In a city where the temporary curbside detritus of Mardi Gras is less of an eyesore than the everyday refuse lining the banks of nearly every stream, creek and river, members of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration outlined a hard new tactic in combatting litter and blight in a joint forum with Keep Mobile Beautiful Feb. 26.
“What we are going to do with environmental court and justice under the new administration is…if [offenders] don’t come to court, we’re going to arrest them, put them in jail, put them through the bonding process and make them come to court,” Municipal Judge Holmes Whiddon said. “I think it’s time we had that conversation.”
Stimpson himself confirmed that strategy a few days later, when during a meeting with the press he declared, “there needs to be a war on litter.”
“You drive around Mobile and what you see is not what you want visitors to see, it’s a reflection of the image of the city,” he said. “There are a lot of people right now that are really interested in picking up litter and that’s great, that’s part of the deal, but the main part is not putting it on the ground, and for those that continue to put it on the ground, or don’t police the areas around their businesses, they’re going to find themselves at odds with the city because we’re going to start to enforce some ordinances we have that give us the right to fine them for doing that.”
At the Keep Mobile Beautiful forum in Tillman’s Corner, a number of those ordinances, including the litter ordinance, sign ordinance, landscaping ordinance and tree ordinance were outlined, with city officials telling a sparse crowd that the city was currently reviewing those ordinances to increase their effectiveness in court. Whiddon said the city has effectively issued Municipal Offense Tickets (MOTs) since 1992, but there has been a problem prosecuting second-offenders who fail to show up to court.
“These ordinances establish a standard of living and the quality of life is controlled by MOTs,” he said. “Many departments can issue those and the person either has to pay a minimal fine or have to appear in court to contest. The problem is when it comes to second offenders, especially those that don’t appear in court. Should inspectors have the right to go to the magistrate’s office and swear out a criminal complaint? I’m going to submit to you today that it’s time for a new type of enforcement. One thing about a sworn complaint is it allows a police officer to serve the warrant and we can issue a writ of arrest.”
Later, Operations and Community Affairs Director Shayla Beaco said the administration was reviewing the ordinances to make sure those powers of enforcement were available.
“We believe we need to take a closer look at the fines associated with litter and blight and look at our legal process in terms of making sure ‘teeth’ are in the ordinances,” she said. “There certainly needs to be some penalties on the part of folks constantly contributing to the problem. To what degree? There is a conversation going on with departments responsible for enforcement and the court system to make sure we’re on the same page, but we want to be more aggressive.”
The municipal court has even adopted a new mission statement, reflecting Stimpson’s campaign promise, stating: “To provide the highest quality of Preventative and Rehabilitative Justice through In-Court adjudications with attainment of goals by all court personnel in providing friendly, helpful and diligent out-of-court services to the public to help achieve the goal of making Mobile the safest, most business and family friendly city in America by 2020.”
Fines and fees associated with the current litter ordinance range from $472-$532. But Stimpson said his plan is to start softly, giving offenders an opportunity to participate before the fines come.
“When we do start, we want to give them a warning to make sure that they want to be part of the process of cleaning up,” he said. “It’s a mind shift change because it’s been a while since the city of Mobile had a concerted effort that started in the mayor’s office and is going to be fully behind an anti-litter program.”
Until then, Keep Mobile Beautiful has a variety of volunteer-based cleanup opportunities scheduled, where Director Bob Haskins said citizens can make an immediate difference.
“Mayor Stimpson is very, very emphatic about the fact that we need to coordinate efforts between all the departments with enforcement powers to make sure were enforcing all available ordinances and laws,” he said. “We’re all committed to making Mobile a better place and making sure the ordinances are up-to-date and actively enforceable. From the Police Department, to Urban Development, to the Traffic Department to Engineering, they all will be a part of it. Most major thoroughfares are littered, but there are other areas where people can take responsibility and clean up where trash collects and part of it is volunteering.”
Upcoming Keep Mobile Beautiful events include:
March 15: Halls Mill Road Cleanup
March 22: Household Haz-mat Day at The Grounds
April 5: The Great American Cleanup Kick-off in Tillman’s Corner
April 12: GAC Great Dauphin Street Cleanup
April 26: Great Crichton cleanup sponsored by Comcast
For more information call 209-6029.