Marlinton has many ordinances, but little manpower to enforce

Jaynell Graham

Ordinances are created to help maintain the health and well-being of a town and its residents, but with few employees and little manpower, lack of inspection and enforcement often undermines Marlinton Town Council’s ability to put what’s on paper to the pavement.

During Public Input at Monday night’s meeting, former councilmember Mark Strauss addressed council about a violation of the town’s ordinance as it pertains to RVs, as well as problems within the scope of the town’s fluid Animal Ordinance.

Strauss reported that, while campers parked and used as a residence on personal property without a permit are in violation of the town’s ordinance, nothing has been done about a camper on Second Avenue, which has been deemed uninhabitable, but continues to be inhabited.

“That camper is against the law,” Strauss said. “You are changing the ordinance, but you are not addressing this troubled piece of property.”

Strauss also advised council that dogs and cats are being mauled and killed on Second Avenue by dogs that are running loose.
“Council is worried about one part [of the Animal Ordinance],” Strauss said, “but not worried about the other stuff.”
The “one part” to which Strauss referred concerned an issue that arose at last month’s meeting when attorney Josh Hardy addressed council with regard to a request from his client for a special permit to keep more than the ordinance-allowed three pets on one residential property.

Hardy’s complaint was that the special permit included acceptance, on the part of his client, of inspections of the property at any time to ensure compliance with the permit.

Hardy maintained that the provision was not part of the town’s ordinance and, therefore, should not be a part of the special permit application.

At the end of that discourse, Town Attorney Bob Martin told Hardy to “just take it out.”

Hardy responded that he had been trying to have that provision taken out for two months.

Hardy attended Monday night’s meeting where Mayor Sam Felton asked if he had anything to say to council during Public Input.

Hardy advised council that he had received a revised version of the Animal Special Permit application September 27 from Martin, which did not include the provision for inspection, and he and his client were ready to apply and pay the required $50 fee.

Recorder B. J. Gudmundsson advised Hardy that he should wait until council addressed an agenda item in Unfinished Business, which was “Discuss and/or act on Committee Recommendations for Revision to the Animal and Fowl Ordinance.”

Hardy said he received the special permit from Martin at 3:36 p.m. September 27. Council’s animal ordinance committee met at 7 p.m. the same day to address revisions to the ordinance.

Council moved to that item Monday night, and approved a revision to Section 3309 of the ordinance to strike all provisions for special permits except to verifiable animal welfare agencies who foster stray or abandoned animals at private homes. The revision would allow up to five animals at one residence for a period of eight weeks, which could be extended by application to and approval of council.

“Josh, it sounds like we will be getting together with Mr. Martin in the morning, and you will have to get in contact with him,” Mayor Sam Felton said.

Strauss question whether the council had made revisions to the ordinance as it affected one specific person or case.
“We didn’t,” Gudmundsson said. “This is the entire community.

“I served on the original committee,” councilmember Norris Long said, “and we depended a lot on the honor system, and from what has happened in the last year, we have found that not to be the case. This just happens to come up at a prime time due to this issue. We would have addressed it as we had the opportunity.”

Hardy did not agree.

“By that vote, that just says there’s no such thing as a special permit,” Hardy said.

“That’s exactly what it says, as of tonight,” Gudmundsson responded.

“I think this is ripe for challenge, both as arbitrary and capricious,” Hardy said. “This deserves more of a conversation.”

Councilmember Don Morrison commented that Bob [Martin] “did not have the right” to give a revised special permit application to Hardy while the matter was being addressed by council at its special meeting.

Gudmundsson advised council that there needed to be a conversation between council and its attorney.

“While we’re on this,” Gudmundsson said, “this is just an observation as I watch, sometimes. Maybe this council needs to sit down and, in meeting, talk about the tail wagging the dog half the time. One hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. The lawyer’s jumping out there doing things that council doesn’t know about. That’s kind of unsettling to me.”

In other business, council

• Heard a report from town police officer Travis Cook, noting service calls, traffic stops and arrests within the town during the month of September

• Approved payment of resolutions for the town’s Water Improvement Project in the amount of $172,619.62

• Voted to support Home Rule as a permanent program, although Marlinton is not in the program at the present time

• Set Trick or Treat in the town for Wednesday, October 31, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Council meets the first Monday of each month at 7 p.m., holidays excluded, in council chambers on the second floor of the municipal building.

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