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Activists file claims against 2 Harrisburg landlords

Activists contend properties are harmful to Harrisburg

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Saying it's their only legal recourse against neighborhood nuisances until the city adopts a new ordinance, activists Butch Palmer and Lori Davis filed Magistrate Court claims Monday against two Harrisburg landlords, alleging that one property is a magnet for vagrants and another is a "known neighborhood drug house."

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Butch Palmer made a claim for $15,000 against the owner of the building where Mercy MInistries is housed.   File/Staff
File/Staff
Butch Palmer made a claim for $15,000 against the owner of the building where Mercy MInistries is housed.


The suits seek to recoup their contributions to the cost -- about $8,000 -- of bringing a consultant to town last month to talk to an Augusta Commission committee that is drafting an ordinance to hold property owners accountable for tenants' criminal behavior. Davis is an appointed member of the panel.

Palmer said he also wants compensation for his rental property losses caused by the perception of crime in the neighborhood, something he intends to prove in court. Another reason for filing, he said, is to show the public how difficult it is to combat undesirable elements in a neighborhood under the existing city code.

"I'm not litigious," Palmer said. "I want them out of there. I'm going to put just as much pressure on them as possible, and this is the only legal mechanism we have."

Palmer's claim, for $15,000, is against Joe Smith, the owner of the red commercial building at 1739 Fenwick St. where Mercy Ministries runs a day shelter for the homeless and other outreach programs for the poor.

With the new Kroc Center expected to spur a renaissance in the former mill village, some business interests would like to see Mercy Ministries move out of Harrisburg.

Windsor Jewelers Chief Executive Donnie Thompson and the Rev. Kelly McKnight, of Bible Deliverance Temple, are behind a push to open a new day shelter downtown centralizing citywide homeless services under one roof, but Mercy Ministries Executive Director Fran Oliver said she's not interested in being part of it.

Davis' claim, for $5,000, is against John B. Weigle Jr., the owner of a rental house at 223 Eve St. that has been the subject of protests by the Concerned Citizens of Harrisburg group.

The group picketed outside the house in a Fourth of July march against drug dealers and absentee landlords. In September, it protested outside Weigle's Forest Hills home and outside his workplace at Dawson Taylor & Co. on Wheeler Road.

"Based on county nuisance and abatement laws, he should have taken care of these issues, which he has been unwilling to do," says the complaint by Davis, who wouldn't comment further Monday. "The (Richmond County Sheriff's Office) has had excessive calls to this property. The property is also a known neighborhood drug house."

According to sheriff's office records, deputies have been called to 223 Eve St. 41 times since Jan. 1, 2008, over such issues as domestic violence, fights, arguments and suspicious situations. No calls have been logged since Dec. 22.

There were 160 calls for police to Mercy Ministries and the adjacent boardinghouse between Jan. 1, 2008, and mid-February. Analysis of phone logs, however, found that at least 135 could be traced back to the ministry or staff and volunteers' cell phones, and only three led to arrests -- two for assault and one for cocaine possession, which involved a woman parked outside the ministry.

Once the complaints are served on Smith and Weigle by the marshal's office, they will have 45 days to file a response.

Neither returned messages left by phone and e-mail Monday. Other than one missed call, Weigle has not responded to numerous requests for comment since July.

In an interview last week, Smith, who owns six other properties in Harrisburg, said he could see both sides in the dispute over Mercy Ministries. The neighborhood is full of drugs and derelicts, he said, and that wouldn't change if the ministry were shut down.

However, he said, if the city passes a Chronic Nuisance Properties Ordinance and his building is deemed in violation, he would "abide by the law."

"But let's be fair here," Smith said last week. "The reason that Fran is still here is that she is not breaking the rules."

Comments (20) Add comment
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AWyld1
3
Points
AWyld1 03/16/10 - 01:27 am
0
0
While I agree with having a

While I agree with having a safe neighborhood, I don't see where there is a lawsuit for you hiring someone to consult you. I wish you all well in cleaning your neighborhood. My wife's parents both grew up in harrisburg. Terrible to see how bad it has gotten.

corgimom
34004
Points
corgimom 03/16/10 - 07:05 am
0
0
Joe Smith-Why would you think

Joe Smith-Why would you think that a homeless day shelter is appropriate in a residential neighborhood?

