By Bryce Abshier
As it would turn out, possible jail time may have been too harsh of a penalty for Belleview code violations, no matter the extremity or circumstance. City Attorney Fred Landt was back at the drawing board at a recent Belleview City Commission meeting, again discussing alternative methods to enforce Belleview code regulations.
All of this ruckus began because of a long, drawn out RV saga on SE 55th Court in Belleview, where neighbors have complained for two years about an unsightly RV and its troublesome tenant. At an April Code Board hearing, it was decided that Brenda Turner, who owns the property where the RV sits, had 14 days to correct the situation. Turner did not, and daily fines began to accrue. The fines reached their allotted maximum and finally a $5,350.00 lien was filed on the property. Now however, things are at an impasse due to state law. Belleview cannot foreclose the lien because the property has homestead exemption.
This prompted Landt to suggest an alternate method of enforcement to commissioners at the June 6th commission meeting. “I’m going to suggest that you approve amending our code to allow that alternative method of enforcement. Not as a substitute but as an alternative method, so that when cases arise that it would be better for someone to perhaps face a misdemeanor charge, that not only could carry a fine but incarceration for up to 60 days for continuing violations where they don’t address it,” proposed Landt.
The idea was not resoundingly popular with all commissioners, so Landt presented another approach at the most recent commission meeting.
“We discussed at the last meeting my suggestion regarding having an alternative method of enforcement for code violations… there was concern with the commission about that process subjecting people to possible jail time,” explained Landt.
He then showed commissioners the body of a potential ordinance. “This will only provide for fines, except for two circumstances. If a person refuses to sign the citation, then that becomes a misdemeanor of the second degree and that’s common even with speeding tickets that you get from the police. If they refuse to sign the citation, it could be considered an offense. And the second thing is, that if they fail to show for their hearing, then that would be a misdemeanor of the second degree.”
“For second violations within 90 days or for a third or subsequent violation within a year, the way this is presented to you, requires a mandatory court appearance,” said Landt. “As you know with your Code Magistrate hearings now, people don’t have to come and some of them just ignore. Well, this will force them to respond and to go to court.” Landt acknowledged the hesitancy of the State Attorney to pursue these things. “This would not be a misdemeanor offense that involves the State Attorney’s Office, it would be a civil infraction that would go to the court house to go to the county court.”
“I think it has addressed your concern about being too harsh on a code violation and the fact that you can compel them to go to court may be enough of an imposition to get people to pay more attention and those who just want to completely ignore things will then find themselves facing a misdemeanor. And I have no apology for that, because maybe that’s what they need.”