Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lori Davis: Harrisburg Sees Lack of Action From Neighborhood Task Force

By Lori Davis, Chief Harrisburg correspondent for CityStink.net

As we begin the new year of 2012, I have begun to reflect upon the mismanagement of our city and how this is affecting our citizens…things that were supposed to get done but never did, promises made that have not been kept. The one that comes to mind is the Neighborhood Task Force that was supposed to exist to help Richmond County neighborhoods with ongoing problems of crime, prostitution, drug dealing and bad tenant behavior.  

This was offered as a last resort in the last meeting of the Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance research committee in the spring of 2010. It was clear that a CNPO was not going to happen. The last words I remember hearing on that fateful day was, “We really need to do something to help Mrs. Davis with her issues in Harrisburg.”  I believe these words were spoken by Wayne Brown, the city attorney who drew up an ordinance for the committee and then deemed his own ordinance unconstitutional.  In my opinion one of the single best things that this city and this state could have embraced was finding a legal means for cities in the state of Georgia to institute Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinances

These ordinances hold landlords accountable for the bad behavior of their tenants after a certain threshold of documented police calls has been reached. These ordinances work beautifully in cities all over the United States. The ordinance does not criminalize the landlord in any way but simply asks him to become part of the problem solving process. CNPO’s in reality are created for the 2% of landlords who cannot be convinced that problems exist and therefore are not willing to help in any way with their solutions. 

The problem is that Georgia State Code stands in the way. Rather than pursue the changing of State Code, the easiest thing for our city leaders to do was to figure  something else out. You know, “We need to help Mrs. Davis with Harrisburg.” This something else was called, “The Neighborhood Task Force.”  Well, let’s see where this task force is today and what has been accomplished since it was  supposedly established.

In September of 2010, Commissioner Mason asked for an update on the progress of the Task Force from Rob Sherman, Department Head of License and Inspection. Sammy Sias brought the agenda item forth at the Augusta Commission meeting. Rob Sherman obviously got word that this was going to happen because he presented a beautiful brochure on the Task Force and how it was supposed to operate.  It seems that the task force would be made up of someone from the Marshall’s Department, someone from the Sherriff’s Office, and someone from Code Enforcement. These individuals would work as volunteers in this capacity as their workday allowed for it. Citizens would be able to file their complaints and the task force would assist.  

The brochures were even supposed to go out in the water bills so that the citizenry would know that it existed.  To this day this has never occurred. It was Fred Russell who said there would be no problem in putting them in the water bills. He’s good at that sort of problem solving you know…next agenda item please. All of this was news to me since I had heard nothing of it after Commissioner Bowles proposed, back in May of 2010, finding $150,000 for operating a task force. To my knowledge, this was never seriously considered. The only reason anything was put together to present to the Commissioners on this day is because Commissioner Mason decided to follow up on this task force idea or lack thereof. At least he had Sherman sweating bullets. That made my day because I knew all of this was bogus as was the CNPO committee on which I served. This city does not want change and they’ll be damned if any ordinary citizen is going to make them change from their familiarity of just going along with the status-quo

After all has been said and done, Harrisburg has put together our own task force which includes our Board of Directors and three wonderful employees of the city.  We have been able to weed out the bad apples and are now working with some of the best people who truly take their jobs seriously. These individuals are Sergeant Scott Reese of the Marshall’s Department and Keith Petty and Donna Tyra both of Code Enforcement.  We have yet to find a representative from the Richmond County Sherriff’s Office who spends enough time in Harrisburg to be of help.  It seems every time we get a progressive deputy who feels our pain, he is moved elsewhere. 

We have taken it upon ourselves without the help of the Augusta leadership to try and solve our own problems one house at the time. We applaud the efforts of our own task force which has made progress in our neighborhood, though at a slow pace. There has never been a time that these three individuals have not jumped right on a problem when it has been presented to them. 

The shame of all of this resides in the Augusta bureaucracy. The urban core of this city has fallen apart in the past 30 years due to the inattention of the physical needs of the neighborhoods which should have been controlled by city code enforcement. This inattention has bred the problems that now exist on monumental levels. A Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance would be an effective tool to help with the restoration of our neighborhoods. It could be done if we had leaders willing to see the process through. Until this becomes a reality, our own citizen created task force will do just fine. Thank you Scott, Keith and Donna for all you do for Harrisburg.  You three are what it is all about!!***

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