isaidit
0
Points
isaidit 03/16/10 - 08:03 am
0
0
It's very difficult for me to

It's very difficult for me to understand how anyone cannot see the reasons behind Mr Palmer's efforts. We all want to live in a clean safe neighborhood. This man has been relentless in achieving this goal. He's drawn his line in the sand and is unwavering in his commitment to clean up (or out) the negative elements that have plagued his community for far too long. It's time for home owners to stand their ground and stop packing up and moving.....make them move instead. The "Land Lords" that rent to unsavories have no regard for the decent home owners who choose to stay (as is their right, and maybe in their best interest) in this neighborhood and live productive lives. These land lords SHOULD be held accountable for the financial damage they're indirectly (but knowingly) causing to the lives of all the the families of Harrisburg. Would'nt it also be advantagious to the land lords to rent to folk of good character, who would keep their property up?! Before we get into accusations of discrimination on my part let me clairify. Put a clause in the rental agreement stating inspections by the land lord and the neighborhood association rep will be performed when there's 2 or more complaints from neighbors or law enforcement. Race, profession (or lack there of) nor economic standing should be a determining factor in a decision to terminate a lease agreement ....abiding by the law, cleanliness and proper maintenence of the rental property should be the criteria for eviction. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and conviction to do what Butch is trying to do, and alot of other community leaders, neighborhood asscociations and block clubs are following his results with great interest. He's an urban hero and I applaude him.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 03/16/10 - 08:22 am
0
0
I APPLAUDE THEM FOR TRYING TO

I APPLAUDE THEM FOR TRYING TO CLEAN UP THEIR COMMUNITY. I work in Harrisburg and we keep our office doors locked. We have had no problems but the potential is there with all the Section 8 and others moving in. As in any neighborhood, the better the financial situation the more people move out and up and the less affluent take their place. That has happened in Harrisburg as well as many other places and that will be hard to change. Mrs. Smith and Mr. Palmer have no suit against Mr. Weigle and Mr. Smith in my opinion. They took it upon themselves to spend their money.

WW1949
19
Points
WW1949 03/16/10 - 08:27 am
0
0
Corgimom, why would you think

Corgimom, why would you think a home and day center for the mentaly ill and disabled is appropriate for a neighborhood? There is one in Country Club Hills and one at Central Ave and Baker. They are everywhere. Mercy Ministries just happens to cater to the down and out and not the affluent.

memo
0
Points
memo 03/16/10 - 08:41 am
0
0
Now ww1949 - I guess you have

Now ww1949 - I guess you have not been by MM at all hours of the night and day. IT's bad. You talk about the one in Country Club Hills and the one on Central Ave and Baker? Do you see men with brown bags, men urinating aganist the buildings. Do you have prositutes hanging around the building waiting on a john. Well, that is what we have at Mercy Ministries...Thank you Lori and Butch again for trying to clean up our neighborhood....You say you work in Harrisburg and keep your doors lock...then that should tell you something....work with Lori and Butch, not aganist them...

memo
0
Points
memo 03/16/10 - 08:48 am
0
0
I guess Butch and Lori are

I guess Butch and Lori are doing something right. Went by MM again this morning. Guess what!, I saw only 2 people hanging around, but I did see about 9 single mattress's stack up aganist the curb. Yep, everytime something comes out in the paper, Fran does a clean up...get rid of some of the people and clean out the back room with the overnighters. It will look good for maybe a week, after everything is calmed down, but then it will start up again. Thanks Butch and Lori for at least a week of calm....

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 03/16/10 - 09:36 am
0
0
AWyld1, In Magistrate's

AWyld1,

In Magistrate's Court, you have to put a price tag on your suit. It's my understanding that there was no simple box that this lawsuit fit into. It couldn't even be filed as a neighborhood. Many Harrisburg residents wanted to join the suit and had signed a petition to do so. The suit had to be filed by a person, a partnership, or a corporation. $15,000 is the limit in the suit. Sounds reasonable that they would want to recoup their money if at all possible.

grinder48
2013
Points
grinder48 03/16/10 - 09:41 am
0
0
The landlords are not
Unpublished

The landlords are not responsible. The city must enforce ordinances and building codes and the police must enforce the law. While it may be "nice" in a touchy-feely world for the landlords to lend a hand by doing "whatever", the fact is that they have no responsibility to do so. So sue the city and the RC Sheriff Dept. There is no legal basis for suing the LLs so it's a waste to do so.

