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Proposed Ordinance Deemed Too Vague By Residents

August 6, 2008

By Sharna Johnson, Clovis News Journal, N.M.

Aug. 6–The search for middle ground on a proposed county nuisance ordinance continues.

While most agreed something needs to be done to clean up unsightly properties, the majority of Curry County residents who spoke at Tuesday’s county commission meeting said there are problems with the latest proposed nuisance ordinance.

More than a dozen residents voiced concerns about loosely defined or vague language in the ordinance and high violation fines and penalties.

County Attorney Stephen Doerr recommended at the start of the meeting the proposed nuisance ordinance be withdrawn from being put before the commission for a vote. He said the recommendation was supported by county administrators and commissioners.

No timeline was set at Tuesday’s meeting for action on the ordinance.

Health and safety violations in the proposed ordinance included stagnant pools of water, refuse, structures that could contain vermin and other disease-carrying insects.

Doerr explained to attendees issues with the language of the ordinance are inherent to any nuisance policy.

“Nuisance by its very nature is very hard to define. You can’t say ‘all abandoned buildings’ or ‘the blue flag’ or ‘the straw house,’ we have to define what it is we don’t like about them… We’ve probably killed a couple hundred trees working on this ordinance. It’s a very difficult thing to put in black and white,” he said.

“I just hope you understand the very nature of a nuisance ordinance is not something myself or the commissioners can put in black and white.”

Commissioner Pete Hulder told the crowded room that no ordinance would satisfy everybody.

He said ordinances simply serve as a reminder or guide for people who are already doing the right thing.

“(In) my opinion laws are written to keep honest people honest,” he said.

“We do have to do something, but after seven months of advertising (and work), we have to pass an ordinance and we have to trust that the honest people will abide by the ordinance.”

Doerr also reassured farm and dairy owners they are automatically protected and exempted from county policy infringement through the state’s Right to Farm Act.

In the months it has been in the works, the ordinance has undergone several transformations, Doerr said, and an agriculture and dairy exemption paragraph was removed at some point.

However, Doerr suggested reinserting the exemption clause “because it makes it easier to understand.”

Commissioners and audience members also questioned why the ordinance couldn’t be drafted to cover only the travel corridors into and out of Clovis.

Initial discussion for the ordinance centered around the areas entering Clovis, Doerr said, but the ordinance was expanded to encompass the entire county, he said. Otherwise, it becomes zoning, something county residents have historically rejected.

“Go beyond (health and safety countywide) and it’s a zoning ordinance. The law has to be applied equally to all citizens,” he said.

Some of the department reports given at the meeting:

–County Clerk Mario Trujillo reported the county recently sold its old voting machines for $12,000.

–Curry County Adult Detention Center Leslie Johnson thanked the commission for their support in the last two years, explaining Tuesday would be her last meeting before she retires.

The facility plans to continue the programs she instituted under the premise that, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and the incoming interim warden Audrey Barriga also has innovative ideas for future management, she said.

–Special Events Center project Manager Randy Kamradt said the center is approximately 90 percent complete.

Kamradt said he is waiting on tile and kitchen supplies, which he expects by the end of August. He said he anticipates construction on the center will be completed by the beginning of September.

–Fairgrounds Manager Susan Ferrell reported preparations for next week’s county fair are going smoothly. There is only one vacant booth in the commercial barn, which she said she expects will be filled.

Commissioners approved renewal of eight contracts for fair vendors.

Residents voice their opinions:

“We knew all along that the Right to Farm Act would exempt us (but) in reading this I have to say just a farm exemption is all well and good but there’s a lot of definitions that aren’t defined.

Who’s going to define the ‘comfortable enjoyment of life’ for each and everyone of us?

‘Tires on a road that deposit litter or foreign material of any kind’… (What does that mean?)

‘Property owners allowing trash to go into a bar ditch’?

‘No person shall allow any nuisance?’… I have no clue what that means.

At $500 a day, your fine would bankrupt virtually anybody…

It appears to me that there’s not a person in this county that couldn’t be filed on and accused of causing a nuisance. I ask that you table this. This is awful. It’s not enforceable.”

— Walter Bradley, resident, former lieutenant governor of New Mexico and representative for Dairy Farmers of America.

“We (recently) built a home in the city (because) without an ordinance like this we didn’t have guts enough to take what could happen with the lot next door.

I applaud you for this effort. I sure do think that we need an ordinance of some sort to protect people like me.”

— Lonnie Leslie, Clovis resident and chairman of the Local Growth Management Organization

“Good law is definitive, it is not subjective. Good law does not have force because of somebody’s feelings and this thing is full of this.

Section 2.2, C (addresses) trees and shrubs. Approaching intersections (on county roads) the weeds have grown up and are blocking traffic… You guys (the county) are really liable under this ordinance.”

— Hoyt Pattison, local farmer

“I have marked this thing up considerably. Please don’t impose something that can’t be enforced, it just creates conflict.

If you ask people to do things a lot of action can take place. This is strongly anti-business. The federal government tells me how tall to keep the weeds already. Some federal programs tell me not to cut weeds because there’s a bird that likes it… It’s a conflict.”

— Pat Woods, Broadview

“We strongly feel there needs to be some type of ordinance. (On the way to Cannon) there’s a blue tarp in a tree that’s been there for a while. People call it the blue flag. They say turn at the blue flag and you’ll find Cannon.

Personally to me that’s a little embarrassing.

We’ve come this far and I don’t want us to see it turn back.

There’s a lot of growth coming. I urge that we move forward on this in some way. Maybe tweak it a bit, but we need to do something to correct the problem.”

— Gayla Brumfield, Clovis mayor

“Children learn more from what they see than what they hear. They see abandoned buildings and graffiti… and they say ‘why should I care if they don’t care.’

We already have a well intentioned ordinance… though I do understand it needs to be adjusted or tweaked.”

— Patsy Delk, resident on Pleasant Hill highway

“We’ve got a problem, I’ll agree with that. But at $500 a lick? (What is offensive?) If I married an ugly woman are you going to fine me?

Mr. Doerr, how are you going to please Patsy (Delk) and me too? She lives in a house that’s like a doll house, it’s meticulous. I live on a section of ground that’s not meticulous, I have piles of junk beside my barn that I need.”

— Robert Snell, Curry County resident

“The value of our properties are going to be compromised if we don’t clean up our property.”

— Vinnie Adams, county resident

“I can hear (music from cars when they drive by my house). That’s a nuisance to me but to the kids, it’s where it’s at, and that’s the problem.”

— Rube Render, county resident

“If you’re gonna pass this ordinance, you have to be real careful… I’m a criminal already.”

— Lane Grau, Grady resident

“You have a segment of the community on my side of town (and) they don’t participate in the political process and there’s a reason for that.

Have four town meetings, (one in each area of town). They need to be part of the political process because it’s all tied together.”

— Jose A. Griego, Lydia Street southwest Curry County

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Copyright (c) 2008, Clovis News Journal, N.M.

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