Unanimous approval
  5. Mayor’s Update
    • The City is currently awaiting appraisals for properties belonging to the L&M Bag Company, Clark Nickles, and MacDaddy’s restaurant. He hopes to have them back soon to make offers to purchase.
    • ARC presented their plan for the Renaissance Project to the Common Council and Mayor Hall has met them and they are completing final drawings. He has met with them concerning overall design. He has not heard anyone say the project is a bad idea and the only pushback has been on the design of the building. George Roberts noted that he thought the design was supposed to have an older look. Mayor Hall said that ARC is concerned that their targeted demographic of 25-35 year olds will not like the older look. He believes that the project is a good idea since the developers are willing to come spend money in town.
  6. Adjournment
    • Motion to adjourn made by Eric Vaughn
    • Seconded by John Spencer
    • Unanimous approval

Full audio available here: 


Common Council Meeting 09/12/2018 – Special Meeting

The Charlestown Common Council scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 5:30 PM. Following is a summary and full audio (58:15) of this meeting:

  1. Call to Order/Pledge of Allegiance – led by Council Member Mike Vaughn
  2. Mayor Hall announced that the only item on the agenda is a discussion of the Unsafe Building Law and that this matter could have been addressed at the regularly scheduled meeting on Monday but that meeting has been cancelled due to scheduling conflicts.
  3. Determination of a Quorum and Roll Call – Members present were Ted Little, Brian Hester, Mike Vaughn, Tina Barnes, and J.T. Cox. Also in attendance were Clerk Treasurer Donna Coomer, Mayor Bob Hall, and City Attorney Michael Gillenwater
  4. Approval of Agenda – Not done
  5. Public Comment – None allowed
  6. New Business – Unsafe Building Law (UBL)  – A lawyer, Mark Crandley, from Barnes and Thornburg, appeared with City Attorney Michael Gillenwater to explain the Indiana Appeals Court decision regarding the preliminary injunction originally issued by Special Judge Jason Mount regarding the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood.*
    • The attorneys provided a summary of the events that led to the initial preliminary injunction.
    • Michael Gillenwater noted that the city originally adopted the Unsafe Building Law in 2001 during Mayor Hall’s first term and then added the Property Maintenance Code in 2007. He said that the Property Maintenance Code is used more frequently than the Unsafe Building Law to address structures in need of attention. The Property Maintenance Code is more specific than the Unsafe Building Law.
    • Both attorneys said that the Judges in the Appellate decision given on Monday told the City that they cannot have both the Unsafe Building Law and the Property Maintenance Code.
    • City Attorney Michael Gillenwater recommended that the council vote to rescind the ordinance/s that adopted the Unsafe Building Law.
      • Council Member Ted Little made the motion to rescind the Unsafe Building Law ordinance
      • Council Member J.T. Cox seconded the motion
      • During discussion several council members asked questions for clarification. Brian Hester asked if the state encourages cities in a specific direction. Mr. Crandley said that the state allows the city to decide which it will use. Tina Barnes asked if they could have copies of both the Unsafe Building Law and the Property Maintenance Code for comparison. Mr. Gillenwater said that he can get them copies before the next meeting. Tina Barnes asked how many other ordinances are affected by the adoption of the Unsafe Building Law. Mr. Gillenwater said that it will not matter if they rescind the ordinance.*
      • Mayor Hall called for a vote to opt out of the Unsafe Building Law by rescinding the ordinances that adopted it. Motion passed unanimously. It will appear on the October schedule for more consideration.
  7. Following the discussion about the Unsafe Building Law Mayor Hall made a statement offering his opinion about the events involving the redevelopment of Pleasant Ridge that have occurred over the last four years. The entirety of this message comprises the final 22 minutes of the audio recording.* Following the Mayor’s statement Council Member J.T. Cox praised Mayor Hall for his integrity.
  8. Motion to adjourn
    • Motion made by J.T. Cox
    • Seconded by (not noted)
    • Passed unanimously

*Due to the lengthy duration of this meeting, this summary is abbreviated to focus on the main points. Please listen to the audio below for the full content.

