By Sarah Mansheim
“We’re not trying to hurt anybody; we’re trying to help the city.”
White Sulphur Mayor Lloyd Haynes and his city council have been facing a lack of an enforceable building maintenance code for years, and this was what the mayor told a crowd of about 20 people who were on hand to question the passing of the first reading of a new property maintenance ordinance on Tuesday night.
A little over a week ago, on Sept. 14, community members filled WSS City Hall to decry the run-down buildings and garbage-filled yards that have plagued the city for years – and council promised to introduce a property maintenance code to finally remedy this long-standing issue.
Then, this past Tuesday evening, council convened for a special meeting with only one item on the agenda: the first reading of the International Property Maintenance Code, a standard maintenance code used by municipalities across the United States, including the cities of Ronceverte and Lewisburg. Again, council chambers were filled by concerned citizens, but this time, they were worried about government overreach.
One gentleman, who identified himself as “Daniel, a citizen of the United States of America,” accused the council of being in violation of the U.S. Constitution by not holding a public hearing prior to the vote. The man also accused the council of treasonous activities due to “entering into an international treaty.”
“You’re imposing international law on American people. Under what authority of law do you do this?” he demanded.
Council members repeatedly asked him for his last name, which he quickly muttered was “Bueller” and then later, “Beeler” (he did not sign in to speak, as there was no public comment item on the agenda, but council had decided to entertain a public discussion after officially closing the meeting) and admitted that he was not a White Sulphur Springs resident.
“What is your mailing address?” asked Council member Mark Gillespie after Daniel refused to tell council where he was from.
“I have mailing addresses in Alabama and in Florida,” he said.
The man was informed that the meeting was really for citizens of White Sulphur, and was finally asked to take a seat.
Next to speak was White Sulphur resident Helen Cohernour, who attempted to smooth over the discussion by immediately declaring that, ultimately, she was in favor of the ordinance, but that she had concerns about the quick adoption of the ordinance and its enforceability.
“It just seems like it’s going to be a huge undertaking. What if we just enforced the codes that are already on the books?” she asked.
“We have researched it,” Gillespie replied. “We will hire a contractor (to enforce the code) on a part-time, as-needed basis.”
Council member Audrey Van Buren held up the code, roughly 50-pages in length, and said, “This is going to allow us to enforce the codes.”
Haynes also spoke out in favor of the code.
“Having the code in place will allow us to get funding. Any time we apply for grant funding, we get asked if we have a recognized building code.”
Haynes also addressed some rumors he said have been floating around the Spa City that council is targeting specific buildings and businesses through the passage of the code.
“That is absolutely untrue,” he said. However, he continued, “There are structures we know need to come down, because they are ready to fall down.”
Council will hold a public hearing prior to the second reading of the International Property Maintenance Code ordinance at the next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m.