John Francis

Councilman John Francis says the police often get a black eye for not doing anything to address criminal and drug-related issues, but there is evidence that they do respond. He feels passing a chronic nuisance abatement ordinance will give the police a tool to enforce stricter penalties when such activities occur.

MOUNT VERNON — A chronic nuisance abatement ordinance slated for a second reading was up for discussion during Monday night's meeting of the city's Planning and Zoning Committee.

Councilwoman Nancy Vail, chairwoman of the committee, said she thought council was on the right track with the ordinance but now is not so sure based on a recent article in the Mount Vernon News. She asked Law Director Rob Broeren to explain the ordinance.

“The chronic nuisance ordinance before council is to give the police department another tool when a property has multiple felony violations, whether they be drugs or other sorts of things that tend to lead to crime and bring down property values,” said Broeren. “The sanctions in the legislation only will be potentially enforced after multiple violations.”

Referring to the article, which focused on tenant evictions, Broeren said eviction is only one option a landlord might choose.

“It is not required. The ordinance merely seeks to have landlords pay attention to their properties and the things that are going on there,” he said. “There is no requirement that anyone be evicted. We just want the people who are living on these properties to be good neighbors. And that's what this legislation is attempting to do.”

Councilman John Francis, the catalyst behind the proposed ordinance, said the city has been following a specific property for months.

“In an eight-month period, police responded — in some cases for arrests and other criminal activity — 58 times,” he said. “The fire department responded during that eight-month period eight times. … Property maintenance responded there six times.”

The ordinance is based on legislation from Middletown, which Francis said is “ground zero for the opiod epidemic.”

“This is similar, but not exact, to what Middletown adopted so that they can eradicate as best as possible the ongoing drug and criminal activity,” he said.

Francis said the police often get a black eye for not doing anything to address such issues, but there is evidence that they do respond.

“This is a tool for our police department to enforce stricter penalties, not only to the landlord, but more so to the person who's renting the property and bringing these folks into their house,” he said. “It holds the renter and the property owner responsible for what's going on in their property. We're paying our safety-service people to respond to this stuff, and nothing's happening.

“Two years ago I told the drug addicts and the pushers from this bench that I was going to make their life miserable. Well, this is Round 2. So we're going to see things happen. If people don't like it, that's probably because they're involved in stuff that's going on in this city. We will eradicate it. I promise you that because we've just given more authority to our police department.”

Vail noted that council and city officials encourage people to say something if they see something.

“We've all participated in being told 'we're watching it.' Well, it's because law enforcement people don't have the tools they need. Hopefully this [ordinance] will subsidize that need that they have,” she said.

Councilman Mike Hillier said that due to issues such as with the property referenced by Francis, people are moving away.

“I think it's a very good piece of legislation,” he said. “I think with some of the other things we're trying to do, maybe we can get some people to move back into the neighborhoods who will say something. But when they start doing stuff like this that takes an ordinance to take care of it, people are moving away from it, and the neighborhoods are running down because of it.”

“It seems on its face to be a good thing,” said Councilman Sam Barone. “Obviously we're going to agree on that because we deal with the negative aspect of this problem in our community and the complaints and the economic damage and the safety hazard, but I'm sure there are people who will look at this differently than we are. I'm just curious to hear from those people.”

Council gave the ordinance a second reading in its legislative session. A 30-minute committee meeting is scheduled for June 24 to allow for public input.