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City Council, October 12,

The “Nuisance” ordinance stalls again
Bridgeview Village residents angry. We can’t see why

Marc Knapp

Will the amended “nuisance” ordinance ever be put to bed? It has been before three Council meetings so far and now is scheduled for the next. Council members did have a copy of a proposed amendment last night. But it seemed that the amendment still was not satisfactory to Council member Seekings who led in shaping the original amendment. Another amendment was proposed and circulated by the Council member and this was followed by yet another that was circulated during the meeting.

This was too much for Council member Lewis who was clearly exasperated by the confusion. He called for a deferral and there was no doubt that he had the immediate support of most if not all Council members. He pointed out that it was not right for Council to vote on something it had not been able to fully consider. Likewise, the public had no opportunity to review the final amendment.

By way of background, the first reading of the “nuisance” ordinance occurred three meetings ago. In the public hearing, there were only a few speakers addressing the issue and all were in support. In its original form, the amended ordinance made property managers and owners liable for the transgression of tenants when it related to trash and noise. However, both property managers and owners only became liable after they became aware of the problems and failed to do something about them. (See City Council, September 28)

At the first hearing, Council approved the amendment with little discussion and no dissention. The ordinance was aimed at cleaning up the area around the College of Charleston where there was a high level of student renters. According to folk from Radcliffborough and Harleston Village, many students were disregarding City regulations in relation to trash and garbage disposal, and affecting the quality of life of the other residents.

It was a harsh judgment of the residents of Harleston Village and Radcliffborough. But nobody questioned their judgment – either Council members or the many folk that ultimately came to subsequent Council meetings to speak against the proposed amendment. Some of the latter sympathized with the City’s intent but thought that the net that the City proposed would catch more than disinterested property managers and owners. Some thought it was unfair for the latter to be responsible for the sins of others, that the penalties were out of proportion for the infringement, and that managers and owners did not always have the power to take effective action against tenants.

Here is the last printed amendment circulated to Council
It shall be unlawful; for a Non-Resident Owner, after receiving actual notice of the existence of a public nuisance on the Non –Resident Owner’s property, to contribute to, maintain, or permit the public nuisance or its continuation thereof on the Non –Resident Owner’s property. A Non–Resident Owner shall mean an owner of property who does not reside on the property where the public nuisance exists.

Council member Seekings also proposed that the final sentence should conclude with and not employ a professional manager.

Will we see the end of this proposed amendment at the next meeting? We think that most Council members would like to see the end of it and will vote for the amendments. But Council member Gregorie was making a fuss about definitions at last night‘s meeting. So who knows?

Bridgeview Village residents angry. We can’t see why
So much time was spent last night over an issue at Bridgeview Village. Firstly, it was the residents speaking in Citizen Participation and later, at the conclusion of the Council meeting, a series of speeches by Council member Gallant. Many of the speeches and comments were wrapped up in righteous indignation, and for the life of me, I can’t see why,

The residents complained that the City effectively had closed one of the gates to the complex. This had given the residents a feeling of being fenced in and also created problems for school buses. There was little room for the buses to maneuver and turn around. Children's lives were threatened in their attempt. Yes, there had been a homicide but a police presence would be enough in future to secure the building. Council member Gallant reminded members (at what most of us thought was to be the close of the Council meeting) that the residents had grouped and formed an association. They should be heard, he said. And he kept on saying it.

The most sense came from Police Chief Mullen who said the police had acted to protect the residents. There had been a murder, (still unsolved) and that North Romney Street entrance had been closed in an effort to give security. This action had been taken after consultation with and approval of the residents. In the 30 days after the entrance had been closed, there had been no reports of robberies or other crimes. Prior to the closing there had been many including the homicide. The Chief said he was reluctant to make any changes right now. He would meet with the newly formed residents' association to discuss any proposed changes. But he clearly indicated that he was unwilling to give up ground in the battle against crime that had afflicted the building. He noted also that some of the residents had been assisting and participating in criminal activities. The City was moving to evict these people, a process that was not simple.

As for the school bus problem, the Chief said he acted immediately when he learned of it. The entrance is now open from 6 to 10 am and from 2 to 6 pm. So presumably, the bus issue has been dealt with.

We thought we heard some audible cheers when Council member Alexander called for an end to the discussion started by Council member Gallant. He said that this was not a public meeting and the Bridgeview issue was not on the agenda. This was not the appropriate time to have such a discussion. It should be on the agenda for another meeting.

Council member Gallant called the Council member insensitive and continued to speak on the issue. We lost count of the number of times the discussion went round in circles even with only a few Council members participating. If there were insensitivity last night it rested on Council member Gallant – he tested the intelligence and patience of other Council members and the public in attendance.

In our view, the City acted properly and continues to do so. Let the police meet with the newly formed residents' association. The continued closure of one of the gates to Bridgeview may indeed be in the best interest of residents. And it may be in the best interest of the City as a whole. As the police point out, the building location is ideal for criminals. They have easy access to many ways of escape – King Street, Meeting Street, I-26 and the side streets.

If we have an issue, it is this. If the building was the scene of much criminal activity, why wasn’t it dealt with earlier?

We also were amused by a comment by a Council member we over heard. “If the issue of televising Council meeting comes again, I’m going to vote against it.” We presume he thinks there is too much public posturing. We think he is right!

And please Mayor Riley, exercise your authority as Mayor when you preside over a Council meeting. You limit public comments in Citizen Participation to 3 minutes, or less if many citizens plan to speak. But last night you let some speakers go well beyond the limit and made no attempt to restrain them. And some speakers kept on repeating themselves. Please be consistent and apply the same rules to everybody. Also, Council member Alexander had a point. You should have supported it.

City working to close $6 million revenue shortfall in 2011 budget
The Mayor noted that deliberations will begin shortly for the 2011 budget. Presently there is a projected gap of $6 million between revenue and costs. There will not be a tax increase to balance the budget and the City is working on finding $6 million in cost savings, he said. He also opined that the economic environment would improve by 2012. I don't believe we will see any improvement until 2013 but I hope the Mayor is right. Mind, it is hard to see how the economic environment could get worse!
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