City planner raises ire in Madison

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Natchez City Planner Andrew L. Smith has hit a roadblock with plans to build a house in an upscale subdivision in the city of Madison, despite Smith&8217;s denial of the problems.

A stop-work order has been issued on the site at 203 Breezy Hill Drive after Smith failed to follow Madison&8217;s building codes, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler said.

&8220;Mr. Smith is of the opinion that he&8217;s going to read our ordinances and interpret them to his benefit,&8221; she said. &8220;I don&8217;t need him to do that for me. I think we&8217;ve done a pretty good job in planning Madison.&8221;

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The City of Madison, just north of Jackson, has developed a reputation for tight building codes that, Butler said, have been integral to the city&8217;s success.

Smith signed a building permit application for the site on Jan. 20, listing himself as the primary contractor. Plans called for a 4- to 5-bedroom house, approximately 2,815-square-feet in size. Smith listed a Jackson post office box as his address on the form and listed a personal cell phone, which Smith answered Thursday from Natchez.

The permit requires erosion and sediment control at the site, something Madison Director of Building Codes and Permits Jimmy Cook said Thursday Smith had not followed.

&8220;It&8217;s just standard procedures that you go through,&8221; Cook said. &8220;We&8217;re not asking anything different out of him than we&8217;re asking of anybody else.&8221;

Mayor Butler said the work site is a mess.

&8220;His mud is running into the street,&8221; she said. &8220;And he needs to clean up the mess he&8217;s made. All he has to do is conform to those rules and regulations.&8221;

Contacted Thursday by telephone, Smith denied knowledge of both the property in Madison and problems with adherence to the City of Madison&8217;s codes.

&8220;I&8217;m not aware of anything about it,&8221; he said. &8220;Whoever you talked to &8230; I&8217;m disputing their information.&8221;

Further, Smith denied having talked with the Madison Mayor, a claim Mayor Butler said was preposterous.

The mayor said Smith had contacted her office and other city offices numerous times. He&8217;s spoken repeatedly to Cook and a consultant for the city, Cecil Palmer, the mayor said.

&8220;Mr. Smith had been on a rampage,&8221; Mayor Butler said Thursday. &8220;I say that because he&8217;s called Mr. Cook twice today; he&8217;s called Mr. Palmer twice yesterday; he&8217;s called a council member of mine complaining about Mr. Cook.

&8220;He (Smith) verbally attacked our code enforcement officer because he didn&8217;t like the answers he was getting,&8221; the mayor said. &8220;He told our code enforcement officer that he was lying.

&8220;The bottom line is this: if you don&8217;t abide by the rules of Madison, we stop you dead in your tracks. We&8217;ve stopped him and he doesn&8217;t like it.&8221;

Both Cook and Butler said Smith needs to clean up the site and begin following the codes.

&8220;They&8217;re very simple to take care of, but he seems to think he&8217;s above the law,&8221; the mayor said.

Mayor Butler said she first heard from Smith earlier this year.

&8220;He called me several months ago and basically told me that he was doing the same thing that I was doing. I have a &8216;getaway house&8217; in Natchez and he was building a &8216;getaway house&8217; in Madison,&8221; she said.

The problems arose soon after.

&8220;There was a problem that was first created when began to do dirt work on the site,&8221; Hawkins-Butler said. &8220;He was causing problems for the property owner next door.

&8220;I had difficulty determining who had the title on the lot. I wanted to make sure that we were sending the right letter to the right person,&8221; she said.

&8220;I asked the developer and the developer hand-delivered a letter which created an odd situation,&8221; Mayor Butler said.

The &8220;odd situation&8221; was that the bank returned the check presented at the property sale for insufficient funds. This is referenced in a letter from David L. Strange Jr. with First Guaranty Title in Jackson. The letter was sent to Madison officials.

&8220;If the check was insufficient, then who do I contact?&8221; Mayor Butler said. &8220;Mr. Strange told me that technically, Mr. Smith owned the lot because title passed to him. It&8217;s my understanding that the debt had been taken care of now.

&8220;In the process of all that, Mr. Smith, I guess, was agitated about concerns that we had,&8221; she said, adding that Smith called a city consultant at 10:30 or 11 p.m. at night about the matter.

