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No-Tolerance Policy: City gets positive feedback

Thursday, January 12, 2006

SIKESTON -- While those who have paid a fine may disagree, the city's no-

tolerance policy for junk and trash, derelict vehicles and tall weeds and grass has had a positive impact.

"The majority of the feedback I've received, directly and indirectly, is overwhelmingly positive," said Trey Hardy, community redevelopment coordinator. "We're helping neighborhoods, we're helping landlords, we're helping tenants."

Since the no-tolerance policy was implemented, 524 people have been found or pled guilty on junk and trash, derelict vehicles and tall weeds and grass violations. Of these, 288 were in 2004 and 236 are from 2005.

With 1,078 total cases filed, that works out to be approximately 49 percent of citations ending up with convictions, Hardy said.

Junk and trash violations are the most numerous. Since May 5, 2004, when the no-tolerance policy was implemented, a total of 541 citations have been written for junk and trash, 244 in 2004 and 297 in 2005.

A total of 195 tall grass and weed violations were cited in 2004. That number fell a bit to 144 in 2005.

The number of derelict vehicle citations dropped significantly in 2005 to only 54 as compared with 144 in 2004.

All the drops can be attributed to several factors.

When the zero-tolerance policy was first adopted, both residents and landowners were cited for property maintenance violations. Some cases were dropped when one party or the other accepted full responsibility for the violation.

"On occasion, the tenant will appear in court and say 'Don't charge my landlord - it's my fault' or a landlord will take responsibility and ask that the tenant be released from any fault," Hardy said.

During the regular City Council meeting in September 2004, council members modified the no-tolerance policy to allow for rental property and vacant lot owners to receive notice and a seven-day grace period for junk and trash violations to bring their property into compliance and have the citation dismissed.

The grace period is limited to three instances, however, and vacant lot owners do not receive notice or a grace period for tall weeds and grass.

Problems arise when someone receives a citation but decides since they are not responsible for the violation they don't need to show up.

"When you get a notice to appear or a warrant in the mail attaching you to a violation on a property, come see me - don't throw it in the trash," Hardy advised.

Hardy said even if an individual is completely innocent of the violations, they still must contact the city or the court so records can be updated and the violation dropped from the system.

The city works with information it gets from rental registrations and tenancy applications. "If these are up-to-date as they should be, chances are good the system will work the way it's supposed to," Hardy said.

Some citizens have even ended up being arrested on a bench warrant for failure to appear "when all they had to do is make a phone call and bring the paperwork in," Hardy said.

The city can drop cases before they get to the court. "I'm the one that has that decision," he said. "I tell the court to drop it."

Hardy said for him to drop a case, he must see documentation proving the person cited was not responsible for the violation. "Then a reasonable decision can be made," he said.

For example, one person was able to bring in bankruptcy papers which showed the individual no longer owned the property when the citation was written.

Another individual was cited because they were listed on a next-door neighbor's registration as the property manager when in fact they were just mowing as a courtesy and to keep the neighborhood looking good.

Another case was dropped because the person cited was able to show they had handed the property, which they knew to be an eyesore, over to the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority and the LCRA had taken steps to take care of that property.

A derelict vehicle case was dropped when the person cited was able to prove they had sold the car but the buyer didn't come to pick it up in a timely manner.

Hardy said all of these cases were dropped because the individuals who received violation citations responded in the appropriate way: "Bringing documentation of facts."

Residents and property owners should "just objectively look at your property - just pay attention to your house," Hardy said.

Another option is to ask neighbors for their opinion on how well they think the property is being maintained.

In any event, residents should not be surprised to hear about the city's no-

tolerance policy after being in effect for over a year. "We have used every available avenue to get the word out," Hardy said.