Jonesboro finance committee says no to March 1 vote on controversial property code

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 103 views 

A proposal involving the property maintenance code for the city of Jonesboro isn’t likely to be on the March 1 primary ballot, a Jonesboro City Council committee voted Tuesday.

The council’s Finance Committee voted 3-2 against putting the measure on the March 1 ballot. Voting in favor were council members John Street and Todd Burton, while council members Rennell Woods, Ann Williams and Dr. Charles Coleman voted no.

The issue has been controversial for the past year or so, with supporters and opponents making their opinions felt. Supporters have said a maintenance code would help deal with the issue of dilapidated homes, with problems leading declining property values. Supporters also believe a code would give code enforcement more enforcement power and teeth to go after the issue.

However, opponents have said the code would give city code enforcement too much teeth, plus  a key provision possibly violating the U.S. Constitution. The provision, in the original code, would allow for city code enforcement to go into homes without a warrant or court order, opponents have said. A city committee voted 6-3 in October to send the issue to the full council.

Jimmy Shehorn, who heads a local landlord group, said the issue has been vetted by committees and at the council level. Shehorn said while the code helps address problems in the city, there are constitutional protections like the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

At the council’s Nov. 17 meeting, an amendment from council member Chris Moore that would codify the constitutional protections in the code was approved. Council member Darrel Dover said there were three options available to the council at its Dec. 1 meeting – pass it as is on its second reading, vote against it or put it in the hands of voters.

Darrell Cook, who is also a landlord, said the election idea was a good idea.

“To have 12 people decide this would be a bad idea. It would be like 12 people deciding the sales tax,” Cook said of the Nov. 10 vote on roads and economic development that failed by wide margins.

Council member John Street said while the proposal was “excessive overreach,” he was not afraid of a vote of the people. Street said the proposed code was only supported by people in the west side of the people, with no support from the other areas of the city.

“They are trying to nuke something that it may take a Cruise missile to accomplish,” Street said.

Coleman said he objected to the election vote, saying it was better in the hands of the council. Coleman said both sides in the debate have said things that have “scared me,” but noted the inaction may anger voters with “them throwing all of us out and I would not blame them.”

Bill Smith of Jonesboro said he believes the issue was being rushed and that he would feel more comfortable with the vote being done in a general election.

Street said after the vote that he will “walk” the proposal onto the agenda for the council’s Dec. 1 meeting.

“I am going to. The least I can do is try,” Street said.

According to council rules, the proposal will need a two-thirds vote for passage to get the vote on the March 1 ballot. The council will have until Dec. 17 to get the proposal to the Secretary of State’s office to be considered for the March 1ballot, City Attorney Carol Duncan said.