Full audio (58:15)  available here: 


A Tale of Two Appeals

gavelYesterday Charlestown buzzed over the Indiana Court of Appeals’ decision regarding the preliminary injunction issued against the City by Judge Jason Mount. When both the defendants and plaintiffs in a case claim victory after a decision, who are we to believe? I prefer to let the order speak for itself.

The three-judge panel was tasked with considering two different appeals.

  1. The City asked the appellate court to review Judge Mount’s findings that
    • they incorrectly enforced their own Property Maintenance Code (PMC),
    • they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and
    • they violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Indiana Constitution.
  2. The Neighborhood asked the appellate court to review Judge Mount’s findings that the city did not violate the Indiana Unsafe Building Law (UBL).

Collectively the two different appeals asked the panel to review all of the rulings made by Judge Mount.

In the end, the panel overturned Judge Mount’s preliminary injunction, but only based on the appeal of the Neighborhood, and only, some would say, temporarily.  

What does this mean? The Neighborhood argued that the wording of Indiana’s Unsafe Building Law “establishes that the City is required to follow the UBL” since they agreed to do so in a council decision in 2001. The three judges agree with the Neighborhood (Appeal Order p 11). Because they agree that the City is bound to the Unsafe Building Law, they have ordered the case back to Judge Mount for him to re-write his original preliminary injunction. This gives Judge Mount the ability to issue the injunction on all four of the claims made against the City by the Neighborhood rather than on just the three he used in the first injunction. (For sports fans, that’s a 4-0 victory instead of a 3-1.)

Is this a win for the Neighborhood? Yes. With the granting of their appeal, the Neighborhood now has an even stronger case than before. The City claims that the Indiana Home Rule Act gives them the right to develop and enforce their own Property Maintenance Code.

Remember that one? It was revised right after Judge Mount ruled against the City early this year. You can refresh your memory HERE

In any other case the City’s invocation of the Home Rule Act might work, but not this time. When the City, during Bob Hall’s first term as Mayor, adopted the Indiana Unsafe Building Law in 2001, they agreed to the parameters that it establishes. The UBL allows cities to establish many of their own standards for safety and health, but it controls the way in which fines and penalties are applied in cases of non-compliance.

Specifically, it

  • tells a City how they have to notify someone that their home is in non-compliance,
  • allows for a timely appeal of the notice,
  • allows a grace period in which the owners can remedy the problems and avoid fines and penalties, and
  • places caps on the amount of penalties and the frequency with which they can accrue if assigned.

These are all rules that are not followed in the City’s Property Maintenance Code and were not followed in the issuing of fines in Pleasant Ridge. The City argued that it is not required to follow the rules of the Unsafe Building Law but has the right to choose between the UBL and their own Property Maintenance Code at their leisure. The judges disagreed. All three of them. (Appeal Order p 16).

So what’s next? The appellate ruling will be certified after 30 days if neither the City or the Neighborhood challenge the decision. Following that, the case goes back into the hands of Special Judge Jason Mount who has been ordered by the higher court to reconsider his injunction based on the fact that the City DID violate the Unsafe Building Law.

In the meantime…the City is spinning. This morning a notice appeared on the window at City Hall announcing a special meeting of the Common Council for tomorrow, Wednesday the 12th. The topic of this meeting is the Unsafe Building Law. Although Citizens have not been adequately informed about the purpose and intent of this meeting, it’s a safe bet that Mayor Hall will likely ask the Council to do away with the law. Just as he re-wrote the Property Maintenance Code earlier this year to cover the mistakes noted by Judge Mount (see the link above), he will probably act in haste to take the City out of the control of the Unsafe Building Law in an effort to continue his attack on homeowners in Pleasant Ridge. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It is one that should be considered carefully, not made in haste in less than 48 hours since a judgement was issued.

We all want our City to have safe houses. But we should also all want our elected officials to act with integrity and compassion in their oversight of our safety.

In less than 24 hours we will know what Mayor Hall’s next move is. Here’s hoping it is one of honor.

