CLINTON — The Clinton City Council Regulation and Enforcement Committee met Thursday afternoon to discuss possible changes to nuisance ordinances in an effort to clean up Clinton and provide improved legal backup for city nuisance inspectors.

Clinton City Councilmen Mike Kearney, Rodger Holm and Bob Soesbe met with City Attorney Matt Brisch, City Administrator Jeff Kooistra, Planning Director John Staszewski, Nuisance Inspector Chris Schneider and Clinton Police Capt. Chuck Witt at City Hall to review current procedures to deal with nuisances. Also in attendance were Councilmen Mark Vulich and Ron Mallicoat, former councilwoman Bev Hermann, Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy and Clinton residents Mike Policha and Jim Cavanagh.

Schneider introduced a new part-time nuisance inspector, Dave Mehrer, and provided recent statistics regarding nuisance complaints. According to a summary of complaints taken and investigated in May, Schneider received 136 nuisance reports, 111 grass complaints and performed 126 re-inspections. She issued 230 nuisance notices, 200 issues were abated, two were taken care of by the Public Works Department, 23 grass complaints were mowed by a contractor and five nuisance offenders were cited.

The committee first discussed the use of citations to rectify nuisances. Staszewski said when an offender is cited, the nuisance often is not taken care of, rather the person pays a fine or pleads not guilty and the issue is tied up in the court system for months. Brisch noted that due process is required and city officials must give an offender a reasonable amount of time to remedy the situation.

Kooistra said he wasn’t sure how current ordinances draw the line between what is considered a nuisance and what is not. Kearney said part of the review process was to make the ordinances more specific. Many of those in attendance noted they would not want to live next to many of the properties with reported nuisances, but Brisch said that is not a consideration in determining what is a nuisance.

Brisch cited the nuisance abatement procedure and said a nuisance is defined as “whatever is injurious to health, indecent or unreasonable to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property so as essentially to interfere unreasonably with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.”

Holm said some of the problem lies in the fact that the definition is subject to opinion and noted the issue of enforcement. Kooistra said with the passing of a two strikes ordinance, offenders could be prosecuted on a habitual offender basis. Brisch said utilizing the court system more and securing court orders to comply may help motivate property owners to remedy a nuisance, but noted that one offender in January simply served two days in jail for contempt of a court order to clean up a nuisance.

Kooistra asked Schneider how the decision is made between issuing a citation and cleaning up the nuisance. Schneider said she cleans up nuisances when possible and issues citations for junk vehicle violations. Soesbe asked if a vehicle can be cited regularly and Witt said the standard is different between a vehicle being on a public street and on private property. Witt said if a vehicle is parked on a public street, police officers may cite the offender one day and tow the vehicle the next day.

Staszewski reviewed the definition of a junk vehicle and asked Schneider about the process of dealing with junk cars. Schneider said a vehicle owner is sent a letter with a deadline by which they must remove the vehicle or have it repaired. She said if the vehicle is not moved or repaired, a certified letter is sent giving a final deadline. If the vehicle still is in violation, the owner is cited.

Vulich said even when a vehicle is cited, it may sit in the same location for months and the owner may or may not pay the fine. He asked why a vehicle cannot be towed sooner. Brisch again noted that due process must be followed. Witt said when vehicles are towed to junkyards, sometimes owners do not want the vehicles back and do not come to reclaim the vehicle even after receiving letters that the vehicle is subject to disposal.

Witt noted that many of the junk vehicles have no redeemable value and scrap values do not cover the cost of the citation and storage charges. Guy added that the junk vehicles take up space in car lots that repair services need for other vehicles. Schneider said many junk vehicle owners would be happy if the city saved them money by hauling the car away.

The committee discussed the possibility of opening a city junkyard to house the junk vehicles. Brisch said the city then would have to absorb the cost of towing and storage, be liable for any damage that could occur during storage and not recoup costs due to low scrap values. The committee decided to investigate the issue in greater detail and discuss it further at the next meeting.

Another topic discussed was yard clutter. Staszewski said problems arise depending on whether a property is zoned commercial or residential. Kearney asked if the ordinance could be made more specific, detailing limits on the number of items in a yard.

Schneider said more employees would have to be hired and less nuisance investigations could be completed if workers were made to sit and count items before making a determination.

Holm asked where the line is drawn between yard clutter and a messy yard. Schneider said she cannot cite nuisances based on subjective opinion and needs more specific ordinances to back up legal prosecution.

Cavanagh, a Clinton resident and Realtor, said a neighboring property owner currently has a fifth-wheel trailer parked in their yard and people are living in it.

He said two major complications are that where the trailer is parked, no firefighters could possibly get to the house if a fire broke out, and the owners house a pit bull. Cavanagh said another neighbor plans to erect a fence, and if it is put up, the trailer then would not be able to be moved.

Staszewski said it is illegal for people to live in the camper, but Cavanagh said issues like that are happening all over the city. He said it is not a good first impression to visitors of Clinton and asked the committee to find a solution.

Realtor Dan Jeffries, an Illinois resident, said a lot of Clinton residents are hesitant to make complaints out of fear of retaliation. He said local nuisances sometimes prevent people from purchasing homes in Clinton as opposed to other cities when moving to the area for employment.

He said that it used to be easier to sell Clinton and that area employers “can’t afford to have a shabby town.”

The committee also discussed the possibility of a burn ban due to smoke complaints. Soesbe said an illegal burner can be fined but many residents would like to see the process discontinued altogether. He suggested other cities’ ordinances be consulted for possible direction on changing the nuisance ordinances.

Kearney said nuisances clearly are a multifaceted issue and more discussion is necessary. He said suggestions discussed should be investigated further and another meeting be held in the near future to deal with nuisance issues.

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