The hot topic around Wayne County the past few months has revolved around a proposed countywide nuisance ordinance by the Wayne County Board of Supervisors. Environmental Health Officer David Rhodes proceeded with the third reading of the proposed Nuisance Abatement Ordinance at the Nov. 18 meeting with a smaller showing of residents than the previous meeting held on Nov. 4.
With just over 30 county residents in attendance, 20 signed up to speak during the public comments portion. This would be the last chance for the residents to address their concerns before the supervisors would make their decision on whether or not to pass the ordinance following the third reading.
Rhodes realized there wasn’t an ordinance for the county in effect should issues arise in a situation regarding environmental health hazards. At the July 24 City of Corydon council meeting, Rhodes was in attendance asking if they had their own nuisance ordinance for the city to handle environmental health concerns.
The city advised Rhodes Corydon did in fact have their own ordinance for these issues. Rhodes later advised he attended other city council meetings within the county asking the same questions to know how to proceed for a countywide ordinance.
During the Board of Supervisors meeting held on July 29, several residents were present to voice concerns of the nuisance ordinance discussion. Rhodes informed those residents at that time he was in contact with other counties asking how they handle these issues and was given copies of their current ordinances.
“I guess I don’t see where we have come to this point where this is such a bad thing because I’m just trying to clean stuff up and make it healthier,” said Rhodes during the July 29 meeting. “If there is an issue with rats or something that impedes on health that’s where the environmental side comes in.”
Rhodes approached Supervisor Tom Swearingin who stated in the July 29 meeting, “I thought it would be a good place to start and I’m on the Board of Health and that board was in agreement. All it was, was a starting point that goes off what another county had done.”
“I guess I’ll apologize if I stepped on anyone’s toes, but I will never, ever apologize for trying to help a child,” Swearingin added July 29.
The first reading of the proposed nuisance abatement ordinance was held during the Oct. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting. Rhodes informed those present he had been working on the environmental health nuisance for a few months with the help of County Attorney Alan Wilson.
It was stated throughout the meeting residents would have the opportunity to pick up copies of the proposed ordinance and have the opportunity to voice concerns. At the following meeting held on Nov. 4, the meeting was moved to the courthouse conference room in the basement to accommodate the large crowd.
A sign up sheet was provided for those wishing to speak during this meeting. Twenty-eight signatures were provided with half of those signatures wishing to speak on their concerns over the ordinance, while the other half wished to address concerns of a private land owner’s plans of a proposed gun range.
The board listened to several county residents as they listed their concerns with the ordinance how it was written. The term vague was used often and while most were against the ordinance as it stood, a few spoke out seeing the need for it.
With the Board of Supervisors being elected officials, they would be the ones deciding for the county if this ordinance would pass and be enforced or if it would stall before exiting the gates.
As the discussion began in the Nov. 18 meeting, Rhodes addressed the room advising various individuals had contacted him since the first reading with some against the ordinance and some for it.
“I have been in contact with all the counties surrounding Wayne County and all the counties have a nuisance ordinance of some kind,” said Rhodes. “Some are zoned. Some are just actual ordinances. I talked to a guy from the DNR and the only other county he could think of that is in his district is Tama County that doesn’t have an ordinance at this point.”
“I don’t know why we don’t have one or why we never had one, but it’s obvious that we need to do something to help improve our environment at some point,” said Rhodes.
“Am I correct we just adopt the state ordinance?” asked Swearingin.
“I believe we can,” said Rhodes.
“And the Board of Health can just do that and it’s done correct Alan?” asked Swearingin.
“Yeah, that is one method rather than having a separately written ordinance you can just adopt the state which is under Iowa Code 657,” said Wilson.
“This is kind of a last ditch situation as what Dave (Rhodes) would do is he would work with who is alleged of being in violation and try to correct the violation, but at some point in time you have to have some enforcement mechanism and that’s exactly why the state legislature passed Iowa Code Section 657,” Wilson added.
