Complaints prompt council to seek snow ordinance changes

Protest and ye shall receive.

In response to citizen complaints regarding the 60 tickets the municipality issued on Nov. 27 and 28 for failure to clear snow from sidewalks, the Oxford Village Council last week voted 3-1 to begin the process of amending the three-month-old ordinance that prompted those citations.

“Many of our residents, I think, were completely blindsided by (these tickets) for about 2 inches of snow,” said village President Joe Frost.

“Everything around this feels really wrong – issuing this (number) of tickets right before the holidays,” said Councilwoman Kate Logan.

Council members reached a consensus that they want to see the ordinance changed with regard to the amount of snow that requires clearing and the time frame in which it must be done.

Frost said given “the amount of snowfall” the area received on Nov. 26, he “didn’t think (it) warranted 60 tickets” and that giving people 12 hours to clear sidewalks is “not enough” time.

Council members also want to see some language added that allows for a warning before the issuing of tickets.

“I like that one warning per calendar year (that Ann Arbor gives under its snow ordinance). I think that’s great,” Logan said.

Only Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth voted against the motion.

“I don’t have a problem amending the ordinance. I have a problem with we enforce it once and then all of the sudden, we don’t want to give anybody a ticket,” she said. “We’ve been saying, ‘Enforce the ordinance, enforce the ordinance, enforce the ordinance.’ They finally do and everybody’s caving . . . If we’re just going to cave, why even bother having an ordinance?”

Of the 60 tickets handed out, 33 have been paid, according to village Manager Joe Madore.

“How do we go about waiving the 60 citations that were issued? Because in my opinion, that’s what needs to happen,” said Logan.

Village attorney Bob Davis responded that “it’s a difficult process to waive the citations under an existing ordinance.”

“When you pass an ordinance, you’re deeming it appropriate,” he said. “It’s cloaked with reasonableness. It has a presumption in law to be reasonable and fair if you’ve passed it.”

The ordinance

Adopted in September, the new snow and ice removal ordinance requires that whenever “naturally-falling” snow or ice ceases to “fall or accumulate during daylight hours,” it must be “removed from the sidewalks within 12 hours after the cessation.” If the snow or ice ceases to “fall or accumulate during the nighttime,” it must be “removed from the sidewalks by 7 p.m. the following day.”

The current ordinance does not specify an amount of snow that triggers the requirement to shovel.

Individuals who violate the ordinance face civil fines of “not less than $50 or more than $500, plus costs and other sanctions, for each infraction.”

“Each day that a violation continues shall be deemed an additional and distinct violation,” the ordinance states.

How the ordinance came about

Council began discussing the snow removal issue at its Feb. 13, 2018 meeting.

Frost said it was prompted by the “significant” amount of snow that had accumulated in the downtown area. There was concern that the previous $15 fine for those who failed to clear snow from sidewalks was being “ignored.” That had been the penalty since 1977.

“The language on the books was not strong enough, especially in the downtown district,” Frost said.

A public hearing on the new ordinance was held at the July 24 council meeting, but Frost said “unfortunately, only two residents spoke.”

He noted that in earlier drafts of the new ordinance, the minimum fine was $150, but it got lowered to $50 as a compromise among council members.

Public comment

Some residents came to the meeting to voice their displeasure with the ordinance and the 60 tickets, each of which carried a $50 fine, it spawned.

Kevin Kadrich, who lives on Woodleigh Way in the Oxford Lakes subdivision, pointed out that village officials previously said this ordinance “is not aimed at Joe Schmo who happens to miss a day that it snows.”

“Yet there the village was on that very first snow day issuing 60 tickets to the tune of $3,000,” he said.

Following the tickets, Kadrich said Madore was quoted in the Dec. 5 Leader saying it’s not about the money.

“Well, if that’s truly the case, I suggest you could have avoided taking 60 people’s money by reaching out directly to the homeowners or the business owners, asking them why their walk wasn’t cleared and encouraging them to do so,” he said. “This isn’t Manhattan. It’s Mayberry and talking to 60 neighbors seems very easy.”

Kadrich said “a little latitude” could have been given in the form of a “first and only warning.”

“Since we can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube and the tickets have already been issued,” Kadrich suggested village officials “stop saying it’s not about the money when it obviously is.”

Gene Hampton, owner of the Hampton Block and Supply property at 60 E. Burdick St., said for many years, “nobody gave you a ticket” and things “got along just fine.”

“People cleared their driveways and shoveled whenever they could . . . Now, you’re trying to hammer people into obeying by issuing them a ticket. How ridiculous,” he said.

Hampton said the new ordinance is “wrong and should be rescinded.”

“Snow never hurt anybody. Nobody ever fell down (because of) snow,” he said.

Wilkie  Collins, a senior citizen who lives on Thornehill Trail in the Oxford Lakes subdivision, received a ticket and called it “overkill.”

“It’s not that I’m against having a regulation that people should (shovel their sidewalks),” he said.

But Collins believes “12 hours is not much time” to get it done.

“I’ve always shoveled my sidewalk within two days,” he noted.

Collins told council it should take into account there are senior citizens and people with health issues who have difficulty clearing snow.

Angela Profant, who lives at the corner of Park and Mechanic streets, urged council to extend “grace” to “seniors, to people with disabilities (and) pregnant women.”

She also said the village needs to find ways to get help for people who need it.

Manager speaks

Following the public’s comments, Madore described the sequence of events that led to the tickets being issued.

He said it stopped snowing between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26.

The code enforcement officer went out to look for potential violations at about 11:30 a.m. the next day, almost 24 hours after the snow ended. Madore explained the “last thing” they wanted to do was have a “brand new ordinance” in place and “not follow it.”

“I told (the officer to) read the ordinance and do what it says,” the manager said.

To those folks who don’t think there was enough snow on the ground to justify issuing tickets, Madore described the initial 2 to 3 inches as “wet, heavy, sloppy, slushy.”

“The next day, it was frozen and very uneven and very dangerous to walk on,” he said. “We did have a lady take a spill out there in front of Casa Real on Wednesday (Nov. 28) afternoon.”

Frost said he wasn’t looking to place any blame.

“I understand that it is at the discretion of the village manager and staff. I do not fault them,” he said. “It is their duty to operate within the confines of the ordinance . . .  And this is the law that’s on the books at this time.”

Council discussion

Logan expressed her desire to implement a snow removal program that provides assistance to those who are unable to shovel, from senior citizens to individuals with disabilities and/or health issues.

“We have nothing to offer the senior citizens of this village and to me, that’s a failure,” she said.

Frost noted he’s “willing to reach out to our community partners and put together some sort of program to approve at our next meeting.”

The village president even volunteered to step up and help clear snow himself.

“Call me. I will give you my number and I will come shovel your sidewalk if you need,” he said.

Helmuth defended the current ordinance because it did its job.

“(By) sending these tickets out, we got people to clear their sidewalks, which is the point,” she said. “We want the sidewalks cleared. We don’t want kids walking through 8 inches of snow to get to the bus stop.”

Helmuth noted that although council “can’t write an ordinance that takes into account every pregnant woman or every senior citizen or everyone with a broken leg,” the village does “have compassion.”

“You can call the office and we’ll do what we can to help,” she said. “But the point is we need people to clear their sidewalks in a relatively quick manner and if you have trouble doing that, you need to find a neighbor or hire a Boy Scout.”

As a longtime village resident and former municipal employee, Helmuth said there are homeowners “who I don’t think (have) ever cleared their sidewalks” and “that’s got to stop.”