Harrisburg residents picket at landlord's house

It was their quietest, shortest protest yet.

 

Fifteen “concerned citizens of Harrisburg” managed to picket outside landlord John B. Weigle Jr.’s home in upscale Forest Hills for half an hour Wednesday before being told to move by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

The activists included two Augusta Commission District 1 candidates, James “Butch” Palmer and Anthony Jones, who is a tenant in a house Mr. Palmer owns. They parked their cars and marched about a third of a mile to Mr. Weigle’s home on Lake Forest Drive, where they stood in a line on the curb across the street, holding up professionally-printed signs that said, “Taking back Harrisburg one land lord at a time,” and “John Weigle Jr., Nuisance Property Owner, 223 Eve St., Harrisburg.”

Some moved to the curb on Mr. Weigle’s side of the street. Protestors Runetta Rigdon and Cathy Cooper stood in front of a parked Ford Expedition, holding up signs and pointing at the house when cars passed. There was movement inside, and at one point a couple pulled up in a Mercedes and walked in, ignoring the group.

It was the group’s third landlord protest since July 4, and this time there were no bullhorns or shouted slogans. On instructions from organizer Lori Davis, the only noise coming from the group was conversation amongst themselves. Mrs. Davis said she didn’t want to give anyone a reason to claim they were causing a disturbance.

“Because we knew we were probably going to run into people who think they know better than we do,” she said. “We’re well within our rights as American citizens to do this.”

The sheriff’s office saw it differently.

Deputy Jesse Jackson arrived and asked Mrs. Davis to show their permit. She said it was her understanding they didn’t need one. Sheriff’s Col. Gary Powell has said permits aren’t required, since the city’s protest ordinance was ruled unconstitutional in 2004 after the Martha Burk-Augusta National Golf Club affair.

After conferring with his superiors, Deputy Jackson told Mrs. Davis that he deemed them a traffic hazard, and they would have to move. He told The Chronicle they were blocking the flow of traffic because, with three cars parked in front of the Weigle home, two cars couldn’t pass on the narrow street at the same time.

Deputy Jackson said he wasn’t summoned, but rather came out to monitor the situation. At one point he went inside the house and spoke to Mr. Weigle, letting him know police were there, he said.

The deputy told The Chronicle that the group had agreed with the sheriff’s office to stage their demonstration in one of two grassy traffic triangles on both ends of the street, and they didn’t do that. But both Mrs. Davis and Mr. Palmer said they hadn’t conferred with the department beforehand.

The group obeyed the order to move, but wasn’t happy about it.

“We deal with a neighborhood where we have no peace,” Mrs. Davis said. “We can’t even get police to come out there in a timely manner.”

Mr. Weigle, who hasn’t returned repeated phone calls from The Chronicle, is one of three rental property owners the activist group has been targeting since its Fourth of July march through Harrisburg protesting absentee landlords and drug activity. A second demonstration was held Aug. 8 outside the Wheeler Road workplace of landlord Rachel Rabitsch.

As Ms. Cooper walked from the Weigle home to a grassy traffic triangle, where the group resumed their protest until being rained out, the 12-year Harrisburg resident said they accomplished their goal Wednesday despite the setback.

“The more people know that we’re not going to tolerate what’s going on in Harrisburg, the better off we’re going to be,” she said. “The way they stamped into our neighborhood, we’re going to stamp them out.”

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