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By Jim Bardwell
Have you ever heard the old saying “I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out?” Well, Thursday night there was a city council meeting and a testy public hearing broke out.
While no public hearing was on the official agenda, Gladewater Mayor Harold Wells opened the flood gates by letting audience members voice their opinion on the city’s proposed certificate of occupancy ordinance. And the audience gave the council what for – telling them the ordinance wasn’t needed and if implemented would cost already money-strapped renters (the $35 fee would be passed on by landlords) and result in more expense for landlords, who own about one-third of Gladewater’s housing property – an estimated 750 homes.
The proposed certificate of occupancy ordinance is designed to improve living conditions in Gladewater by forcing substandard housing to be upgraded to current health and safety codes, by requiring mandatory inspections between rent house move-outs and move-ins. However, property owners – who protested the same issue in December 2015 – said these inspections and upgrades would cost them money.
City Manager Theo Melancon and code enforcement officer Al Harrison showed the council and audience multiple photos of local rental homes with holes in the floors, exposed wiring, sewage seeping from faulty plumbing and substandard carpentry.
Before the council could vote on the ordinance, Wells allowed several people in the audience to address the council – and address them they did.
Joan Sturkie, who along with her family own the bulk of Gladewater’s rental property – scolded the council for not asking her advice. She said the council agreed at the December meeting to include landlords in the decision process.
“No one has asked me and I’m two blocks away,” Sturkie said, adding – “What’s your hurry? I don’t want this ordinance.”
She told the council to “do your homework” on whether the ordinance was really needed. She said the city has many other pressing problems – water quality, potholes, trashed out lots – and should address those and leave landlords alone.
Councilman J.D. Shipp asked Sturkie and other landlords who objected to the ordinance if they didn’t think the problems shown in the power point presentation weren’t dangerous and a safety hazard to children. He then offered a compromise after Sturkie’s lengthy talk and other landlords pounded the council.
Wells never enforced a time limit on those who spoke and even allowed people to speak from their seats, rather than stand at the podium as is usual procedure.
After about one hour of discussion the council decided to hold an “official” public hearing in May to discuss the issue further. The council wanted to hold the meeting in April, but Sturkie said she would be out of the country on vacation and unable to attend, so the council voted to wait for her to return to include her in the process.
Mr. Theo Melancon – City Manager
Mr. Al Harrison – City Code Enforcement