Mayor works on veto message

Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said Monday he still intends to veto legislation passed by city council Thursday that sets penalties for violation of the city’s property maintenance code, even though he didn’t do so yet.

“I’m going to do that and have 10 days after passage of the ordinance to get my reasoning for the veto put into a letter that will be sent to the council president,” he said. “I will be doing that this week, then the president can bring it back for a vote at the March 6 council meeting.”

Council can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The measure was approved during Thursday’s council meeting with a 4-3 vote with Councilmen Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, and Michael Mullen, I-at large, opposing the legislation.

Council members Harley Noland, D-at large, Kathy Downer, D-at large, Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward, and Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, supported the measure.

The ordinance was originally introduced during council’s Jan. 2 meeting, but had been tabled to give city law director Paul Bertram III time to work on some details involving penalties for abandoned and junk vehicles.

On Thursday Kalter, chairman of the planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee, brought the measure off the table for a final vote.

“But there were some amendments that showed up in the ordinance that were not discussed in committee,” Vukovic said, noting one amendment gave the authority for budget items to the code enforcement officer instead of the city safety-service director.

“I couldn’t agree with it, and wanted to leave the legislation on the table because I believe the community is just not ready for this,” he said. “I do believe we need code enforcement, but you have to make the legislation fit the community, not make the community fit the legislation.”

Vukovic also said many people who live in his ward would have difficulty meeting some of the criteria set by the city property maintenance code. That measure was adopted by council last September and included the 2012 version of the International Property Maintenance Code, as well as provided for development of a city property maintenance code enforcement department.

The legislation passed Thursday was needed to provide penalties to enforce the updated code.

“We want to be sure everyone is treated equally as far as enforcement, too,” Vukovic said. “I think this ordinance can wait a couple more weeks or months before it’s enacted. We want to get this as close to right as possible before it passes.”

McCauley also had concerns about the legislation, noting a portion had been amended, using the Oberlin property maintenance code as a template, to track property complaints.

“That was about how records should be kept and tracking nuisance violations,” he said. “But I don’t think we need to tie the hands of the code enforcement officer. He would work for the safety-service director who would develop a way to track complaints and keep those records.”

McCauley added that a lengthy discussion was held during Thursday’s council session about how high grass should grow on a property before the owner would be considered in violation of the maintenance code.

“After that debate I decided if a small issue like grass cutting was not addressed this legislation was not ready and should remain tabled,” he said. “I don’t want to pass incomplete legislation, and we want to see a workable ordinance.”

Both McCauley and Vukovic said they would back the mayor’s veto unless changes addressing their concerns are made to the legislation before the next city council meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 6 in the community building at Lookout Park.

Mullen, who also voted against the ordinance Thursday, was not available for comment Monday. If he votes with McCauley and Vukovic on the veto issue March 6, the mayor’s veto would stand.

Bertram said a 5-2 vote would be required for council to override the veto, according to Ohio Revised Code.

“If they do not override the veto, we’ll be back to square one in developing the penalty code,” he said.

Beth Tullius, deputy registrar for the Marietta City Health Department which currently handles property maintenance complaints, said the vast majority are nuisance complaints.

“Most are about unmowed grass or garbage,” she said. “The number of complaints may vary from month to month. Some months we’ll receive only two or three, but we can also get 10 or 20 at other times.”

Tullius said there are very few complaints during the winter months, from November through February.

“But once the snow melts the complaints start to pick up,” she said. “We go out and investigate every complaint. Most are resolved quickly, and they all eventually get resolved. But a few may take longer.”

Property maintenance complaints can be filed by citizens or on a citizens’ behalf by his or her council representative, Tullius said.

“A signed nuisance complaint has to be filed with our office or with the mayor’s office,” she said. “Once it’s filed we investigate to find out if there is a problem and to take photos. If there’s a problem we notify the property owner who has five days to correct a grass complaint and 15 days to address trash and other problems.”

Tullius said abandoned and junk vehicle complaints are turned over to the city police, while the law director’s office handles issues with houses and other buildings.

Notices of property violations are sent by both regular and certified mail to ensure property owners receive them.

“It’s expensive, but it keeps them from saying they didn’t receive a notice,” Tullius said.