You can read the entire order for yourself here: Appeal Order 09/10/2018

City Council Meeting 09/04/2018

The Charlestown Common Council met for a regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, September 4 at 6:30. A summary of this meeting and full audio follow:

  1. Call to Order/Pledge of Allegiance – led by Christopher Early
  2. Invocation – led by Neyland McClellan from the North Charlestown Church of God
  3. Approval of Agenda
    • Motion made by Brian Hester
    • Seconded by J.T. Cox
    • No Discussion
    • Unanimous approval
  4. Determination of a Quorum and Roll Call – Members present were Ted Little, Brian Hester, Tina Barnes, and J.T. Cox. Council member Mike Vaughn was absent.
  5. Previous meeting’s minutes, claims, and payroll allowance docket from 07/30/18 to 09/02/18 combined into one motion
    • Motion to approve made by Ted Little
    • Seconded by Brian Hester
    • No Discussion
    • Unanimous approval
  6. New Business
    • Public Hearing on the 2019 Budget – Hearing was closed after none stepped forward to speak on the budget.
    • Renaissance Project – Alan Muncy and Jason Sams from ARC presented their plan for redevelopment of the lots that the city purchased and demolished on the Market Street between Main and High Streets.
      • Background on the company – Mr. Muncy started the company in 2001 in Jeffersonville. It began as a small company and has worked its way up to a $40-50 million per year real estate development company. They have worked on a variety of projects. ARC’s premise is to have a live/work/play atmosphere within the company. Named one of the top 10 real estate developers in Louisville in 2009-2010. Between 2009-2012 they grew 300%. They’ve developed Dollar Generals, cell phone stores, and apartments, among other things such as behavioral health. They do real estate design, development, and construction in-house, “from concept to completion.” They developed 22 Starbucks locations early on in their career. They developed, designed, constructed, and own the franchise for the new Marriott in downtown Jeffersonville. They are currently working on a public/private partnership with the City of Jeffersonville to build 24 luxury condominiums. ARC also developed apartments on Grant Line Road in New Albany behind McDonalds. The most recent redevelopment project they did was the former K-Mart shopping center in New Albany on Grant Line Road into an in-door storage facility. This development plan created opportunity to place out-lots in the parking lot (Skyline Chili).
      • They are drawn to Charlestown by the growth opportunities. They’ve been working with Mayor Hall and the current administration for several months. Mr. Muncy believes that Charlestown has a “huge opportunity” for growth brought by development at River Ridge. They hope to set a standard for other developers to meet when they come to Charlestown. They want to provide a high quality live/work/play environment.
      • Based on 2016 numbers: Charlestown’s population is just under 8,000, median age is 36 years old, median household income is $42,250, poverty rate 14.6%, working population of 3,446, median property values $100,500 (they’re seeing these property values go up). There has been an increase in labor workforce, population, and home value.
      • Project site – They provided a visual presentation to show how the project will relate to the site (available on the City’s Facebook page). Will have 42 two bedroom/1 or 2 bath apartments and 2-3 retail shops in phase one. Will have an enclosed central courtyard for use by residents only. Primary parking will be in the rear of the building. All resident units will be accessed through the courtyard. Phase two will include two 2,000 sq ft. retail locations with another potential 12-unit building. Hope to keep the central alleyway. The retail locations in this phase will have outdoor seating. Hope to see a small sandwich, coffee shop, boutique type vendors. Phase one will encompass approximately one acre of property. Apartment units will be approximately 1,100 sq. ft. Renderings were displayed in the presentation. Investment is projected to be $4.5-6 million for Phase One, and $2-2.5 million for Phase Two. ARC would maintain and own the development.
      • Opened the floor for questions –
        • Mayor Hall verified that the alleyway would be filled with pavers.
        • Is this a conceptual plan? – yes, the buildings will look like this but the inside and access points/windows might change. The building “in essence” will look like this.
        • What is the time frame? – Can begin early 2019 due to the process involved
        • Ted Little comment – he is excited about the development
        • Mayor Hall thanked ARC for coming to present and for “being loyal” to the master plan. He noted that this is the type of development the city has been seeking. Mr. Muncy thanked Mayor Hall for having a master plan to help define the project. Mayor Hall noted that upon Mr. Muncy’s recommendation he drove to Ohio last year to view a hospital they completed and has viewed other locations and approves of ARC’s work.
  7. Ordinances and Resolutions
    • Ordinance No. 2018-OR-15 – An Ordinance Establishing Regulations for the Operation, Control and Management of Public Parks Within the City of Charlestown presented for a second and final reading after adjustments were made after the first.
      • Motion to approve made by J.T. Cox
      • Seconded by Brian Hester
      • During discussion, Tina Barnes asked about the rule on glass containers. Mayor Hall noted that the rule as written is standard and it would remain as written.
      • Unanimous approval
    • Ordinance No. 2018-OR-17 City Employee Compensation Ordinance
      • Motion to approve made by Ted Little
      • Seconded by Brian Hester
      • During discussion, Tina Barnes asked if the “Evidence Technician” is a new position. Mayor Hall confirmed and noted that Chuck Ledbetter is retiring but will take this civil position with the police department. The department has asked for this position for a couple of years and Mayor Hall noted that the City has been waiting for Chuck Ledbetter’s retirement to fill it. City Attorney Michael Gillenwater noted that the chain of custody for evidence will be managed by this position. Ted Little noted that Chuck Ledbetter has been “invaluable” to the police force over the years.
      • Unanimous approval
    • Ordinance No. 2018-OR-19 Budget Ordinance
      • Motion to approve made by Brian Hester
      • Seconded by J.T. Cox
      • No discussion
      • Unanimous approval – Will require a final reading in October.
    • Ordinance No. 2018-OR-18 Elected Official Salary Ordinance – No change in amounts.
      • Motion to approve made by J.T. Cox
      • Seconded by Ted Little
      • No Discussion
      • Unanimous approval
    • Resolution 2018-R-8 A Resolution Waiving Non-Compliance With Filing of Notice of Compliance for Real Estate Tax Abatement (Cobblestone Motel)
      • Motion to approve made by Ted Little
      • Seconded by Brian Hester
      • No Discussion
      • Unanimous approval
  8. Mayor’s Updates
    • Dog park opening was last Thursday night and it was well attended. Forms for registration are available for download but must be brought in to City Hall in person. A grand opening will take place on September 20. Mayor Hall thanked Eric Vaughn and Rhonda Davidson for their work on the park.
    • The police station is under construction and plumbing is going in. By the end of October they hope to have the building under a roof.
    • The refurbishment of the Parks Building is nearing completion. The stone on the building was given by Coronado Stone and they only charged labor.
    • Glendale Park is scheduled to open September 24.
    • Sidewalk work on Monroe Street continues.
    • Springville Manor is nearing construction completion
    • Tina Barnes asked about buckling in sidewalks on Highway 3. Mayor Hall noted that they’re aware of the issue and it is being addressed.
  9. Adjournment
    • Motion to adjourn made by J.T. Cox
    • Seconded by Ted Little
    • Unanimous approval