Bond..James..Bond
0
Points
Bond..James..Bond 03/16/10 - 10:08 am
0
0
Grinder48. They have a

Grinder48. They have a responsibility to the community and to be ethical. Turning a blind eye just for the sake of making money is not good. Allowing illegal and immoral acts to go on is not okay..

memo
0
Points
memo 03/16/10 - 10:13 am
0
0
grinder48, what box do you

grinder48, what box do you live in...It is the landlords that you go after. They are the ones who own the houses. They should keep up with what is going on. When neighbors call a landlord about there homes having problems, then yes, it is the landlords responsibility to set everything in order so as not to bog down a neighborhood with trash and riff raff.

Harrisburg Homeowner
0
Points
Harrisburg Homeowner 03/16/10 - 10:50 am
0
0
Grinder, where in the world

Grinder, where in the world do you get this idea that landlords are not responsible? They own the house, don't they? Homeowners are responsible for their homes and what goes on in their homes. It does not matter whether they have leased the home to someone else or not. The responsibility ultimately is the home OWNER, not a tenant. We are sick and tired of a few landlords allowing our neighborhood to go to the dogs while they rake in the cash. I've lived here for over 20 years now and I've seen the neighborhood go from a nice quiet safe one to one that isn't. When I moved on my block, most of the homes were owner occupied. Then someone in the stock market decided that the way to make quick money was to buy up houses and rent them out. I've watched my own block go that route. Now most of them are leased. Unfortunately, unless made to do so, many tenants do not give a hoot about whether they keep their rental homes up or not. This vicious trend of buying up homes for income has got to stop. It is ruining our neighborhood AND other neighborhoods in the CSRA, the state, and our nation. If we can't stop it, we have to make the irresponsible landlords become responsible. I personally advocate for all landlords, no matter how many houses they lease, to have licensure and maintain current contact phone numbers and addresses with the Code Department. If they fail to maintain their homes, have tenants sign decent leases, and follow through with policing their properties, they should have their licenses revoked and their income cut off. The only thing that these rotten landlords listen to is money. The CNPO would hold their feet to the fire and give us the tools necessary to prevent the crap that has been destroying our neighborhood from going on relentlessly.

Just tired
0
Points
Just tired 03/16/10 - 11:48 am
0
0
I just wanted to say how much

I just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed reading most of the comments here today. Seems that ever so slowly the folks in Harrisburg are becoming leaders for good within the entire community. The time truly has come when neighbors need to begin taking back their neighborhoods rather than being forced out and into new neighborhoods where they are forced to start paying the fat cats on new mortgages all over again. And then later when the time is finally right for the fat cats and they have helped force good people into new neighborhoods and huge new mortgages, they will walk into the areas they helped to desolate accompanied by plenty of bought and paid for press. And with a few fiendish smiling politicians in tow these fat cats will reveal how they have convinced the community to invest hundreds of thousands in a study and how after the study they are going to step up and save the community they first destroyed. Oh yeah, what heroes these modern thugs are. People of Harrisburg keep going you are setting a precedent for the entire county of Richmond. Oops! I’m sorry you old Augusta black satchel types. I had a momentary lapse. You don’t want any mention of Richmond County any longer. You just want the taxes the people of the county pay. I seem to recollect how immediately after consolidation everything had “Augusta Richmond County” clearly displayed. But over time you’ve managed to remove any remnants of that. Don’t believe me. Look at the fire department patches today and look at the ones from the years immediately following consolidation.

flipa
35
Points
flipa 03/16/10 - 12:38 pm
0
0
25 Yr old crack houses

25 Yr old crack houses COMPLETELY SURROUND 401 Walton Way. When the cops are called out to little old ladies who are holding off hardened crack heads from stealing their chain link fence for scrap metal IN BROAD DAYLIGHT and the cop looks at the crack head, does not get the crack heads name or ID, makes no effort to search the crackhead, does not do Ronnie’s Requested field report, does not file for a search warrant, does not even alert vice, something is ROTTEN in Denmark. If it looks like a duck...

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 03/16/10 - 12:44 pm
0
0
Good going Butch and Lori..

Good going Butch and Lori.. and Lori... please consider running for Mayor.. we need someone with your tenacity and initiative in that position... we don't need a cheerleader or a ribbon cutter

grinder48
2013
Points
grinder48 03/16/10 - 12:51 pm
0
0
The discussion is about a
Unpublished

The discussion is about a lawsuit. While the LLs may have a "moral" or "ethical" responsibility to "be nice and help out", their "legal" responsibility is to comply with codes, ordinances, and laws. It is the responsibility of the gov't to enforce those codes, ordinances, and laws. Some of the comments above get off on what "should" be but the lawsuit must be based on legal obligations and responsibilities. I'm totally against the slime in that neighborhood and totally for the good citizens who want it cleaned up, and I'm not pro-landlord, I'm simply saying the lawsuit is off-target from a legal perspective. Without question, if the codes, ordinances, and laws were fully enforced by the responsible government agency, the problems would go away.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 03/16/10 - 01:09 pm
0
0
Just move the day shelter for
Unpublished

Just move the day shelter for the homeless up the street a ways, maybe to Conifer Place. It's much nicer there. No problems with code enforcement.

