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Council to consider amending ordinance

Maddie Hanna | Tuesday, February 28, 2006

South Bend Common Council members said they would consider changes to the city’s Public Nuisance Ordinance after listening to a carefully crafted statement on community relations delivered by six Notre Dame student government representatives at Monday night’s Council meeting.

“I was extremely pleased with the outcome,” student body president Dave Baron said after the meeting. “That was exactly what I was looking for when I said [I hoped Council members would be] engaging us further.”

While student representatives addressed the strained relationship between the Notre Dame and South Bend communities and explained how student government has addressed the issue, the core of the presentation was much more controversial, centered on perceived problems with the South Bend Public Nuisance Ordinance.

The ordinance was amended on July 25, 2005 to allow the City to send tenants a notice to abate after one violation instead of the previous three.

Senate Community Relations committee chair Nick Guzman said while six students received notices to abate and were evicted last semester, “of all the other notices to abate sent to students, there have been no [second] violations.”

That fact supports student government’s position that this aspect of the ordinance amendment is unnecessary, Guzman said, in that it fines both landlords and tenants after a first offense but drops the landlord’s fines if he or she evicts the tenant within 30 days.

“We feel the spirit of the law and enforcement of the law have been inconsistent,” he said.

Judicial Council president James Leito mentioned an editorial written by the South Bend Tribune this summer that supported the ordinance and described it as an effective tool to teach students who “repeatedly” violate disorderly house laws a lesson.

“The key word is ‘repeatedly,'” Leito said, implying the amendment should target frequent – not one-time – offenders. Tenants are given a notice to abate without the opportunity to do so.”

Off-campus president Matt Wormington said the notice to abate had failed to become the warning he and Baron believed it would be after discussions with Council members and Assistant City Attorney Ann-Carol Nash this summer.

“[South Bend has] moved away from encouraging reform and open debate, and toward evictions,” he said.

Wormington asked Council members to consider amending the ordinance in one of two ways – either send the notice to abate after the second violation, or allow landlords to pass their fines on to tenants, thus reducing the pressure to evict after one violation.

Baron finished the group’s presentation by requesting a modification to the ordinance and explaining his desire to cooperate with the Council.

“We do not come before the Council to promote or condone illegal behavior,” he said, emphasizing the importance of building a better relationship with the city – something he believes is already happening.

Baron said the election of student body vice president Lizzi Shappell and junior class president Bill Andrichik as next year’s president and vice president, respectively, “designates the issue as resonating with the student body,” since the pair prioritized community relations during their campaign.

The conclusion generated multiple compliments for Baron and the representatives, comments directed at the students’ professionalism and the strength of their presentation.

“Mr. Baron, we are truly impressed,” Council President Timothy Rouse said. “You notified us and prepared well.”

But Rouse said the Council “had some issues” with Notre Dame – namely, “reluctance from the administration to assume its responsibility both in the area of students and the neighborhood.”

Rouse, who said the Council’s Community Relations committee would consider student government’s proposal, urged Baron to “keep up that synergy from the young people and go back to the administration.”

“Hopefully we can bridge some gaps,” Rouse said.

Ann Puzzello, the 4th District Council member who staunchly defended the amended ordinance last fall, also commended Baron.

“First off, I also agree that you made community relations a high priority last year,” Puzzello told Baron. “I’m impressed with the way you behaved, impressed with what was said tonight … I’m very impressed with [student government’s proposed initiatives] and am interested in seeing how it works to some degree.”

While Puzzello couldn’t predict the Council’s decision on the proposed modifications to the ordinance or provide a timeframe, she told The Observer after the meeting it was “something we’ll be looking into.”

“I don’t know what we’re going to do just yet,” she said. “I don’t know how the bill would be amended … it includes extremely serious issues like drug houses.”

Any consideration of changes, Puzzello said, could be a “slow process.”

“It’s something we wouldn’t want to do without a lot of legal assistance,” she said.

She noted a decrease in parties during the fall semester and said, “I personally would be interested to see how the spring goes … things like St. Patrick’s Day.”

Only one Council member – Council Member at Large Al Kirsits – had a more negative tone.

“I admire you[r] coming out here, but you still have work to do,” Kirsits said. “I’m particularly disappointed with some fifth year architecture students [with trash all over their lawn],” he said.

Shappell and Senate Community Relations committee member Shawn Finlen also spoke at the beginning of the meeting.

“I think it went well,” Shappell said. “I was pleased at the level of professionalism and pleasantly surprised with the [feedback] we received … it’s a very positive step for my administration in opening the door [to a better relationship with the community].”