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Policing city ordinances a tough task

Marion County’s police have different strategies for enforcing their city’s rules on junked cars

Staff writer

Every city has rules for keeping the community clean, but those often come with loopholes that can be taken advantage of by opportune residents.

In Marion, inoperable vehicles are to be screened within a property, but even that has room for people to take advantage, police chief Clinton Jeffrey said.

“The ordinance just says ‘screened off,’ so if you strung up a bunch of tarps it would probably look worse,” he said. “Then there are places that have gone to tin or giant concrete blocks to screen it off.”

Police in Marion are designated for specific roles to tackle, Jeffrey said.

“It’s good to have one guy who does drug stuff, where that’s his passion,” he said. “Then you have one guy who does city ordinances.”

Officer Duane McCarty gets the task of policing inoperable vehicle and city ordinances in Marion.

McCarty said the issue is personal after seeing out-of-use vehicles bring down the sale price when his wife sold her house.

“I realize you’re out there working on your vehicle, but it also decreases the value of my home,” he said.

That doesn’t mean police go looking for excuses to issue vehicle citations, Jeffrey said.

“The intent of the ordinance was to get rid of health hazards,” he said. “Someone could fall on a sharp piece of metal and get hurt, or that car is now full of packrats since it’s been there long enough, and rats are going into people’s property,”

“The intent of the ordinance wasn’t to nitpick over the 31 days.”

Through Nov. 7, Marion police had 53 nuisance vehicle citations for the year, which is about average, Jeffrey said.

While having inoperable vehicles isn’t ideal, Peabody police chief Bruce Burke understands it’s a common issue.

“Aesthetically, it’s not good,” he said. “Every small town has this problem. Peabody’s not in a sandbox by itself.”

Peabody began compiling monthly reports in 2001, when there were 158 vehicles in violation around the city, he said.

One of the factors that helped in Hillsboro was having Ben Steketee as the specified code-enforcement officer.

“When I got full-time I was already the fire chief,” he said. “Then I became building inspector and they added code enforcement onto that, too. It’s just one of the many I hats I wear.”

Most of the vehicle problems in Hillsboro are with abandoned vehicles, said Ben Steketee, the city’s code enforcement officer.

“We try not to take stuff that people still want, but if there’s a problem,” he said. “We did have a problem a few years ago with a man who was doing mechanic work at his residence. There were junk cars all over the place.”

Even in that instance, it was more than a year before the man’s vehicles were possessed by the city, Steketee said.

“It’s complaint based,” he said. “I don’t go looking for cars unless I’m instructed to.”

Steketee did have to go looking a couple years ago to reduce the number of junk cars around Hillsboro, but the number remained low since then.

“If someone down the street has a car that looks terrible then I’ll act on it,” he said.

The biggest change in Peabody came over the summer when council members decided to reinsert a vehicle relocation clause into city ordinances.

Peabody’s ordinances did not have a clause preventing residents from simply moving inoperable vehicles around every 30 days to avoid citation after the original clause was dropped from ordinances in 2016.

“When that situation presents itself again it will be fine,” Burke said. “It removes the loophole in the law.”

Last modified Nov. 14, 2019

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