Joplin citizens fear new property maintenance code
June 21, 2005
Sorry, to you hillbillies accustomed to an "unrestricted" lifestyle, but the City of Joplin is cracking down on keeping refrigerators and other abandoned appliances on porches, that 1952 rust bucket abandoned for decades under the tree in your yard, and being responsible for various maintenance infringements that city inspectors would deem hazardous to your safety and health or to others coming in contact with your property.

Council chambers last Monday evening were packed with citizens who wanted answers as to how adoption by the City of Joplin of the International Property Maintenance Code 2000 with amendments was going to affect them. Landlords, tenants and homeowners alike showed concern over the City's proposal of allowing inspectors to make a "windshield" survey of properties as a precursor to issuing notices of violation and the possibility of conducting interior inspections "in the interest of public health, safety and general welfare".

Cleaning up Joplin is one of the projects undertaken by City Manager Mark Rohr in order to raise the City's quality of life and make it more attractive to industry. "We want to improve Joplin house by house, structure by structure," Rohr said. Achieving that goal would require citizens "willing to work within the system."

In answer to Andrea Coleman's fear that people would be "hauled into court" before having an opportunity to explain hardship cases, general council member Bob Harrington stressed the importance of answering the notice of violation promptly. "Our experience is that people ignore the letter," he said.

Kim Lester, operations director for the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, was one of three citizens who spoke in favor of the proposal. How the program is implemented will be its key to success, she admitted. Lester said that the chamber plans to partner with homeowners to make them aware of low interest loans, state grants, and/or federal programs.

While Councilman Jon Tupper (zone IV) said it was the City's intent to nail "out of city rich slum landlords" whose bottom line was to take advantage of people in the city while remaining elusive in maintaining their properties, a number of landlords were present who called attention to problems they faced.

Mike Forkner who owns 13 low rent properties in the city chided Tupper for thinking that landlords were "all capitalists [that] "take money and run."He said that his investments are sucking him dry and that landlords get no assistance from the legal system and the police. After receiving a court order forcing them to move out, renters have 10 days to destroy the house, Forkner pointed out. When he's asked for police intervention, Forkner said he was told it was a "civil matter."

There has to be means of collecting for damage or the perpetrators go to jail, he said. "If I kicked your window out, I'd be in jail real quick."

Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr makes notes during the June 20, 2005 public hearing regarding council bill no. 2005-011, an ordinance amending the Joplin City Code. The former Piqua, Ohio City Manager has been accused of beautifying the town while not improving economic conditions.

Kevin Maynard, who once represented the largest property rental company in the area, agreed that property destruction by tenants should be a criminal act. He also suggested that amending the code would be a deterrent for buying property as an investment.

Calling himself a developer from Atlanta, GA, Jim Baine, a South Florida St. resident, said that it was "erroneous to say that beautification is a redevelopment tool." He believes that people working in local plants will be financially affected. "There's nothing in the legislation that guarantees they get money," he said. Others agreed with him that reliance on the organization Hearts and Hammers to assist in making repairs was unrealistic.

Teresa Parker represented the Southwest Missouri Rental Association. Her having called attention to current unfair enforcement later was confirmed by Keith Yaeger of Park Ave., a builder who said he dealt with good and bad inspectors and that code enforcement should be put on an even scale before they passed more.

After Parker realized that her suggestion that specific assistance to poverty-level homeowners be put in the code was falling on deaf ears, she said, "What are you going to do? Put them in jail." Mayor Phil Stinnett's reply was that he didn't think it a proper comment. (The comment by Earl Jenness of 15th St. that "people live on money you just throw away" didn't endear himself to the council either.)

When Judge George C. Baldridge, a retired Joplin attorney, suggested that the new ordinance might be a violation of civil rights and urged the council to fashion it accordingly, he was told by Mayor Phil Stinnett that the council was relying on City attorney Stephen Head to make sure that the ordinance didn't violate anyone's civil rights.

The biggest round of applause went to Chuck Young of East Third St. when he called attention to the fact that wages in the city were so low--$8-9 an hour--that it would be difficult to live in a house and bring it up to city code. He mentioned that he couldn't get an electrician to come to his home and that without any oversight electricians would be able to charge whatever they choose. He also said that anybody who expects to come into his home to inspect it would be met with a loaded shotgun.

Allyn Burt, a real estate broker from the firm of Charles Burt, took a libertarian stand when he called for less rules and more freedom but he admitted that giving people incentives to improve their properties rather than being forced into it hasn't worked in the past.

Doug Wilkerson, a Central Christian Church pastor and property owner concluded that "every problem is a communication problem." He claimed that even inspectors said the current code was unfair. "We draw from past experiences. That's why we have concern," he said.

After hearing objections to the $20 price tag placed on copies of the proposed code, city officials passed out a number of them for free. The proposed property maintenance checklist that inspectors would use also was given out.

At the conclusion of the public hearing, the motion to table the present council bill until the July 18th meeting was passed 8-1 with Tupper the only dissenter. This will allow a third reading and further discussion by the public.

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