Council denies filing fee
People wishing to appeal a nuisance citation will be able to do so without paying a fee after the Washington City Council removed a $50 filing charge from a draft of changes to the city’s nuisance ordinance.
During a work session Wednesday evening, the council went through proposed changes to the city’s nuisance laws, many of which were recommended by the Housing Improvement Task Force. Council member Bob Shepherd objected to the change that would require a $50 fee for appealing.
“I think this is a right that people deserve,” he said. “If we are serious about doing this, we shouldn’t charge people.”
He said that the fee seemed as if it were an incentive to keep people from filing an appeal.
Mayor Sandra Johnson asked Shepherd how charging a fee to file for an appeal on a nuisance violation differed from charges filed for such things as fees from the Board of Adjustments or the Planning and Zoning Commission. Shepherd said that he didn’t agree with those entities charging, as well, but said at that time the council was discussing an administrative process.
Both Johnson and council member Bob Shellmyer said they felt $50 was too high a price for arranging a hearing. City administrator Brent Hinson asked if the council wanted the fee lowered to $25. Hinson said that during an appeal, the city attorney has to do extra work.
Johnson said that the city incurs costs when an appeal is filed. Shepherd said that a hearing is a right and the costs are “the costs of doing business.” He compared the extra cost to charging people for voting during an election.
Council member Mark Kendall said when “the power of the state” is brought down on a citizen, requiring that citizen to defend themselves and the citizen is already incurring costs from that, the city should not charge additional fees.
Johnson argued that if the citizen had obeyed the city code, the citizen wouldn’t need to file the appeal.
“The argument I have for that is that you automatically assume that person is not conforming to code,” Kendall said. “They are saying, ‘Hey, I think I am conforming with the code and my position is reasonable, and here is why.’”
During discussion with other council members, the majority felt the fee could be removed. Council member Merle Hagie said that the fee can be removed and if the city incurs costs, it could be added again later. Council member Russ Zieglowsky said he was against the fee. Council member Fred Stark was not at the meeting.
Hinson said the fee would be removed before a draft is given to council members during the Sept. 4 meeting for review before beginning the process of having public hearings and voting on the changes to the code.
The changes to the nuisance code are the result of a report the Housing Improvement Task Force delivered to the council on July 17. The 14-member group provided a multi-media presentation showing many problem areas in Washington. During the discussion problems enforcing the existing nuisance codes were discussed.
Shepherd had also asked why a completed draft had been presented to the council. He had thought that the council would go through the existing ordinance and determine what changes needed to be made. Hinson said that he and building and zoning administrator Steve Donnolly had determined the problems in the code. He said that he believed that the council wanted him to work with Donnolly to create the draft. Many of the changes in the code are more specific language.
During the meeting, many council members said they believed the task force needed to be reformed as a standing committee. The task force had only been formed to create the report and was dissolved after the report was presented. The issue was not on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting
During the public comment session, Susan See said that she appreciated the council working on the problem as quickly as they were. She said that something needed to be done soon.
“I see this as one of the most important things before city council,” she said. “I appreciate everything that has been done so far. I hope you will move forward with confidence and urgency.”
In other business:
• Shellmyer addressed comments he said Hagie and Donnolly had been making regarding his attending a meeting in which the city attorney selection task force was interviewing candidates. He said that he felt the closed meeting was held illegally. Johnson said one candidate whom the task force asked about this, had indicated the meeting was not illegal. Shellmyer said as a citizen he is entitled to know what is happening in city government and that he feels the city should be transparent on all such subjects. Hagie said of Shellmyer’s remarks, “It didn’t pass the smell test and it still doesn’t.” The final interviews of candidates will be Sept. 6; and
• discussed a straw poll taken of the council members on how to proceed with the Housing Improvement Task Force’s recommendations.