Aldermen seek OK for private property work

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 7, 2003

Private property concerns highlighted Tuesday’s city boardmeeting, with aldermen bemoaning a lack of authority for city crewsto go on private property to provide services like mosquitospraying or ditch cleaning.

Ward 6 Alderman John E. “Buddy” Allen opened the discussion witha request to have a meeting with representatives from the AttorneyGeneral’s office. The alderman said he did not want to see cityservices abused, but officials needed the ability to go on privateproperty.

“I’d like to have room to operate,” Allen said.

Mayor Bill Godbold, however, was highly skeptical that statelawmakers would approve any private property law changes.

“You’re going to have a hell of road to plow convincing thelegislature to change those laws,” Godbold said.

Despite recent publicity regarding mosquito spraying and pastcity excursions onto private property for various reasons, cityofficials are now maintaining their position that they have noauthority to go on private property.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said he is expecting AG’s opinions onthree questions regarding mosquito spraying, ditch cleaning andgrass mowing early next week, possibly Tuesday. He anticipatedthose opinions would support the city’s current stance.

“Just because we’ve done it in the past doesn’t mean it waslegal in the past,” Fernald said.

Fernald labeled as incorrect a recent DAILY LEADER article thatcited a 1989 AG’s opinion that purported to give cities permissionto go on private property. Since that opinion was issued, though,Fernald said there has been a “wholesale reorganization of howgovernment does business.”

“As I understand the law, there is no loophole for going onprivate property,” Fernald said.

Spraying to control mosquito populations has prompted the latestround of private property discussion.

Regarding mosquitoes and the potential spread of West Niledisease, Godbold said problems this year are “meager” compared tolast year. He said steps are being taken to eliminate problems,which should remain low as long as there’s no rain.

Fernald said the county can create a mosquito commission thatwould be responsible for spraying for the insects, but hespeculated that supervisors don’t want to assume those duties.

Ward 4 Alderman Bob Massengill, who has spoken with AG’sofficials, said he was told officials can’t go on private propertyexcept in cases of health hazards. In those instances, the board ofaldermen would need to hold a hearing — similar to ones called totear down dilapidated buildings — to declare such as a healthhazard.

Poor drainage of ditches, which also could contribute tomosquito problems, was on the minds of several aldermen. Somealdermen wanted to be able to help in those cases.

“The property owners want them cleaned out. We need to cleanthem out,” said Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates.

Fernald cautioned that similarly-situated people must be handledthe same. In other words, one group of people could not be treatedone way and another group a different way.

Current laws are designed to prevent private property from beingimproved at public expense. Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron Jr.contended city ditch work would not do that.

“Cleaning out a ditch, to me, is not improving property,”Cameron said.

If an AG official could not come to Brookhaven, Allen and otheraldermen said they would be willing to go to Jackson. Allenindicated they are all together with property-related problems.

“Every alderman here has the same problems,” Allen said.