Arbitrary nuisance ordinance…Monday 5:00 work session

Minnetrista may need to update their nuisance ordinance but they don’t need to add 18 vaguely written new definitions that could make the majority of Minnetrista residents guilty of misdemeanors.

The city attorney even advises the council that the city has no intention of uniformly enforcing the new ordinance. So does that mean it will be arbitrarily enforced? Of course it does.

Thesaurus

We wonder why law enforcement doesn’t get the respect they deserve and then we pass laws we don’t intend to enforce. This is one we should throw out completely and start over.

Vague wording allows selective enforcement and despite claims that it would never happen, it has happened. Creating another vehicle that could be used for targeting specific residents is wrong.

Either have an ordinance that is applied uniformly or don’t have one.

Minnetrista residents interested in attending the work session should arrive at city hall by 5:00pm, Monday, July 19, 2021. Meeting is open to the public. Minnetrista 7/19/21 Work Session packet.

Speak up tonight Minnetrista!

Your property rights are at stake. Tonight. There is an unconstitutional new nuisance ordinance draft being finalized at the city council work session. They’ve added 18 new “public nuisances” using intentionally vague language so as to allow virtually anyone to be a violator and subject to fines. This unnecessary new ordinance turns the Constitution on its head by putting the city council in the role of writing the law, choosing to whom it should apply, and then acting as the judge and jury on each violation.

Anyone that doesn’t see the problem with this never took a civics course. There is such a thing as separation of powers where elected officials make laws, executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch adjudicates them. How on earth does the League of Minnesota Cities (this is based on their model ordinance) think this is acceptable!

Keep in mind the contrived urgency to enact this bad idea is because of one property that happens to be located on the same road a city council member lives on. The city has never filed an order against the property to abate the property’s unsightly condition although it could have easily done so in the past.

If you don’t think it’s okay to arbitrarily choose who to go after with these vague newly defined public nuisances (contagious diseases is one!) I suggest dialing in to the council meeting at 7pm and speaking up. Info below:

To listen live to the Minnetrista City Council meeting, call +1 (312) 757-3121 and enter meeting Access Code 618-238-485 #, or join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone by accessing the following: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/618238485
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Contagious disease defined as public nuisance – Minnetrista draft

Twice during my term on the Minnetrista City Council the matter of adopting a new nuisance ordinance (p.27) came up because of an unsightly property on Deer Creek Road. Both times the council was given the option of modifying the nuisance ordinance and chose not to do so. Why? Because it wasn’t necessary. Instead it was suggested the city write a demand letter to the property owner. It was also suggested the city file an abatement order against the property if the owner refused to cooperate. The city never did the latter.

Now the matter is before the current council once again. The city’s contract attorney from Kennedy & Graven has provided the council with a memorandum recommending all kinds of modifications and additions, justifying why each are needed. They get paid by the hour, by the way. They also state in their memo they “were not able to prepare a redline” showing the proposed changes, ostensibly because the new ordinance replaces the old one. Sorry but that is just plain irresponsible to omit a redlined version and shows a lack of respect for the council and city residents.

The section on “Additional Public Nuisances Defined” includes a total of 18 extra nuisances including:

Subd. 10. The public exposure of persons having a contagious disease or condition which
endangers public health, safety or welfare.

Subd. 12. Accumulations of animal waste, litter or manure which pose a risk of pollution of
ground or surface waters or which endanger public health, safety or welfare.

Many of these additions contain overly vague language (pose a risk?) that could conceivably make any Minnetrista residents with an animal a violator of the code.

Below is a letter I wrote to the Mayor and Council today on the matter. I suggest if you’re concerned about property rights in Minnetrista you may want to do the same or attend the next Work Session where it will be discussed on May 3. Download the Work Session Agenda when it’s posted next week and dial into the meeting. Email addresses for city council: lwhalen@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; pmortenson@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; jtschumperlin@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; amacgregor@ci.minnetrista.mn.us; creffkin@ci.minnetrista.mn.us

Dear Madam Mayor and Council Members,

As you know the previous council discussed the city’s nuisance code on two separate occasions (2018 and 2020) for the same reason it has come before the current council, the property on Deer Creek Road. The previous council did not agree to amend the city’s current nuisance code although it was given that option.

One of the suggestions I made in April 2020 was to take steps to abate the property, which was never done. I don’t know why it was never done. The matter just sort of went away but that question needs to be asked.  Attached is a model order for abatement from the League of Minnesota Cities. I would recommend asking the city why, instead of spending thousands of dollars on attorney’s fees to draft a new ordinance, they don’t just file an abatement order on the problem property.

The previous council did not feel it was responsible to incur the cost of drafting a new ordinance after discussing the matter at length. Chief Falls indicated there were only 2 properties, at the time, he was aware of that were problems.

There is no reason whatsoever to add the plethora of new nuisance definitions to the city code when the city could just file an abatement order. Why hasn’t that been done?

Respectfully,
Shannon Bruce

Where did this nuisance language come from?!

Last week the Minnetrista city council took up the matter of modifying its nuisance ordinance primarily because of a single property on the same road a council member lives on. Several council meetings on this property over the last few years always ended in agreement, by most, that this was an isolated occurrence, not impacting the community-at-large, and with council members not willing to spend money on attorneys to rewrite an ordinance that had served the city well and had provided resolution to virtually all nuisance complaints in the city with the exception of this one. The property is located on a large parcel in rural Minnetrista.

