BY RYAN SHERIDAN
Daily Press writer
On Nov. 6, residents of Craig will be asked to decide policy questions about how the city can and should enforce nuisance laws.
The question has been posed by a resident of Craig who wrote the initiative and collected more than the 80 signatures needed to get the issue on Tuesday's ballot.
David Manley put the citizen's initiative together because he said Craig has a dictatorial system.
"The way [the city] has it written, it gives one person total control," he said. "They have the right to come on your property and that's a violation of the Constitution."
Manley was cited for nuisance ordinance violations in 1999 because of the condition of a vacant lot he owns on the North side of 12th Street near the intersection of 12th and Legion.
He subsequently fought the citation in court, but ultimately agreed to clean up the lot after he was brought to court by the city.
The ballot initiative allows residents to vote on the nuisance issue instead of having it created for them, Manley said.
"Whether they vote 'yes' or 'no', at least people will have a chance to vote on it," he said. "I don't think any person wants these laws. If you have to enforce something like this, that means people don't want it. If they did want it, there wouldn't need to be enforcement."
City Manager Jim Ferree disagrees with Manley. He said these ordinances were created because of the residents' support.
"The city did a community survey in late 2000, and to the question 'Should the city be more or less proactive in improving the appearance of the community?', 88 percent wanted the city to be proactive," Ferree said.
"We also just finished our economic development plan. A big part of trying to attract new businesses to relocate is the community's appearance."
The Craig Chamber of Commerce (COC) passed a resolution to that effect, urging voters to reject the proposal that would "impose significant restrictions on the City's ability to abate nuisances".
The importance of community appearance to industrial recruitment and economic development and diversification was their concern.
"We look at this as an economic-development issue," Chamber Executive Director Cathy Vanatta said. "A lot of the success of economic development is related to having a community that people and businesses would want to be a part of. Part of the Target Industry Analysis, and other studies, is the importance of community appearance to economic development."
The ballot question is broken into four pieces numbered 200 through 204.
The initiative would eliminate the code enforcement officer position. It would require three neighbors to file a complaint for any action to be taken, create a board of appeals for complaints, and require a warrant to inspect a vacant lot.
These proposals on the ballot will make the code enforcement a more cumbersome process, adding another bureaucratic level to the process that will result in fewer nuisances being abated, Ferree said.
"In most cases we get a phone call about a possible problem, and the code officer goes out to take a look," he said. "If he sees a problem, we write a letter or make a phone call and that's it the problem's taken care of."
By the community using and following the nuisance process, it shows that residents support the efforts of the city, Ferree said.
The way the code is written now covers both aesthetics and public health and safety concerns such as old refrigerators, junk cars or trailer homes used for storage or junk. The nuisance laws do allow the option of fencing in an area the that is labeled a problem, he said.
"Anyone who feels strongly about keeping items on a vacant lot has the option to secure and screen that area," City Attorney Sherman Romney said.
The city processes several hundred nuisance complaints a year, but only approximately three- to four cases actually end up in court each year, Romney said.
Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta supports the laws as they are written now because of the "incredible difference" they have made in Craig's appearance since he first visited the area 20 years ago.
"I believe the city has made great progress as a whole," he said. "Every survey that the city has done for the last 10 years has reflected a desire on the part of the citizens to clean up their community and make the area more attractive."
The initiative on the ballot is counter-productive, and would force neighbors into conflicts over these issues instead of having an officer look at a property and deal with complaints, Vanatta said.
Both Vanatta and Ferree expressed the concern that because this was an off year election, residents could let these initiatives succeed through low voter turnout.
"I encourage people to vote this fall," Vanatta said. "This is not the time for people to let apathy set in and hope the election goes their way. Their votes are important."