Palmer drops Mercy Ministries lawsuit

Resident still wants Mercy Ministries out

Harrisburg activist Butch Palmer has dropped his $15,000 lawsuit against Mercy Ministries, bringing an end to the string of small-claims complaints he and mayoral candidate Lori Davis filed this year in an effort to show the city needs a chronic nuisance properties ordinance.

Palmer alleged in court documents that the Christian outreach for the homeless was attracting vagrants who brought crime and litter. This diminished the value of his rental properties, and thus the amount of rent he could charge, he said.

The suit was dismissed Friday. Palmer said Wednesday that he saw no need to pursue it, given that the Augusta Commission's Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance Study Subcommittee, of which Davis is a member, will likely recommend creating a three-member task force to zero in on problem properties.

That effort would cost $150,000 per year. Palmer said he believes the task force will take care of problems stemming from Mercy Ministries' boardinghouse on Crawford Avenue, which was the target of his complaint.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

With the news that the ministry has been given the old Castleberry's plant on 15th Street, Palmer said he suspects the day shelter will soon be out of his area. He said it wouldn't make sense for the nonprofit to go on paying rent for the red building at Crawford and Fenwick streets when it has such a large facility.

However, Annette Drowlette, the chairwoman of Mercy Ministries' board of directors, said the shelter will stay where it is "because we're needed in Harrisburg."

"When there are no more poor people in Harrisburg, we will pack up and go over to Castleberry's," she said.

Frustrated with the city bureaucracy earlier this year, Palmer and Davis filed three Magistrate Court suits against Harrisburg property owners with the stated intent of proving that, without a new ordinance, Augusta homeowners have no recourse against property owners who enable nuisance tenants.

Palmer filed one suit against Mercy Ministries' Fenwick Street landlord, Joe Smith, and another against Mercy Ministries as owner of the adjacent boardinghouse.

Davis sued 223 Eve St. owner John B. Weigle Jr., calling his property a "known neighborhood drug house." Davis lost her case, with Chief Judge William D. Jennings III, ruling that she failed to prove Weigle owed her $5,000.

Palmer subsequently dropped the complaint against Smith, saying it couldn't be won under state law and that he didn't want to be liable for attorney's fees.