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Lack of prosecution stalls cleanup

NATCHEZ — With little progress made on prosecuting property maintenance code violators, the City of Natchez is looking at other options for enforcement.

Mayor Butch Brown said the city’s code enforcement officers are writing citations for violations such as abandoned cars and overgrown grass, but the citations are more or less just piling up and not being prosecuted in court.

The city recently moved the code enforcement officers to the Natchez Police Department so the officers could issue citations and the city could collect money from violators.

The violators, however, are not being prosecuted in municipal court and fines are not being collected as Brown said he had originally hoped.

“For whatever reason, Judge (Jim) Blough has not done it, so we are living with the cards we’ve been dealt,” Brown said.

Blough could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts spanning several weeks.

Brown said he has asked Justice Court Judge Charlie Vess to consider taking up the citations in his court.

Vess previously served as assistant judge to Blough for seven years and heard Blough’s cases when Blough was not available.

“This is in the very early planning stages, but I’m willing to help any way I can for beautification and enforcement of whatever ordinances or codes might be involved,” Vess said.

An alternative, Vess said, would be appointing a municipal judge pro temp, which must be an attorney. If there is not judge pro tem, Vess said, a justice court can fill in.

The city is also seeking to streamline its adjudication process for nuisance lots.

Adjudication is currently done per state statute at Natchez Board of Aldermen meetings. The due process for notification to the violator allowed by statute can make the adjudication a long and cumbersome process, City Attorney Hyde Carby said.

Carby said he has contacted Bill Carrigee, a consultant who advises municipalities on streamlining their code enforcement process.

The city, Carby said, intends to use $30,000 in economic development initiative grant funds to hire Carrigee to help streamline the process and tailor the city’s code to meet its needs.

One of the main issues Carby said the city will have Carrigee look at is how to streamline the lot adjudication process.

“We’re looking at if we can move these lots being adjudicated at board meetings to a citation process, much like a speeding ticket,” Carby said.

Brown said he and the aldermen are committed to move this process at a “faster pace with less bureaucracy.”

“We hope (to expedite the process),” Brown said. “We can’t continue to take 30 to 90 days getting a yard cut after it’s in violation of the ordinance.”