As the Clinton Police Department continues to crack down on nuisance and unregistered vehicles across the city, one resident has raised concerns that he believes the stepped-up enforcement is infringing on his rights.
Beginning April 1, Clinton Police authorities have patrolled neighborhoods as part of a “nuisance vehicle blitz” in search of those that could be considered a health or safety hazard. The City Council gave its unanimous approval at the beginning of March to amend the City Code, giving extra enforcement authority to police to remove and dispose of those vehicles on private property.
The “blitz” has targeted all areas of the city, enforcing ordinances meant to curb unregistered, inoperable and otherwise unsafe vehicles.
At a recent City Council meeting, resident Howard Harrell, of 509 Nicholson St., called into question the newly-amended ordinance, which he said would be a costly proposition for vehicles never intended to hit the road. While a license is only $29 — “not that bad,” Harrell noted — when you throw in registration fees, a minimum $200 in liability insurance and motor vehicle tax, he said it could be several hundred dollars.
“That means I have to spend $300 or $400 to keep a car because I don’t want to get rid of it,” said Harrell. “We don’t want to put $400 worth of money into it when it’s not even going to go in the street. That seems to be taking some of my personal rights away. I’d be interested in knowing why the town of Clinton is so interested in my backyard.”
Harrell said his yard is fenced in, with the exception of an 8-foot passageway to get in and out. He told city officials he does not live at the Nicholson Street address most of the time and uses the house as a storage location. He said he tinkers with a fair share of lawnmowers and cars in his yard as a hobby.
“It is not the neatest place in the world, I’m not saying it is,” Harrell said. “But it’s my life and it’s what I enjoy. I enjoy working on autmobiles. I love working on lawnmowers. That’s about all I have to do anymore.”
City staff said Harrell has at least two vehicles that do not meet the nuisance vehicle ordinance, which he has been asked to bring into compliance. The city said they received numerous complaints about Harrell’s property through the years. This time around, an administrative search warrant had to be obtained for Harrell to let officers on the property, they said.
At the meeting, Harrell admitted to a “couple year hassle” with the city over the number of lawnmowers he could keep on his property. He said he would close up the space in the fence and “make it 10 feet high” if it would satisfy the city. While the lawnmower issue was resolved, the nuisance vehicle ordinance presents another hassle, he said.
“I just don’t understand this law as it is written, that I cannot own a vehicle unless it’s licensed and tagged so I can get it on the highway if I’m not going to get it on the highway. I don’t mind paying property taxes on it, that’s not a problem,” he said. “But to say I have to register it and get it ready to go on the highway, when I don’t intend to drive it, I think that’s infringing on some of my rights.”
He said police came to his home, inquired about the unregistered vehicles and subsequently tagged five of them.
“I would like some explanation if anybody’s got any as to what can be done or what should be done,” said Harrell of the ordinance.
The Council gave Harrell no response and no modification was made to the ordinance.
The ordinance, amended by Council in March, allows police to assist the code enforcement officer in enforcing the nuisance vehicle ordinance, authorizing police to seek out the vehicles and ask their owners to bring them into compliance with city requirements.
A seven-day period is given for tagged vehicles to be brought into compliance. After that period, if the vehicles in violation are not in compliance or removed from the property, they are towed. Problems have ranged from unregistered vehicles, inoperable and broken down vehicles and other cars used to store trash and other items as grass grew up around them.
Clinton police Chief Jay Tilley has touted the effort with uncovering a number of vehicles in violation, with authorities tagging more than 50 vehicles at 37 homes in the first two weeks alone. He said the goal is to monitor all city properties for vehicles that may not only be an eyesore but present a health and safety hazard — that will continue to be the aim.
“Even though this is an initial blitz,” Tilley said last month, “the plans are for the (Police Department’s) Neighborhood Improvement Team to continue the enforcement so it will be an ongoing thing.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.