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 03/16/10 - 03:44 pm
0
0
In response to grinder, you

In response to grinder, you are right that the existing codes should be enforced. The problem is they haven't been enforced in this community for a long time.And the majority of these codes don't address negative social and civil behaviors. Hence the need for the CNPO that Ms. Davis keeps pushing for.With this ordinance in place, this problem would have been solved long before it ever got to court becaust the landlord would have to be part of the equation.

billyjones1949
1
Points
billyjones1949 03/16/10 - 06:03 pm
0
0
After reading all the

After reading all the comments I believe the area is trying to do the right thing but fighting an uphill battle.

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 03/16/10 - 06:39 pm
0
0
billyjones1949, I agree with

billyjones1949,

I agree with you....It will take a lot of hard work to clean up that area of the city....Over the years it has turned into a 'war zone'. ie: drugs, prostitution, section 8 housing, vagrants, homeless folks, crime, ect. ect.

brimisjoshan
2
Points
brimisjoshan 03/16/10 - 07:07 pm
0
0
I work in Harrisburg and will

I work in Harrisburg and will probably live there one day in order to build stronger relationships with the people in the community. I don't have a problem with a ministry for the needy in the area but I don't like the way Mercy Ministries does it. There is no control. I have been involved with the Augusta Rescue Mission and it has a beautiful landscaped area and the homeless that reside there work and keep the place clean. There are strick rules about hanging out in front, no alcohol or drugs on the premise and it is very very rare that the police are called to deal with problems. If Mercy Ministries was run that way then I don't think it would be so bad. But the place looks aweful and its obvious that the inmates run the place. I would like to believe that Fran Oliver and those who work there have their hearts in the right place but where are their heads at.

CitadelCadetCaravan
0
Points
CitadelCadetCaravan 03/16/10 - 09:46 pm
0
0
Has anyone every consulted

Has anyone every consulted with these landlords tenants and showed them how to sue their landlord? Hey, money talks...and you get some crackhead tenant sueing you for some type of discrimination or unsafe living conditions, and it's not fun anymore cashing renters checks. Is there a way to sue the city or police department for failure to act or enforce or uphold laws, regulations, etc? Look for every angle to attack the slumlords. It doesn't hurt them to cash checks...just hurts them when they have to write one. Make them write lots and lots of checks.

CitadelCadetCaravan
0
Points
CitadelCadetCaravan 03/16/10 - 09:49 pm
0
0
...come to think of it, their

...come to think of it, their tenants are probably on Section 8 or some type of goverment subsidy. Hey, dude...that's MY check you are cashing? How can I help put pressure on the slumlords?

concernmom
403
Points
concernmom 03/18/10 - 10:40 am
0
0
The day shelter for grown-ups

The day shelter for grown-ups needs to be moved to downtown Augusta. There is no reason why it needs to be located in Harrisburg. Furthermore, they need to offer some job training to these people. I have been to Mercy Ministries to donate some items and I was shocked to see grown able-bodied men just sitting around, eating snacks and watching TV on a wide screen TV!

As for offering after school care & homework assistance to children, that is a great idea.

Let the Mercy be for the children, not for the grown-ups who have decided to check out of life and be non-productive adults.

Thank God that they are the only "day-care center for adults" in Georgia!! It is a horrible idea...

concernmom
403
Points
concernmom 03/18/10 - 10:41 am
0
0
The day shelter for grown-ups

The day shelter for grown-ups needs to be moved to downtown Augusta. There is no reason why it needs to be located in Harrisburg. Furthermore, they need to offer some job training to these people. I have been to Mercy Ministries to donate some items and I was shocked to see grown able-bodied men just sitting around, eating snacks and watching TV on a wide screen TV!

As for offering after school care & homework assistance to children, that is a great idea.

Let the Mercy be for the children, not for the grown-ups who have decided to check out of life and be non-productive adults.

Thank God that they are the only "day-care center for adults" in Georgia!! It is a horrible idea...

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