The new nuisance ordinance now being drafted by attorneys from Kennedy & Graven includes a section titled “Additional Public Nuisances Defined.” In a memo from Kennedy & Graven to the council it states this “ordinance tracks closely to the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) model nuisance ordinance” and included the following additional public nuisance definition:

“The public exposure of persons having a contagious disease or condition which
endangers public health, safety or welfare.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The League of Minnesota Cities is quietly slipping in municipal control and enforcement over where Minnesota residents can freely go and giving cities authority to decide what amounts to a contagious disease or condition. A common cold could be construed as a contagious disease or condition and punishable as a violation of the city’s ordinance. The City of Medina, who also employ Kennedy & Graven as their legal counsel, have already adopted these new “nuisances” into their city code.

It appears the Minnetrista council was uncomfortable with some of the language provided by Kennedy & Graven and will likely remove this contagious disease language from the new Minnetrista ordinance. It should, however, give Minnetrista residents pause that the city’s law firm, who should be representing residents, is attempting to include the LMC’s invasive language into ordinances for cities it represents.

Readers can see the draft nuisance ordinance on page 44 of the March 15 work session packet.

Monday’s nuisance property ordinance discussion update

Something to understand is the Minnetrista city council would not be having this discussion but for a single property that has been an annoyance to those that live on Deer Creek Road or drive by it regularly. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem but it should put the problem in perspective.

During our work session April 6 I asked how many properties had been the subject of this kind of complaint and our Director of Public Safety answered

nuisance prop
Example – not subject property

“very few” and that most of the issues with them had been resolved satisfactorily, with the exception of this one. When pressed about the number of properties and complaints I asked if it would be fair to say there have been approximately two properties that have been the subject of complaints in the rural areas, and the answer was affirmative, that it would be fair to say there had been approximately two.

Note that most housing developments are governed by their own homeowners associations’ rules regarding these matters. Rural areas, obviously, don’t have HOAs.

Modifying our current ordinance dealing with nuisance properties requires hiring an attorney (Minnetrista does not have its own staff attorney) and would likely cost Minnetrista taxpayers a tidy sum. My question is: If our current city code has been sufficient to resolve our issues with nuisance properties in the past and this is a relatively isolated instance (i.e., not a community-wide problem) should we be spending taxpayer dollars on it?

There is an abatement clause in our current nuisance ordinance that provides for the city to give notice to a property owner of its intention to abate (remove) the nuisance. My understanding is the city has not done that.

This matter was not resolved at the work session and staff was given direction to come back to the council with their ideas at a future work session.

 

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Minnetrista nuisance ordinance discussion April 6, 5:30pm

The Minnetrista city council will be discussing nuisance properties at it’s work session Monday evening, April 6, 2020 at 5:30pm. Work sessions do not provide for public comment but the public may “attend” the teleconference (council is meeting online during the pandemic) by dialing into the meeting at the number below. Here is the April 6 Work Session meeting packet to see what is being discussed.Work session Nuisance ordinanceND

 

Minnetrista to consider nuisance property ordinance

The Minnetrista city council will be discussing the possibility of adopting a nuisance property ordinance at an upcoming council work session due to a property that has been the subject of complaints over the years. I am not necessarily opposed to one but have some concerns to be addressed:

  • The difficulty of establishing a definition of a “nuisance.” One person’s art is another person’s junk and the subjective nature of prohibiting certain things on private property is inherently problematic.
  • Making a nuisance property ordinance applicable city-wide to all properties requires uniform language. It is literally impossible to take into account the geographic landscape of each property in the largely rural areas where some may have trees/hills obscuring the sight of prohibited things and others without trees or hills are at a disadvantage and would be more scrutinized. HOAs have their own restrictions that may cause confusion.
  • Burdening the city with complaints from neighbors that just don’t get along for a variety of reasons. Far too often people aren’t willing to resolve issues with their neighbors face to face and turn to the city as a first, rather than a last, resort.

junk yard
Example, not subject property

I sympathize with the residents I’ve heard from and have driven by the property in question which is, indeed, unsightly and looks like a junk yard. If I lived next door I wouldn’t be happy either.

However, if the majority of the council wants an ordinance I believe there must be a process to ensure property owners are protected from frivolous complaints. I would suggest the following:

  1. Require the Complainant to obtain at least three signatures of other property owners within a quarter mile of the property detailing precisely what the nuisance items are and what the remedy requested is (remove, store out-of-sight). This step would help ensure it’s a real neighborhood concern, rather than a personal quarrel, and warrants the city’s involvement.
  2. Once signatures are obtained a demand letter from the city could be mailed to, or served on, the respondent giving the property owner notice and timeframe for remedy before being penalized with a fine. Provisions for anonymity should be available for Complainants.

As far as defining what a nuisance is, as long as the above process is in place, a broad definition referencing what a “reasonable person” would consider an unsightly eyesore that impairs their ability to enjoy their property or affects the valuation of their property, would seem reasonable. I’m not a fan of setting limits on types of items or numbers of vehicles, trailers, farm implements, etc.  There are just too many variables to consider.

Any time the city decides to regulate what property owners can or can’t do we must weigh the consequences of any restrictions on the rights of private property owners vs. the benefits to the community at large. Restrictions always have costs to one group and benefits to another so we must take great care in weighing consequences to both.