City cleanup to be a top priority

Published 5:48 pm Monday, April 12, 2004

By By Chuck Bodiford Publisher
Last Wednesday, a meeting was held in the council chambers of City Hall to discuss ways to improve the city through cleanup efforts. The focus of the meeting was to address the excess of abandoned houses and abandoned vehicles throughout the city. Mayor Howard Shell led the group in the discussion of possible strategies to streamline efforts that will help clean our city.
Attending the meeting were City Council members Louie Turner III, John Garrard, John Watkins and Webb Nall; Jim Staff was out of town. Also attending were both city building inspectors, Milford Lassitter and Allen Nix. The area of law enforcement was represented by Chief of Police Jason Dean, Chris Pruitt court clerk, Judge Bert Rice and David Anderson, prosecutor for the city municipal court. Shepherd Marsh of First National Bank and Tom Latino, members of Atmore's Strategic Planning Committee were also in attendance.
Mayor Shell elaborated on why the meeting was called and why it was important for these particular representatives to attend by saying, "We are getting a lot of complaints and have over the last several years about the buildup of not only automobiles, but other things like abandoned houses. Louie and John (Watkins) have talked about this in their areas, and we've been trying to clean it up. It is a little awkward if I talk to the building inspectors and they say we have to go through our process and get it to the court system and then the court system has to get it to the police department and then back here at the council we're left out, wondering what happened to this house or that car." We have as a part of our strategic plan that was organized back almost a year ago now, calling for a concerted effort in cleaning our town up."
The first item to be addressed was the city ordinance.
Nix briefed the audience on the steps taken once someone is found to be out of compliance with city ordinance, whether that compliance involves houses, vehicles, or as Nix said," the whole nine yards." Steps included a personal contact with the individual to make the person aware of the problem. "A lot of time that is all it takes," Nix said. If the problem isn't solved after the first step, then other steps are followed, which include a letter being sent to the individual by certified mail, next a summons is issued which is turned over to the Police Department for delivery, with the offence becoming a misdemeanor. Finally the person in non-compliance is to appear in court.
A report on abandoned houses and cars was distributed. On one of these reports 47 cases are listed, with almost 50% completed or corrected and only 19% not having any action taken. The majority of the 19% not contacted show that the contact person has moved. The other report shows a higher number of cases, almost doubled, but only a third having no action taking. After addressing the specific actions taken by the building inspectors, Nix stated that the compliance with the ordinance is everyone's responsibility, from the Mayor and Council right down to the Police Department.
A couple of things helped to get this meeting started.
One reason was a visit to David's Paint and Body that Mayor Shell made when looking at a wrecked vehicle a friend of his once owned. While there the subject of automobiles accumulating in people's yards and them not having a way to get rid of them came up as Shell spoke to David Gibbs, owner of the shop. Shell asked Gibbs about portable crushers and if there would be a possibility of working something out in getting these things pulled out of people's yards. According to Shell, Gibbs said, "That if you all will identify them and get me permission I'll go get them, get the crusher in here and get them out." Another thing that sparked this meeting was the strategic plan and according to Shell, this is just one part of it.
Details were discussed about the portable crusher and that cars will need to be stored until the quantity was reached needed to justify the crusher making the trip. Legal issues surrounding a portable crusher were discussed. One example was documentation, possibly a hold-harmless agreement that would help keep all parties listed safe from legal action. Things such as possible lean holders and registered owners of the vehicles should be taken into consideration.
Mayor Shell summed up the meeting by saying, "It's not like the system isn't working, but I think there are a lot of things to make the system work a little smoother rather than just piling up."
Look in future editions of the Atmore Advance as these meetings continue and for further information about gaining assistance free of charge for removing abandoned vehicles from your property.

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