Resident wants ordinance changes on city ballot

Four petitions to be circulated to make changes to city nuisance ordinance

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Craig resident Dave Manley has set out to prove his belief that the city nuisance ordinance doesn't have wide public support. On Saturday, he will begin circulating four petitions to change portions of the ordinance.

If he gets the necessary signatures, the changes will be placed on a ballot for Craig residents to decide the fate of the changes.

Since being cited for having junk and junk vehicles on his 12th Street property, Manley has been on a crusade to change an ordinance he believes is unfair, unpopular and encourages trespassing. He circulated a petition to have Code Enforcement Specialist Rex Splitt terminated and received 418 signatures, but the petition wasn't official and held no legal ground.

Now he's ready to become official.

His petitions have been approved by City Clerk Shirley Seely and are ready for circulation.

This is probably the first time in history the City of Craig has had a resident petition to place a question on a ballot, City Attorney Sherman Romney said.

"The usual process is to elect officials who make the decision and pass ordinances," he said.

The petitions propose changes to four parts of the city nuisance ordinance.

"What this is doing is getting rid of the position of code enforcement specialist, changing the complaint process and creating an appeals board," Manley said.

The intent of the first petition is to eliminate the position of code enforcement specialist, a position City Council started in May 1999, in response to community requests that the town be cleaned up. The change amends the ordinance to place only the city manager, chief of police or building official on the list of administrative officials authorized to enforce the ordinance.

"This has nothing to do with Rex Splitt as a person; it's his position," Manley said. "It's never been personal. I know he's just doing his job."

The second petition changes the "Notice to Abate" section of the ordinance which would give the power of issuing a notice of abatement to an appeals board, removing that authority from the code enforcement specialist or any other city official.

City Council member Bill Johnston believes having a code enforcement officer is necessary.

"It's a waste of time and effort to pass ordinances and codes in order to effect a goal you're trying to achieve and cleaning up the city is a goal and not have someone enforce it," he said.

One of Manley's most personal battles is to change the way a complaint is made. As the ordinance reads now, no complaint is necessary for the code enforcement specialist to investigate possible ordinance violations. Residents may complain, but an authorized city official can also start the process of cleaning the property after driving by and seeing nuisances.

The petition changes the complaint process so a complaint may only be investigated if three separate property owners within a quarter mile of the property complain.

"Basically, if it's a nuisance ordinance that's the way it should be," Manley said. "If it's a nuisance, people would be complaining about it."

The fourth petition would alleviate what Manley considers an illegal entry process. Manley suggests changing the ordinance to force a city official to get a warrant from the Craig Municipal Court to inspect property if access is denied by the property owner. The existing ordinance requires a warrant only if the property is occupied and allows a designated city official to inspect property at any time if it is public property or if it is vacant private property.

According to City Attorney Sherman Romney, Manley needs at least 327 signatures on each petition to force a public vote. If Manley has 327 signatures, the question will be placed on the ballot of the November election. If Manley gets 409 signatures on any of the petitions, the city will be forced to call a special election. All who sign the petition must be registered voters.

Manley said his goal is to collect enough signatures so a special election is necessary.

"I think I'll get a lot of support," he said. "The petition we circulated for Rex Splitt didn't even mean anything and we got 418 signatures."

Manley said the changes he is proposing follow resident comments he received when he was circulating the earlier petition. Several people who didn't sign the petition said they would have if it changed the ordinance, he said.

If one or more of the petitions gets the required number of signatures, Council has the option of passing the changes to the ordinance before it goes to election, Romney said.

But a Council motion to change the ordinance is not likely. City Council members have told Manley several times they stand behind the ordinance.

"He has the right to try to change the ordinance, but he must be aware that this Council approves and supports the ordinance in place," Johnston said. "I like the ordinance the way it is and I think the majority of citizens support the ordinance."

The city has had a nuisance ordinance in place since 1925. The first weed and brush ordinance was passed in 1955. Unlawful accumulations of junk and trash were added by ordinance in 1980 and an abandoned an vehicle ordinance was passed in 1986. The ordinance in place was adopted in 1999 after a code enforcement position was created in response to a community survey that identified cleaning up the town as a top priority.

"We've been told by developers that the city was not ready for economic development until the town was cleaned up," Mayor Dave DeRose said. "We need to clean up and for that we need a code enforcement specialist."

DeRose said the ordinance is adequate and if anything should be changed it should be tougher.

Manley will be at the Golden Cavvy starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday collecting signatures.

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