“I really don’t think the county wants the state ordinance adopted because it does have way more teeth in it,” said Swearingin. “David (Rhodes) brought this to the Board of Health and we all passed it unanimously. He brought it to the Board of Supervisors to move on and we all passed it unanimously and here we are.”
“The actual ordinance didn’t pass as we had to do three readings,” said Supervisor Don Seams.
“We passed it on as is for him to do the three readings,” said Supervisor Swearingin.
“Right,” said Seams.
“We all approved it as read to us the first time,” Swearingin added.
“Am I to understand that with or without the ordinance, complaints can still be filed and still reviewed and information is still gathered and taken back to the Department of Health?” asked County Auditor Michelle Dooley.
“We have no policy in place now for any of that,” said Rhodes.
“When they are brought to you, you still address them correct?” asked Dooley.
“I have, but there is nothing to fall back on,” said Rhodes.
“What about state laws?” asked Fonda Bradford. “We have state laws that address these.”
“If we adopt the state law then I assume when we get a complaint we just send it on to the state, correct?” asked Swearingin to Wilson.
“Not necessarily,” said Wilson. “If you utilize the state law and there is somebody that is in violation then it comes up to criminal charges filed under Iowa Code Section 657 and that’s the State of Iowa versus whoever versus the attempt of resolution at the county level. Yes there is a state law and it is kind of the fallback for all the counties in the State of Iowa.”
As the meeting turned to the public for their turn to comment, Supervisor David Dotts thanked everyone for their attendance and Kathy Moorman was advised she would be first to speak.
“In the last meeting I believe it was Don that stated you have to look at the county as a whole,” said Moorman. “I think it’s safe to say for rural residents that live in Wayne County, I feel like it’s overwhelming that they don’t want this for some reason or another.”
“As elected officials, you were elected to represent the county and their residents and to listen to what they want and to act accordingly, so I urge you to take that into consideration,” Moorman continued.
Dave Daughton was present to speak on behalf of the Wayne County Housing Committee. He read a statement to verify the standing of the committee made up of volunteers.
“The core committee made the decision to hire McClure Engineering to assist the group in researching and developing a plan that was possible through generous donations of various entities and individuals around the county,” Daughton began. “McClure developed a draft and a plan that was presented by them in September. The local committee has since then worked to gather more information in determining changes and adjustments to the plan.”
“The current draft of the Wayne County Housing Committee is still under review, and is still far from being finalized,” said Daughton. “What was posted on the website and managed by McClure Engineering is the original proposal by McClure and does not reflect any changes or adjustments that have been made or considered.”
“McClure presented four potential actions in their original plan, one of which was the development of ordinances to address primarily vacant, dilapidated and blighted properties,” Daughton continued. “The committee has not finalized their thoughts on this portion of the plan and had absolutely zero conversations with the supervisors. Supervisor Dotts has been involved as a member of the Wayne County Housing Committee, but neither of the other two supervisors had ever discussed this with the housing committee and vice versa.”
Following Daughton, Farm Bureau members Dan Carpenter and Tim Runyon were present following a Farm Bureau meeting where Dotts and Swearingin attended to hear their concerns with the proposed ordinance. A letter was sent to the board of which Carpenter read to the room in the meeting with them stating they were not comfortable with the ordinance as presented.
Ron Snow began his statement apologizing to the board, “the last meeting, I got mad and I want to apologize for that first.”
“I talked to a lawyer and they said to go get the community involved, get a petition signed,” said Snow. “So we did. We went everywhere business wise, house to house talking to people and as mind blowing as it is probably 85 percent of the people didn’t know anything.”
“Half of the signatures got thrown away at businesses,” said Snow. “Lockridge, they gave us a blank paper back, the paper on the front was thrown away. We had one at Lineville that mysteriously was gone. So we are trying to do what we are asked to do, but we can’t even raise our hands here and say we are against it, we’re for it, we’re not. We voted you all in to speak for us.”
Basically it’s giving too much power to one group of people,” said Snow. “It’s poorly written, it’s too vague, it’s too broad. My mom lives in Allerton and she doesn’t have any cars anywhere around her place. She has rats; I kill them all the time. We all know where rats are from. We all know where the mice are from…cornfields. Seed and feed.”
