During its regular meeting Thursday the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee spent much of the time discussing the group’s frustration with the slow wheels of justice.
Since its formation two years ago the committee has tackled grass, trash and weeds, as well as spearheaded efforts to get a downtown building inspect ordinance passed. The group is now looking at private property issues and during Thursday’s meeting had many questions for Municipal Court Judge Deborah Mitchell, most of which dealt with time lines.
“I get frustrated too with how slow things go sometimes,” Mitchell said. “But I have to deal with due process. Everyone has the right to own property and generally (owners) can do with it what they want. The problem is one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. I have to balance the rights of an individual with the rights of the city.”
Mitchell emphasized that she has two options for those who come to court on property violations — jail or fines — and often neither of those are good options.
“I can fine them up to $500 and or 90 days in jail,” she said. “But neither of those is going to put a new roof on a house. If a person is sitting in jail, they’re not fixing their gutters. We’re limited in what we can do, short of having new ordinances enacted.”
Committee member Shirely Neff asked Mitchell if she could impose a daily $500 fine, or similar, until a homeowner or landlord began work on a problem property.
“I’m not going to get (the fine paid back,)” Mitchell said. “And I can’t put someone in jail just because they haven’t paid the fine; we don’t have debtor’s prisons.”
Many of the committee members expressed doubt that the issues couldn’t be resolved faster.
“At the rate this is going, it’s going to take 400 years for us to get through all the homes (with violations,)” said committee member Jim Fischer. “I’m not saying the court can do more and it isn’t, I’m just thinking this process is going to take forever.”
“Basically you’re saying there’s not much we can do,” Merritt added.
Mitchell said that wasn’t necessarily true and again told the committee she was limited by the law.
“I can’t judge from a personal basis,” she said. “There are a lot of homes in this town that I’d like to get in a bulldozer and drive over but I can’t do that.”
The committee also spent time discussing rental property issues and landlords who are absent or reluctant to spend money to fix problems. Member Pete Sublett noted there are rental homes in Sedalia without electricity or running water and asked how the court or city could make sure those homes were brought up to code. Mitchell suggested looking into an ordinance that requires rental properties to undergo inspections every time a new tenant takes residence.
“I know they have (the ordinance) in Columbia and many other towns,” she added. “I don’t think it would solve all the problems, but it would be a start in making sure people aren’t living in rental properties that are more like slums.”
City Administrator Gary Edwards told the committee he would look into bringing back information on implementing a similar ordinance for Sedalia but noted without the support and approval of the Sedalia City Council, it wouldn’t be enacted.
“I understand your frustration, I really do,” Mitchell said. “But unless there are new ordinances passed or changes, I’m limited in what I can do.”