On rental laws, 2 proposals offer city more options

The majority of City Council see purpose in reviewing Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s proposed rental ordinance requiring landlords to register their properties and their occupants with city codes and value in looking at a second complementary proposal.

The second plan introduced recently by Council President Bill Hall and Councilman Jonathan Williamson is centered on strengthening neighborhoods through initiatives such as doubling the number of boots on the ground in the codes office, using gas impact fee money to pay for exterior lighting and offering options for neighborhood watch groups, the eyes and ears of the city when police can’t be there.

“I think the plan Hall and Williamson presented absolutely merits further discussion, especially if they can fund the codes portion,” Councilwoman Liz Miele said. She doesn’t view it as opposition to what the administration proposes but rather a council plan that may work with what’s been advanced.

“Every element of both plans should be properly vetted both by members of council and of the administration,” Miele said. “That’s one terrific part of the democratic process: the checks and balances. No one on either council or the administration should rush to hyperbole before everyone has fully reviewed all proposals put forth.”

Councilman Randall J. Allison also sees value in not rushing to judgment either way. “I see a need to have consensus rather than steam roll or hurry up on this,” he said.

As a member of the public safety committee, Allison has reviewed several versions of the mayor’s plan, now in its eighth revision since it was announced more than a year ago.

“I’m for further discussion,” said Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, hinting she didn’t want to arrive at a decision too quickly and wants to see implementation in the spring by police using the new records-management system before passing new laws.

“We already have under-staffed codes,” she said. “I see good in the landlord-tenant act, but also see problems if we don’t have the technology in place to properly enforce it and have codes and police working together,” she said.

“I can see the ideas of Hall and Williamson factoring into the administration’s plan,” Councilman Don Noviello said.

Noviello said the discussion would not be meant to undermine the yeoman’s effort by police Capt. Timothy Miller, who is drafting the proposed law that has been reviewed by assistant solicitor J. David Smith.

Williamson, one of the authors of the complementary plan, said he is concerned his intention may be misinterpreted. “It may be we agree, it may be we don’t, but it’s coming at the same problem from a different direction,” he said.

“We’re all about improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” he said. “I’ve been careful to not take a position on the ordinance because I haven’t seen it, especially since they’ve made significant changes to it,” he said. “I can’t say whether I would support it or not support it. In my mind the proposal we have – if we pass the ordinance the mayor is proposing or if we didn’t pass the ordinance – could be a complement to it, if it is something I and the rest of council could agree to. It doesn’t have to be in opposition to what the mayor is saying. It may be we end up with a difference of opinion on what the landlord ordinance is all about,” Williamson said.

Williamson also doesn’t want neighborhood watch coordinators to misunderstand the plan’s purpose.

It doesn’t require watch groups purchase printers, communications devices and paper. “There would be funds available should they choose to use them for that purpose,” he said.

Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith said he was surprised by the approach the councilmen took, going first to the newspaper.

“I won’t pass judgment either way until I review the proposals,” he said. “I’m concerned about long-term legacy costs, which all people on council are.”

The administrative proposal goes before the city public safety committee at noon Oct. 1. Hall said he and Williamson are close to securing funding to make their plan work, including possible use of county gas impact fees.