by Kathy Crawford
Public comment took up most of the time at the Dearborn Board of Aldermen meeting Monday night, with residents demanding answers from board members about unkempt property in the city.
But before residents got started, Mayor Frank Downing Jr. read the rules of order for each meeting with respect to public comment.
“It is the duty of the mayor to maintain order during a meeting,” said Downing.
Residents who want to speak will seek recognition from the mayor, stand and state their name. Downing said that he would limit each person to 10 minutes per issue in order to give everyone a chance to speak.
He said that if any verbal altercations occur, he will first ask that it stop. If anyone doesn't comply, he will ask them to leave. Downing put his hand on the gavel at one point during the meeting when many residents were talking at the same time, making it hard to hear everyone's comments. However, he was never forced to use it.
Resident Emma Edwards spoke first and got right to the heart of the matter.
“Do you guys have any plans to get rid of this unkempt property we have in town?” she asked.
Downing responded by saying that he has tried to do some of the mowing himself, but the grass is very tall. Edwards said that it was nice of the mayor to want to do it, but that it was the property owner's responsibility. She said that people want to sell homes in the town and unkempt property is keeping them from doing so.
“How are they going to sell it when they got something sitting next to them that's grown up with weeds or it needs to be condemned and torn down?” asked Edwards.
She said people have houses with broken windows, trash and debris piled so tightly on porches that no one can enter through the front door. Edwards thinks it's time to send out notices to some of the property owners and if they don't clean up their property, the city should ask city attorney Vic Peters about billing them for the city doing it.
“We need to clean our town up,” she said. “We need people to be proud again.”
The mayor asked the board if they wanted to address the problem then or wait until another meeting.
“It won't do us any good to sit here and wait,” said Luke Theis, alderman.
Peters explained the process that residents need to take in order to enforce ordinances, such as for weeds. It begins with filing a complaint with the city. The information needed includes the address and the nature of the problem. From there, Peters can send a letter to the resident. If nothing is done, the next step would be prosecution and for that, Peters said, a witness must be willing to testify.
Theis asked Peters if there is a way to speed up the process, but Peters explained that the only reason it sometimes takes 60 days now is because Dearborn only holds court that often. Another problem is that Dearborn does not have a city officer to serve residents their notice to appear in court, which means the city would have to hire a special server in each case. The county only provides a server in a criminal matter, Peters said.
Resident Jamie Morey brought a five gallon bucket of half-burnt pieces of dimensional lumber at least as long as the bucket was tall to show board members.
“This is one mowing of what's washing down in my yard,” said Morey. He said that burning is illegal in town. “Are you going to do anything about it? I'd kind of like an answer.”
Morey gave Larry Wilmes, alderman, credit for trying to resolve the problem but said the property owner is not complying.
“I did contact a lawyer on this whole ordeal,” Morey said. “You guys will probably be getting a letter. He said you guys knew there was a problem and didn't act on it, so you'll get a letter.”
In other business, Morey, who is on the planning and zoning committee, asked why there have not been any meetings. Theis said that they have not been able to keep enough members on the committee to have a quorum.
The board unanimously passed a motion to hire an engineer for $500 to complete a report for the city about the old café. This is the first step needed to condemn the property if it is found to be dangerous.