Consultant offers blunt advice on Harrisburg nuisances

Seven months ago, Lori Davis and Butch Palmer first protested absentee landlords and drug activity in their Harrisburg neighborhood. Wednesday, Davis, Palmer and members of the city's Chronic Nuisance Properties Ordinance committee welcomed a noted consultant, who was in Augusta to help the city draft an ordinance and train communities to combat chronic nuisances.

"If you do not believe you have any good neighbors, leave," consultant John H. Campbell said bluntly to Palmer, after Palmer rebuked a suggestion that he install light bulbs on the porches of each of his properties to create a more neighborly atmosphere.

Knowing your neighbors is critical to having the option of criticizing their behavior, while a well-designed nuisance properties ordinance sets the tone for dealing with chronic problem households, Campbell said.

"The ordinance is not the answer to everything, but it's an important tool that emphasizes the tone in those rare situations where somebody isn't willing to help at all.

Davis and Palmer staged a July 4 march in Harrisburg to protest illegal activities by residents who were seemingly tolerated by their landlords, and later picketed the landlords themselves at their residences and places of business, outside Harrisburg.

After weeks of urging by Davis' and Palmer's group, Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, the Augusta Commission agreed in December to establish a Chronic Nuisance Properties Ordinance committee, chaired by Commissioner Joe Bowles, to study adoption of an ordinance.

Campbell met Wednesday with Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Sheriff Ronnie Strength, City Administrator Fred Russell and others, after a tour of nuisance properties around the city.

Bowles said he'd meet with Campbell today.

"We want to make the landowners responsible, but we don't want to infringe on their civil rights," Bowles said. "We think (Campbell) will be able to clarify it for us."

Harvard-educated Campbell counted among his greatest successes his work in his hometown of Portland, Ore., but said more than 550 jurisdictions held a license to adopt the program and ordinance guidelines developed by his firm.

"This is huge," Davis said, rifling through a stack of criminal citations filed against several of her Harrisburg neighbors late Wednesday. "If we'd had a chronic nuisance property ordinance we could have done something about it long ago."

Palmer said he didn't object to the tough talk from Campbell, but that he knew his neighbors too well. "Toward the powers that be adopting a chronic nuisance properties ordinance that will make Richmond County residential-friendly, hopefully this will turn it around," Palmer said. "It takes a penalty (against landlords) to get action."

Meetings between Campbell and the community, city commission and others continue today at the Kroc Center headquarters, 1763 Broad St. With the exception of a 12:30 p.m. lunch, the meetings are open to the public.

More