Belle alderman seeks official nuisance ordinance process from board, marshal

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 11/18/20

Alderman Sundi Jo Graham on Nov. 10 asked the marshal and fellow elected officials if they had a system in place to take care of nuisance violations, as they are currently violating the separation of …

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Belle alderman seeks official nuisance ordinance process from board, marshal

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Alderman Sundi Jo Graham on Nov. 10 asked the marshal and fellow elected officials if they had a system in place to take care of nuisance violations, as they are currently violating the separation of duties law.

Graham asked how the nuisance violation process begins and who is responsible for those steps. Mayor Steve Vogt explained that someone from the city would have to notice a problem, take pictures for documentation. Sometimes asking the property owner to clean it up was enough.

“If they don’t do that, you give them a nuisance letter, depending on if it is trash or grass, they have 10-15 days,” Vogt said. “After that, it is at the discretion of the marshal if they need more time or have requested more time to finish it up.”

If the property owner hasn’t done anything, they can receive a ticket and a court date. Marshal Joe Turnbough decides if a ticket needs to be written.

“Who all is supposed to be involved in the nuisance process,” Graham asked.

Vogt said he, Turnbough and court clerk Barb Schaller, as well as occasionally City Clerk Frankie Hicks.

“From what I understand, Barb (Schaller) isn’t supposed to be having anything to do with any kind of nuisance work, correct,” Graham asked the other board members.

Vogt agreed.

“We have got to figure out what the streamlined process is and who is involved in that,” Graham said.

Vogt said they have talked about Turnbough getting the forms from Schaller to have on his computer and send out the letters. Graham asked if they could write up a formal process that nuisance violations should look like, to explain what it should look like.

“I feel like right now, we don’t have our bases covered and we are going to get in trouble,” Graham said.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph added that Schaller is retiring at the end of 2020. Hicks said it falls under police duties. Turnbough told aldermen that Schaller had helped them out for years. She would write up the letters and Turnbough and his deputies would attempt to save the city money by hand delivering them and speaking with residents. When that wasn’t possible, they sent the letters via certified mail.

“We would check on them after so many days that went by and see if they were working on it,” Turnbough said. “The other day we helped an elderly lady — and she cleaned up real good, she did try — Steve and I checked in on her. Then she was issued a couple of citations. She went to court for them. The things she couldn’t get there were heavy, we went over and helped her. So any of our elderly that can’t pick up heavy things, we will try our best to help them.”

Graham asked if the court clerk is supposed to have anything to do with that, and new assistant treasurer Theresa ——— intervened.

“Sundi Jo is referencing separation of duties,” Theresa said.

Turnbough said for the seven years he had been marshal, Schaller has taken on the job of sending the nuisance letters. Graham said that her understanding is that as a court clerk, Schaller is not supposed to have anything to do with the violations side of the court process. Graham asked if she was wrong.

“Sundi Jo is correct,” Theresa said. “Recently there have been changes for the clerical duties for the prosecutor as well because those used to be taken off of Barb’s desk. You can’t be the clerk for the judge and the prosecutor both, there has to be a separation. She should not be involved in any citations that involves court.”

Graham said she doesn’t know what the answer is, except that they need a formal process and to be able to protect themselves from accidental wrong-doing.

Alderman Courtney Abel said prior to the law enforcement issue they currently had, the marshal issued the letter and followed up.

“So what is it now?” Graham asked.

Abel said the policies have been changed since then, but it is not in Schaller’s job description. Graham said it is against the law now.

“It strictly should be law enforcement,” Abel said. “Instead of typing up a report on an incident, the letter would be the report.”

Graham asked Turnbough if that was something he does or something Maries County does for the city. Turnbough said either department could do it.

“If I am around I can do it, if they are around they can do it,” Turnbough said.

Vogt said there have been cases where they have been unable to make contact with people during the day because they work, and Turnbough works nights.

Hicks said she thought the contract with Maries County spelled out that the other department didn’t want to deal with dogs or nuisance violations.

“It says that they can help them,” Debbie Turnbough interjected. “I have a copy of the contract.”

Turnbough said distributing the nuisance letters goes better when the mayor is with him because, by himself, people think that he is picking on them.

“That has worked out pretty well for us, there hasn’t been too much complaints,” Turnbough said. “As far as the sheriff’s department, we work pretty well together.”

“Joe, how are you coming on the (nuisance) letters that have been sent out?” Alderman Jeanette Struemph asked.

“As far as I know, we have addressed all the letters that have been sent out,” Turnbough said.

Vogt said there are probably more that needs to be done. Turnbough said they will do more this week.

Graham was passed an ordinance from September’s meeting minutes for an ordinance that was read in August and approved in September.

“This is the ordinance that says the elected marshal shall issue abatement ordinances after proper documentation, and summonses to those who fail,” Graham began. “So is that now the responsibility of the marshal?”

Alderman Tony Gieck said that the nuisance violations part of the ordinance was added on the recommendation of Schaller because there had to be a separation of duties based on new Senate Bill 5.

“That puts the nuisances directly on the police officers,” Gieck told Graham.

“We can work on this,” Graham said.

Under the city’s contract with the Maries County Sheriff’s Department, the marshal’s position is supposed to fill the positions of dog catcher and nuisance officer. Turnbough asked the mayor if they had hired a dog catcher during the October meeting.

“Not yet,” Vogt said. “That is for closed session.”

Turnbough also mentioned that he took his patrol cruiser to the mechanic the day before after months of saying that he has been doing work on it himself. The mechanic said he thinks it needs a new battery.

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