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West Point continues to discuss ordinance

During Thursday’s West Point City Council work session, the disorderly house ordinance once again took center stage as the main topic of discussion. Three community members stepped up to the dais to plea with the council to pass an ordinance that would hold both renters and property owners accountable for nuisance homes.

In her plea to the council, West Point resident Trudye Johnson asked, “where are you West Point Council? Stop wasting time and get on with amending section 12-7 of our ordinance.” Johnson spoke about a large gathering in back in May on Old Wells Rd. The residence was rented through Airbnb, and according to Chief Donald Britt, over 600 people were estimated to be in attendance. In the end, two citations written — one for disorderly conduct and the other disorderly house.

Johnson said, “it looked like a war zone out there. Police were all over the place. It was frightening.”

Shannon Maggart also stepped up to voice her concerns.

“We have had several cases where we’ve had to call the police lately because of a nuisance house, actually two nuisance houses close to us,” Maggart said.

Maggart went on to commend the West Point Police Department for their rapid response.

“I’ve had to call the police on numerous occasions, and of course they always respond. They always respond in a timely manner,” Maggart said. “They go over and get on to the people at the home, but because there are no consequences, in three or four weeks we have the same problem over and over again.”

After the council breezed through the first two agenda items with no discussion, Mayor Steve Tramell opened the floor for discussion on the disorderly house ordinance. Councilwoman DeeDee Williams began by thanking those that took time to come speak to the council and said she agreed with everything they had to say.

However, she had some issues with the ordinance.

“I’m fine with a disorderly house ordinance, but I think we’re kind of addressing one problem with a solution to a different problem,” Williams said. “What I am trying to get at is, what is the issue we are trying to address with this ordinance? Because, we’re shifting the emphasis from people who are breaking the law to people who are property owners.”

Williams said she felt the discussion on disorderly house stemmed from an event over the Labor Day weekend.

“Is this about disorderly houses, drug houses, or is this about activity on Ninth Street, or is it about both?” Williams said.

Councilwoman Sandra Thornton said it doesn’t have anything to do with Ninth Street.

“The people that spoke up were from different areas of the community, Thornton said. “It is about all of West Point.”

Councilman Gerald Ledbetter agreed with Thornton’.

“It [Labor Day Event] may have brought this to the floor in all of our minds, the fact of the matter is, some of us have been fielding complaints from citizens regarding party houses and the parties in the streets and spillover into the right of ways for months, Ledbetter said. “It’s nothing new. It’s been going on for a long time.”

Ledbetter also added that being able to cite the property owner gives teeth to the ordinance.

The ordinance West Point is considering is based off a similar ordinance that the city of LaGrange has already adopted.

The ordinance will amend section 35-1-7 of the city’s code. It reads as follows:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to keep a disorderly house, where noisy or riotous persons assemble to the common annoyance and disturbance of citizens in the neighborhood.

It shall also be unlawful for any owner having control over a house to permit the use of same as a disorderly house as described in this section; provided, however, before charging under this subsection written notice shall be provided to the owner, giving fair notice of this subsection and the conduct proscribed thereby.

Each violation of this section shall be considered as a separate and distinct offense.

Any person who violates the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of no less than $500.”

“The way the language was changed from the LaGrange ordinance to the West Point proposed ordinance is shifting the responsibility from the person committing a crime – which police ought to be able to address – to people who are owners of property that have no way of knowing what’s going on in that property or asset location, unless the police inform them and we know that is not part of the process,” Williams said.

West Point Police Chief Donald Britt spoke about the ordinance as well, saying it would help with enforcement. He said after WPPD issues one disorderly house citation to a tenant they could send the property owner a certified letter alerting them to the disorderly house citation. At that point, if officers are called back to the same house, they would be able to issue the landlord a citation.

The council is expected to discuss the ordinance again on Monday, Oct. 12 at 5:30 p.m.