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Punters

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2016-12-16


Nuisance Property Ordinance

Two of the city’s top enforcement officers pleaded with city council recently to pass an ordinance that would give the police chief and the head of neighborhood code enforcement, among others, another tool to pressure owners of drug houses, party houses, after hours joints, and commercial properties where dangerous or stupid people threaten the safety of others, the stability of neighborhoods, or, in the case of a couple properties on Coliseum Boulevard, tie up teams of officers for repeated and very expensive periods of time.

Our manly council strapped on their helmets, laced up their boots, adjusted their shoulder pads, snorted a few times, and the QB called time out.

Three interested parties - the realtors, apartment groups and Metro Human Relations Commission - each had raised questions that gave seven members of council, all Republicans, an opportunity to call for federal referee. Yup, Republicans.

Here’s the problem. There are some houses, apartments, businesses, and motels that are a burr-under-the-saddle for their neighbors and the community. The occasional burst of gunshots, the frequent fights, blaring music, dog fighting rings, dope heads and worse… there are plenty of places in town where the residents or operators cause constant, chronic trouble. So, the Henry Administration proposed an ordinance called the Chronic Problem Properties Regulation, or CPP, to pressure property owners into taking more responsibility for what happens in their buildings and on their grounds.

The police chief noted two motels, as examples, on Coliseum Boulevard that averaged around a call a day over the past three years. The cost to our community is considerable when officer time, dispatcher time, and the other support staff expenses are calculated, not to mention supplies and equipment costs. All told, the taxpayer cost is well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, that doesn’t add in the cost of time away from other matters… And that doesn’t count the damage to surrounding property owners.

The FWPD and code enforcement leaders want the nuisance property owners to take responsibility. Too many landlords, it seems, are only in the business for short-term profits at the expense of the rest of us. You know the kind of places they operate, with the peephole front doors or swaths of littered parking lots, disheveled strip motels, or chopped up old houses sporting six, seven or more dented mailboxes on buildings that once housed a single family with cute kids and a happy collie. Cash is king, few questions are asked, no background checks, no references, move-in-today terms. That’s how nice neighborhoods become slums.

The realtors and apartment groups offered in good time a list of modifications that the City attorney’s office thought appropriate and were subsequently negotiated into the revised bill. But, at the very last minute, just before noon on the day of the council vote, six hours before gavel down, Metro Human Relations sent down a letter to council presenting a cavalcade of meandering hypotheticals and demanded a time out until February so the federal government could weigh in. The Republicans on council, usually the champions of less government, critics of federal intrusion, circled the wagons. The guys who would encourage armed vigilantes into our parks cowered. (Note: The Republicans said they were afraid that a misstep might lead the Feds to yank our Block Grant, a substantial federal tax rebate to communities in general and millions to our community. Usually, Republicans rail against the Feds and their “strings-attached-grants.” Not this time. They asked Washington to tell them what to do. Incidentally, the last and only time Fort Wayne lost its block grant, then $2.3 million, was during the 70s Administration of tall, handsome Republican Bob Armstrong when one of his department heads forgot to send in the paper work on time. Armstrong, a basketball player and high school coach, you may also remember, had narrowly defeated Democrat Ivan Lebamoff, the then incumbent mayor who, incidentally, set up the process that brought us the Legacy fund.)

During council’s hearing on the CPP it seems not to have sunk in that HUD acts based on complaints, as a city attorney repeatedly tried to explain, not as a prior-review service contemplating hypotheticals. Didn’t matter that council expects the federalis to act in just two months, which would have been pushing it in the best of times, but the time frame becomes even more wishful in its thinking given there seem to be other considerations is Washington, at the moment. Council broke huddle, moved to the line of scrimmage, barked signals, and called time out.

The odd thing is the Metro Human Relations, a city department, raised red flags about potential discrimination at the very, very last minute, just six hours before the council was to meet. Metro had plenty of time to work out their objections, but somehow felt compelled to send down their ill-worded, rambling letter of hypothetical objections on the very day of the council hearing. Blind-sided comes to mind. To add a bit of insult, the letter attacking the city-authored ordinance was crafted on city stationary with the mayor’s name on the letterhead. Some on council, naturally enough, were befuddled by dueling departments, as were the neighborhoods. But, what’s a little treachery among co-workers?

One councilman, a Republican, who supports the ordinance yet voted with his fellow Republicans to delay, has related stats from South Bend upon whose ordinance the Fort Wayne version is based. A year back, after South Bend property owners were put on notice and enforcement began, their police observed a 90% drop in nuisance calls. Other cities in Indiana have followed suit.

And about those distractions in Washington, other than Christmas and New Years, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Presidents’ Day, MLK’s Birthday and the Bowl Games, shall we bet whether the new appointees at HUD, with their contrarian agenda, busy with Art of the Deal seminars, shuffling to Bureaucracy 101 orientation sessions, attending book-burnings, sharpening their dirks, redecorating their offices, and hosting a stream of bubbas and contributors from back home, will have time to get that letter out, let alone do the research?

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