By William R. Toler
[Note: the following was written as an article for the Richmond County Daily Journal.]
Davie Dawkins said contractors took three rolls of wire fencing that he said was valued around $1,500 when they came to clean up his property in April, as ordered by the city of Rockingham.
Records show R&W Lawn & Maintenance billed the city $250 to “remove trash” from Dawkins’ property. The city, in turn, billed Dawkins $256.59, adding the cost of postage and certified mail. Officials removed the fencing under Rockingham’s nuisance abatement rules.
“I don’t see where I’m a nuisance,” Dawkins said.
But city officials disagree.
In a letter dated March 10, Inspection Superintendent Timothy Combs gave Dawkins notice of being in violation of six sections of the city code.
The code violations of which Dawkins is accused include conditions that could constitute breeding grounds for pests, a concentration of combustible materials, dilapidated furniture, building materials or metal products with jagged edges.
Pictures taken by inspectors on three separate trips in April show bricks stacked up near a fence in the side yard, the rolls of fencing that were taken and small rolls of fencing leaning against the back of the house.
John Massey, city planning director, said the fencing fell under the ordinance regarding jagged edges.
“Any conditions that he had on his property that were in violation of any of these (ordinances), he would have been required to abate,” Massey said. “And he chose to ignore us.”
Massey said the city then hired a contractor who went out to clean up the property.
“We had multiple conversations with him and gave him much longer than 15 days before we ever did this,” he said.
“He told us that we didn’t have any authority to do it, but we do,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for 30-plus years.”
Massey pointed to a state law that gives cities the authority to “remove, abate or remedy everything in the city limits…that is dangerous or prejudicial to the public health or public safety.”
“It’s not stealing if it’s something that constitutes public health and safety,” he said.
Massey said that judgment call would be left up to the code enforcement officer.
“We got multiple complaints from the neighbors about…the conditions in his yard,” said Massey.
“He had furniture, toilets, all that in his front yard,” Massey added. “Once we go out there, we’re gonna cite him for all the conditions that constitute a public nuisance, we’re not gonna pick and choose.”
Dawkins disagrees and said he doesn’t think his next-door neighbors complained. He said he is on good terms with both of them.
“It’s not right for them to take something of value,” he said. “Wasn’t anything hurtin’ anybody.”
“They took stuff that I wanted,” he said. “Stuff of value.”
When asked if he thought it was moral to take personal property, Massey said, “I don’t have any problem with it.”
“If I had a neighbor that had conditions that constituted a public nuisance, had overgrown grass, had appliances that could be a potential hazard to children playing in the area, had conditions that were breeding mosquitos or rats, I would certainly want my city staff to do something about it,” he said.
Massey said Dawkins’ would most likely not get his fencing back.
“I assume that the contractor sold it for scrap,” he said. “That’s typically what is done with scrap metal that we pick up.”
Dawkins said he was told to remove a stack of bricks because they had been piled up for a number of years.
“I said, ‘So what?” he recalled. “They’re my bricks.”
He said he doesn’t think anything in his yard is dangerous or causing a hazard.
“What the fence gon’ do?” he asked, “What the bricks gon’ do?”
Dawkins was also served a notice, dated March 21, regarding a Ford pickup truck in his backyard.
The notice states the truck was “declared a nuisance vehicle and constitutes a public health and safety hazard and creates a public nuisance.”
Dawkins said he had bought it to use as a work truck and that he had it jacked up because he was working on it, replacing a fuel pump. He said it was in the backyard and couldn’t be seen from the road.
Combs said he didn’t have any pictures of the truck, but said the back was filled with stuff and there were items lying around it on the ground.
A city ordinance partially defines nuisance vehicles as “junked motor vehicles” that do not display a current license plate and “cannot be self-propelled.”
Massey said that’s why Dawkins was cited for the truck.
“It was inoperable and unlicensed and what state law has says in a different section is that conditions such as that have been shown to devalue property,” Massey said.
“I tell people all the time ‘ugly is not illegal,’” he said. “But when it rises to the occasion of meeting one of those criteria in the nuisance abatement ordinance when we can document that and we take photographs of the conditions, then it’s a public nuisance. And we will abate it.”
“That’s what we’re obligated to do,” he said. “We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t do that.”
Dawkins has since removed the truck and cleaned up around it.
During the Rockingham City Council’s June meeting, Dawkins, who thinks he is being unfairly targeted, brought pictures showing other vehicles that did not have current plates, but city leaders quickly shut him down and two police officers escorted him out of the chamber.
Dawkins also has pictures of overgrown and “unsightly” yards. One photo showed knee-high grass of the median in front of his house.
He also pointed to a house that has a shelter with a caved-in roof.
“I don’t care about them enforcing,” he said. “But why are you pickin’ on me?”
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