Tall grass issues create division

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Differences invite discussion to resolve problem

Like most cities, the city of Seligman has ordinances, one of which governs the growth of grass.

Most homeowners take pride in their yards and attempt to keep grass mowed, but, sometimes, grass can get out of hand, such as in the case of excessive rainfall or equipment breakdowns, causing grass and weeds to get out of control.

Concerning that ordinance, the city's police department shows no favoritism to residents by virtue of position -- everyone who is not in compliance with the ordinance, which mandates that grass not surpass 12 inches in length, is issued a warning -- including city council members.

"We have some properties where we have tall grass and weeds around, and had some complaints, so the officers went over and made contact with the owners, and the situations were resolved," said Brian Nichols, Seligman city clerk, who was issued a warning to mow a section of his own property with overgrown grass, along with Alderman Ron Corn, which both promptly addressed.

"I took care of it immediately," Nichols said.

The concern is not just unsightly tall grass and how it affects the appearance of the community, but the problems it invites, including rodent problems, snakes, bugs, and nuisance plants, such as poison oak and ivy, all of which can affect neighbors as well, which the city naturally wants to prevent.

The current ordinance has been in place since the 1950s, Nichols said. But, recently, the number of complaints went up, bringing the issue to a head.

"There were numerous complaints being filed," said Seligman Police Chief Terry Burgess. "As a result of a notice being served, we tried to go out and address it. The majority of it has been taken care of. Every time we served a notice, there's been a snowball effect."

After being issued a warning, residents have 10 days to mow the grass. No one has been issued a summons or ticket at this point, Burgess said, just warnings.

"Writing a ticket doesn't solve the problem," he said. "The grass is the problem. Every law written from state statues to city ordinances are black and white, but not in reality. The law says people must be ticketed for going one mile over the speed limit, but my officers don't write tickets for going one mile over."

Council members had different approaches for addressing the issue, such as allowing an additional grace period beyond 10 days to have the area mowed, or, if residents don't comply within the 10-day period, having the city mow, then charge the resident for the cost to the city.

"We are a small town," Nichols said. "We do have a small staff and they're busy, so that's really not feasible to have us mow it. [How to handle it] is up for discussion, but we're trying to keep it as civil as possible. There's no reason to get everyone upset, we can all handle it in a civil way. In the end, there is an ordinance for it, and we need everyone to be in compliance. It helps to improve the look of the town."

"Everybody in this town is in violation [of the ordinance]," said Alderman Gerald Harling. "You get to the point where you get erosion and kill off the grass. We keep doing this every year. You are distinguishing one person to another and one property to another. The reason this ordinance is in place is so people take care of their yards."

"If we can't say, 'We can't control 100 percent of it [the grass], we're not going to do anything, we can't do that," Corn said. "Short of throwing the code books out, there is no real solution, because you're never going to have 100-percent compliance."

"The way I see it is that the police department is taking a stance where if someone complains about grass and weeds, the officers go over and address the issue, write a warning, and give a time frame to get it taken care of it from there," Nichols said. "Everyone has different feelings [on how to address the issue], and it's just coming to a common ground. Not everyone agrees on everything, but that's the benefit of having a board and getting different views. In my own opinion, it sounds like [Harling] doesn't agree with the way the chief of police has decided to handle the matter."

Nichols reiterated that two city officials received warnings and took prompt action to resolve the issue, and everyone else has come into compliance as far as he is aware.

"We did have a lot of rain that came on all at once, and it's a pain to try and cut," he said. "And I understand if you have a mower that's broken down, but it's a community, we all decided to live here, and the ordinance has been here since the 1950s and we all need to respect that and the city's ordinances."

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