City: ‘What exactly is a nuisance?’

Memorandum of understanding on Fair Park still doesn’t address RFA concerns
Reporter Editor

The Rockdale City Council appears ready, even eager, to pass Rockdale’s firstever comprehensive nuisance ordinance.

But first it has to answer one key question.

Just what exactly is a nuisance? And once you define it, what legal actions can you take against people who don’t obey the rules?

Council members, meeting in workshop session Monday at City Hall, discussed nuisances and failed to make any progress on a disagreement with the Rockdale Fair Association over a “memorandum of understanding” regarding Fair Park use.

NUISANCES—Council members want to bring together an all- encompassing ordinance so “nuisances” may be handled by the city code enforcement officer and the legal system.

“Currently all we have (in that area) is a three-page ordinance covering grass and weeds,” City Manager Kelvin Knauf said.

At the council’s instruction, City Attorney Michelle Lehmkuhl presented ordinances for study in 27 areas. Such diverse situations as parking commercial trailers, disposal of dead animals, leaving food items to rot, garage sales and unsolicited advertising items thrown into driveways and yards were discussed.

Lehmkuhl said the items, which are based on existing ordinances from Taylor and Georgetown, are not proposals but are for study by the council. “I need some guidance from you how to proceed,” she said.

Mayor Larry Jones said the city’s task is “how this comes together to be functional and useful.”

He said one legal definition of nuisance is “anything that’s offensive to a preponderance of the population.”

‘ SLAM DUNKS’—Jones suggested the council start by compiling a list of nuisances that would be “slam dunks” to the majority of Rockdale residents.

“Let’s do 15 or so, whatever number,” he said. “Then we can sit down and tweak it. But let’s not pass something just so we can say we’ve passed one.”

Councilman Doug Calame said he’d like the opportunity to vote up or down on all 27 of the study items.

Jones expressed concern about the wording “likely to become” in an ordinance. “I don’t know how you determine if something is ‘likely to become’ a nuisance,” he said.

The council cannot take action in a workshop session. Lehmkuhl said she would consult with Austin attorney Barney Knight, who has extensive experience in nuisance ordinances.

“ The ultimate goal of these ordinances is to make our town a better place,” she said.

RFA— Lehmkuhl recom- mended no change in a proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and Rockdale Fair Association over Fair Park use.

There has never been a formal document covering the relationship between the two entities in the 35 years of the Fair.

RFA directors want assurances property they buy, or buildings they construct, at the park, then donate to the city, will not be sold or given away until the RFA has had a chance to pay for them.

Directors cited a 2005 decision by the city to allow a skate park to be built on a piece of property purchased by the RFA and donated to the city.

L ehmkuhl said instead of changing the proposed memorandum to insert language favored by the RFA, it could be amended on a case-by- case basis in the future if circumstances described by the directors ever arise.

“It’s more protection for the Fair Association than there is right now,” she said. “ There’s nothing right now.”

“I don’t see how we could sit here as a council and ignore our attorney’s advice,” Jones said.

James Birkhead, RFA president, and 35-year directors Rod Spence and Claude Spence attended the workshop.

Birkhead said directors are concerned about obtaining future loans to build more facilities at Fair Park.

“All we want to do is keep doing what we’ve been doing, building facilities at the park and giving them to the city,” he said. “For instance, restrooms out there are a disgrace and need to be replaced.”

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