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8-29-12

Search warrant idea
yanked from agenda

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

The pace is slowing, at least for now.

The proposed administrative search warrant law has been pulled from the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting of the Platte City Board of Aldermen.

That announcement came from City Hall late in the day on Wednesday. This week’s printed edition of The Landmark had already gone to press.

Instead of the full board of aldermen deciding the fate of the matter on Tuesday, the public safety committee comprised of three aldermen will hear public testimony on the proposal on Monday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

“The proposed ordinance was removed from Tuesday’s agenda due to citizen requests for additional public comment opportunities regarding this issue,” said D.J. Gehrt, city administrator, in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon.

Where will the proposal head after the Sept. 10 meeting? That will depend on a vote of the police committee. Aldermen serving on the committee are Ron Stone, Ron Porter and Tony Paolillo.

“Future board of aldermen consideration of the item will be based on the recommendations of the public safety committee,” Gehrt said.

Earlier this month, the same public safety committee heard the proposal and advanced it to the agenda for the full board of aldermen. It was headed for a vote by the full board on Tuesday until Wednesday’s announcement that it had been yanked from the agenda.

As The Landmark reported last week, Gehrt supports the proposal.

Gehrt has said, “Essentially it's to allow us to do the same kind of enforcement that we used to be able to do.”

Gehrt said the current ordinance allows code enforcement officers to enter private property at any “reasonable time” to carry out an investigation to determine whether the homeowner is in any sort of violation. Gehrt said Missouri courts no longer allow code enforcement officers to gain entry without probable cause.

Therefore, if a home owner or business owner challenges the current law the city potentially would be in violation of Missouri Law.

Gehrt also contends that the current ordinance on the books limits code enforcement officers to enforcing only what is visible from a public road.

With a rising number of foreclosed homes, city officials see future potential problems. For that reason, some city officials now feel it is the appropriate time to enact such an ordinance.

“We have some situations where we would like to do code enforcement,” said Gehrt. “Right now we don't have any mechanism that allows us to walk up to the door if there's nobody there or if it's a foreclosed house or if the person refuses to allow us to inspect it. There is no way to enforce property building codes.”

One procedure that would change under this new ordinance is with “reasonable cause” a municipal judge may issue an “administrative search warrant” imposing the search or inspection of “any property, place, or thing and the seizure, photographing, copying or recording of property or physical conditions found…to prove the existence of violations of any ordinance or code…”

The city attorney, Jennifer Fain with the firm Witt, Hicklin & Snider, has recommended that a police officer accompany the codes inspector into the homes or businesses in instances in which an administrative search warrant has been granted.

Critics are contending that the ordinance is arbitrary and does not provide proper protection of one’s constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Landmark has editorialized against the proposed law each of the last two weeks, and has received numerous calls and emails from Platte City residents who have concerns about the proposal