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Community feedback prompts postponement of health, safety ordinance

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County Commissioners decided to postpone discussion on a new resolution revolving around health and safety standards on properties within Johnson County during their Thursday, May 21 meeting after receiving comments from concerned citizens.County Mayor Mike Taylor removed the item from the agenda because citizens could not be present to share these comments. Fifth District Commissioner Megan McEwen shared ordinance information on social media a week before the meeting and welcomed feedback from the community.One of these citizens reached out to The Tomahawk and McEwen to discuss what this resolution would mean and how to use it at its highest potential.

“This proposed Johnson County ordinance is a very good start and has been done in many other counties and municipalities in the country,” said Shady Valley Resident and long-term environmental protection worker Ted Jackson, who has worked in the environmental protection field for 30 years and has connections with similar programs in neighboring counties. “There will be a great benefit to the county to have a citizen hearing board to adjudicate appeals of the enforcement of this ordinance. It is based on state law and should survive legal challenges, provided proper legislative procedures were used to enact it.”

As an example, Jackson referenced a currently successful project; the Keep America Beautiful program in Carter County. However, one of the major issues Jackson pointed out in Johnson County’s proposed ordinance is clarifying terms. Many terms used are subjective and, therefore, more difficult to pin down during a legal situation. One example is the phrase “obvious neglect.” More clear-cut explanations and language can help in many cases, such as giving the “Code Enforcement Officer” the right to enter private property for inspection purposes, which the currently proposed ordinance language does not do.Jackson mentioned the lack of clarity in Section II(b)1 of the ordinance, which describes three types of solid waste problems that designated county officials can regulate. Information on two of these types, overgrown vegetation and vacant, dilapidated buildings, are not specifically included in the ordinance.

“I want to make sure everyone understands this does not include vehicles, any kind of outdoor buildings or sheds, nor any farm equipment,” Commissioner McEwen clarified after sharing the ordinance.

Another possible problem is that the ordinance only applies to the county. City rules differ. Jackson believes that communication between the city and county government on this issue could potentially help with complications where citizens under one jurisdiction may be dumping on properties covered in the other.

Locals are aware of the issue and have complained both in private and to officials. Like many problems, proper education and planning could prove useful for finding a solution. While the proposed ordinance is a step in the right direction, it is on hold for now. Keep an eye out for more information on this ordinance and possible updates.