&8220;I told Mr. Smith not to call any of our employees at home any more again,&8221; she said.

Unfortunately, the problems were not resolved, the mayor said.

&8220;Then Mr. Smith proceeded to track me down, demanding that I see him over the weekend, demanding that I call him,&8221; she said. &8220;Mr. Cook and I sat down with him and told him what he needed to do to correct the matter.

&8220;He started out saying that he was going to be a resident of Madison and that he was going to be a taxpayer of Madison and that he didn&8217;t like the way he was being treated,&8221; the mayor said.

Cook said Smith was the first person he&8217;d been unable to communicate with over the telephone about a building code matter.

&8220;At this point and time, me and him don&8217;t talk over the telephone any more. He either e-mails me or he comes to my office,&8221; Cook said. &8220;Our first conversation that we had didn&8217;t really go well. We didn&8217;t get off on the right foot. I&8217;ve never got into a heated conversation with someone that I couldn&8217;t deal with before. He just kept saying, &8216;That&8217;s a lie, that&8217;s a lie.&8217;&8221;

Mayor Butler said the situation has become a nuisance and a waste of time for the city&8217;s staff.

&8220;You would expect someone who is building their own home, who is in planning, who is in code enforcement, who is building a $350,000 to $400,000 house in one of the nicest subdivision in Madison &8212; and who&8217;s asked us for a job &8212; would want to follow the rules.&8221;

The mayor was referring to an apparent employment inquiry by Smith.

Madison&8217;s Community Development Director Alan Hoops said he&8217;d spoke to Smith approximately six or eight weeks ago on a matter unrelated to the house site.

&8220;He was inquiring about a position. He was wondering if we had a position available in the community development department,&8221; Hoops said. &8220;I just assumed he&8217;d planned on moving up here.&8221;

Natchez Mayor Phillip West said he&8217;d spoken to officials from Madison and was investigating the matter.

&8220;I am very concerned that I continually receive complaints and concerns &8212; too often &8212; regarding his activities,&8221; Mayor West said. &8220;Nobody&8217;s perfect, but I have a major concern regarding the things I&8217;ve heard from the City of Madison.&8221;

West said he was unaware that Smith had sought employment elsewhere or that he was building a home there.

&8220;It worries me a great deal,&8221; he said. &8220;I&8217;m concerned that I was not aware that he was building his home in Madison. The city&8217;s personnel should be conducting their business better.&8221;

On Thursday, Smith denied any knowledge of the matter, saying that his name, &8220;Andrew Smith,&8221; was a common one.

When pressed for details of his full name, which would help eliminate the possibility of misidentification, Smith said by telephone that his middle name was spelled &8220;Louvell.&8221;

A source with the City of Natchez, however, said the city believed Smith&8217;s middle name was spelled &8220;Lavell.&8221;

The letterhead used on several occasions to correspond with Madison officials includes the spelling &8220;LaVel&8221; as Smith&8217;s middle name.

Both the deed on the property at Lot 22, Breezy Hill, Part 1, list Smith&8217;s full name as &8220;Andrew Lavell Smith.&8221;

Correspondence between Smith and officials with the City of Madison confirm that regardless of how the middle name is spelled, it&8217;s all from the same &8220;Andrew L. Smith.&8221;

Both the original building permit and a letter dated June 14 from Smith to code enforcement director Jimmy Cook contain the same personal cell phone, answered by Smith. Further, one of the correspondences includes a handwritten note &8220;Mr. Smith, for your info, 601-445-6653.&8221; That telephone number is the fax machine at the Natchez City Planning office.

On Friday, Smith presented a letter alleging that &8220;due to continuous harassing and racially motivated activities&8221; he referred all questions to be directed to his Greenville attorney, Bennie Richard.

&8220;Mr. Smith is involved in matters as a private citizen in Madison County,&8221; Richard said.

Madison&8217;s mayor said she&8217;s disappointed that someone in a public position such as Smith&8217;s would attempt to break the rules in constructing the house within her city.

&8220;Of all people, he should be setting an example and abiding by the regulations instead of trying to create loopholes,&8221; Mayor Butler said.