Mayor: Arlington battle not over

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 13, 2011

NATCHEZ — Mayor Jake Middleton said the city is done funneling money into Arlington’s upkeep, but the battle to preserve the historic property is far from finished.

Middleton said the trouble up to this point has been a lot of red tape.

“We need to go to this person, tell him what type of repairs we expect, and give him 60 days to make those repairs,” Middleton said. “If he doesn’t, he gets fined so much per day. If he doesn’t pay the bill, we arrest him.

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“I don’t have a problem with that. You have to do something to correct it because it is a bigger problem in the city than just Arlington.”

City Planner Bob Nix said his office will be picking up steam on bringing charges to Arlington owner Dr. Thomas Vaughan during the next few months and expects to have something filed by summer.

“We are working on finding the best legal avenue to pursue the case,” Nix said.

There are two avenues, Nix said, continuing to pursue it as a criminal case, or to discontinue the criminal case and begin a civil case.

“I am not convinced that the criminal case will work because there is no imprisonment,” Nix said.

The criminal case dates back to a Dec. 2, 2009, demolition by neglect ruling in Municipal Judge Jim Blough’s court. Nix said this decision’s teeth are in a state law that allows a $100 fine to accumulate every day that the property is in neglect.

Nix said if a judge used the 2009 ruling as the starting point, that $40,500 in fines have accumulated, though Nix admitted that a judge could see the starting point differently and impose a lesser fine.

“I am not convinced that the individual would blink an eye at paying the fine,” Nix said. “Then when he paid it, where would we be?”

Nix said until Vaughan was ordered to restore the property, all the city could do is collect fines from the criminal suit.

“In my mind, the civil suit proceeding has more promise,” Nix said. “We are working with legal staff to determine what amendments we need to make to that code to give it more teeth before we file a civil suit.”

Nix said currently, a judge hearing the civil suit, likely in circuit court, could order the owner to restore the property, pay a $50 fine, or both.

“If we ordered him to repair the building, and he did not, he would be in contempt of court, which could result in an arrest warrant,” Nix said.

Nix said he would be in discussion with the city’s legal team to determine the best course of action, be it civil or criminal.

“One way or another, we will pursue it,” Nix said. “I don’t know what the owner is thinking, but we need to talk to him about this property of historic value, and it may have to be in court.”

The house suffered severe fire damage in September 2002, which destroyed the roof and the second floor. A roof was installed on the house shortly after the fire, but no other work has been done to protect the house from weather or vandalism.