Dr. Joel Wells spoke regarding the five-member board for the Board of Health he is a member of.
“The Iowa Department of Health mandates that every county in this state has a local board of health appointed by the Board of Supervisors,” Wells began. “On that board there has to be a physician representative, me. It’s not a highly sought after position.”
“Quite simply, the way we have been entrusted to do our job to promote and protect the health of every single citizen in this county,” said Wells. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
“We were ok with this ordinance as it looked,” Wells continued. “What we can do at this point in time without any ordinances is essentially the best that we can do. The idea that we are not qualified to do that because we know nothing about public health, I take a little offense to that. We will do the best we can do and that’s all we can do in the future.”
“We aren’t legal experts, I know a little bit about public health and I will tell you that and I will defend that,” Wells added. “Legal, that’s not me. You are always welcome to come to the Board of Health meetings, they are open and they are publicized.”
“I don’t know if everyone caught it or not when Alan was here, but if we let things fall under the state ordinance it turns into criminal charges is what he said,” Swearingin added.
“I see where Dr. Wells is coming from, the way this is written I think is the problem,” said Andy Moorman. “I know your intentions are good.”
Gary Everman spoke next advising the board, ‘I am not interested in forfeiting my freedom on my property however I am concerned about the health and welfare of people in paradise, referring to Wayne County, Iowa of course.”
“This is a real can of worms and all I can say is use good judgment,” Gary said in closing.
Stewart Everman asked the board how the ordinance came about. He questioned if the state placed pressure on the county level.
“I have a gut feeling this is going to pass and hopefully keeps things at a county level rather than come into a state level to try and help us correct our problems, I’m not really for it, but I have this feeling it’s going to pass,” said Stewart. “Are you trying to keep the state and the DNR from coming in?”
“That’s the main objective right there,” said Rhodes. “Keeping it local so we can handle it ourselves.”
“I feel like it might be okay, but the way the next person reads it is what I am worried about,” Stewart added.
“I don’t have a problem with the particular Board of Health that we have,” said Tom Rogers. “Yes you all have good intentions with what you are doing, but I believe you are so vague and open in your ordinance.”
Dennis St. Lawrence addressed the board stating, “I think we all agree we want a healthy Wayne County.”
“Life is too short to not get along with your neighbors, life is too short to be bitter,” said St. Lawrence. “I was at the last meeting and I appreciate cooler heads prevailing today. We need to work together.”
As others continued to address the board the comments “this ordinance is too vague” and “we already have a state ordinance” were often repeated. The board continued to listen to concerns.
“Don’t be mad at them, it’s your fault because you voted for them (pointing to the supervisors),” said Levi Davis as he addressed the room with his concerns from the proposed ordinance.
With Davis being the last to speak, the attention turned to the board. Dotts again thanked those for speaking before Swearingin made the motion to adopt the nuisance abatement ordinance as it was written.
With Seams not seconding the motion, the motion died for lack of a second.
“This board is interested in protecting the health as Joel said,” Seams added. “I don’t care if your house is purple or if your shingles are rotted, but if someone is infringing on your property and your health and the environment that is a concern for the whole county. There was some merit to this ordinance.”
“I had a lot of input from people that had some legitimate points so I make a motion that we refer this matter to the Wayne County Health Board for further clarification,” Seams added.
Again with a lack for a second, the motion died.
“Since it bounced back our way, as a member of the Board of Health, there were some very well articulated comments today and it would be really wonderful if those could be submitted in written form,” said Wells. “We will give it our best effort since it’s coming back our way.”
“If we don’t get any comments or advise on this am I correct in assuming we will adopt the state ordinance?” asked Swearingin. “That would be about our only option.”
“I don’t know, but I do think we are entrusted to do our job but we really don’t have the authority to do what we are entrusted to do at this time,” Wells added. “We don’t have the authority as the Board of Health.”
The next Board of Health meeting will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 7 a.m. with the next Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2 at 9 a.m.