Full audio available here:


What’s the (redevelopment) Plan (today)?

Plans for revitalization in Charlestown have been around for a while now. Urban renewal in the 1960s destroyed Charlestown’s “historic” feel that gives many small towns in southern Indiana a unique charm and aesthetic appeal attractive to homebuyers and businesses (Madison, New Albany, Jeffersonville). A drive through our streets shows numerous empty buildings and a hodgepodge of styles.

After his most recent election, Mayor Bob Hall and his current administration developed a comprehensive plan in 2016 intended to bring back our curb appeal, create some cohesion, and give citizens and potential developers insight on what we *might* look like as we face future growth inspired by continued development in River Ridge. Bob’s first big project took off last year with the announcement of the Renaissance coming to the corner of Main and Market streets. Last Tuesday Mayor Bob proudly released the renderings (for which the city payed $6,000) of the first phase of the Renaissance I project. Many people were quick to point out on his Facebook page that the design, although sleek and attractive, fails to meet the standard they remember from the comprehensive plan.

Here’s a short look at the way that the plans for the area have evolved under Bob’s leadership:

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 8.43.42 PM

In 2010 the Beautification Committee sketched some ideas for ways to revive the image of the town. Pictured above is the sketch for one of Charlestown’s few remaining historic buildings. This building was removed in the demolition for the Renaissance project….

…Next we had the 2016 Comprehensive Plan …. This is the image that most people remember; a living/working/pedestrian friendly space:Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 8.39.26 PM






…And finally, the plan approved:

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 8.36.31 PM

I wonder what the next day will bring and how plans will change….