Neosho City Council discusses graffiti

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

The Neosho City Council met on Jul. 20, with the majority of their short discussion revolving around a potential graffiti ordinance while also having the second and third readings for a few bills and introducing new ordinances.

Unfinished business/New ordinances

First, bills 2021-71 and 2021-72 had their second and third readings approved by council.

2021-71 amended city revenue and expenditure budgets to reflect chances since the adoption of the original budget for the Fiscal Year 2021.

The cities workers compensation and property insurance increased this year and required the amendment to the budget.

2021-72 allows the city to enter into a financial assistance agreement with the Region M Solid Waste Management District.

Region M covers Newton, McDonald, Vernon, Barton and Jasper counties and this agreement will provide $57,004 for salaries, fringe benefits and E-waste costs at the Neosho Regional Recycling Center.

Under new ordinances, the city approved bills 2021-74 and 2021-81.

2021-74 approved the conditional deed of gift from the United State Army for the UH-1H helicopter to the city of Neosho.

The old Vietnam era helicopter that has been in Neosho since 1996, and resided in Morse Park for many years, was moved in Oct. of 2020.

The first stop was the Neosho Parks Department shop for refurbishing with broken windows, pealing paint and graffiti.

On Jul. 24 it was moved to its new display site at M. Waldo Hatler Road, near the M. Waldo Hatler Memorial VFW Post 4142 atop a 15-foot-tall display pole.  

Council member Angela Thomas had a question for city attorney Jordan Paul about the wording of the agreement, essentially that the Army was loaning the helicopter to the city but if there was any paperwork to say the city actually owned it.

“We did go back and forth pretty extensively with the Army about whether there was a distinction there,” said Paul. “I’m not sure there is one, I think the only reason they would exercise any ownership rights was if we violated some of the conditions in the deed documents. It may be one of those distinction without a difference type of things.”

“With my military experience and everything else, it’s my understanding they always keep ownership,” added Mayor Bill Doubek of the Army. “They never just give it away, as if they’re going to use it in another war.”

Doubek added that even that day he had gotten calls of appreciation about the refurbishment and movement of the helicopter to its new location.

Council member Charles Collinsworth asked if Thomas’ concern meant they should reword the Memorandum of Understanding but Paul responded that the Army didn’t want to make any more changes after conversations with them and the bottom line was that it had to be signed if they wanted to move it to its new location.

Collinsworth asked Paul if saw any problems with the wording and Paul responded that he did not.

2021-81 was a fee agreement, that was passed, between Neosho and the McDonald County Sheriff’s Department for the housing of prisoners on an emergency basis.

The Newton County Jail policy sometimes means Neosho Police have issues getting prisoners booked there due to intoxication levels of the prisoner requiring medical clearance.

Freeman Hospital won’t accept prisoners for the same reason if they’re combative and the Newton County Jail won’t accept the prisoner unless cleared by medical staff if the intoxication level is about a certain level.

This leaves officers no place to take the prisoners even if an arrest is mandated by a state statue like a domestic assault.

The McDonald County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to house the prisoners on an as needed basis.

New business

Under new business, the council was presented with ideas on a graffiti ordinance by police chief Jason Baird.

On Jun. 24, Lieutenant Mike Sharp had researched the issue and sent his findings to Baird, stating that the city currently has no ordinance in place to correct these areas of concern.

In Sharp’s research, Joplin and Springfield both have ordinances that require a written notice be mailed to the property owner for the notification of graffiti nuisance.

It’s the property owner’s responsibility for the removal of the graffiti and they’re given ten days to abate that graffiti from the date the notice is given. The notice includes a notice od date, time and place for a hearing to determine whether the city shall be entitled to enter onto the property to abate the graffiti if its not fully abated in a timely manner.

Their ordinances also suggested fines, imprisonment and restitution fees if someone is found vandalizing any public or privately owned properties.

With some buildings in the city being vandalized by graffiti and it never being cleaned or repaired, Baird was asked to research what other cities in the area have as an ordinance.

“Its not that we don’t have an ordinance against graffiti,” said Baird. “that’s called property damage. What we don’t have is an ordinance that requires the cleanup of graffiti, making business owners responsible, or the city, to abate those nuisances.”

Council member Ashley Robinson told council that she was approached by a resident about an area in the city that was graffiti filled and their concern of property value dropping.

“I think it’s needed; we need to figure out what we need to do,” said Robinson.

Council member Julie Humphrey added that she thought it was an important thing to do citing concern on specific buildings within city limits.

Collinsworth asked if the city court handed out community service projects, could that be a way to take care of some of the blighted spots in the city.

“If we’ve got some deadbeats causing trouble around town and they find their way into city court proceedings and they are found guilty, I think the can do a little cleanup,” said Collinsworth.

City Manager David Kennedy said some found guilty by the city court do community service as mandated by the municipal court but at the end of the day the issue was getting them there to do it.

Council member Tyler DeWitt asked if there were any legalities to having those found guilty sending them to do cleanup on private property.

Paul responded that he didn’t see any difference between that and sending them to pick weeds but added that the property owner would need to be notified and given an opportunity to take care of the issue first.

DeWitt voiced his opinion sending municipal court offenders to public property for graffiti cleanup would be okay, but sending anyone from the cities public works department or municipal court offenders to private property wouldn’t be a good idea and opened up the city to more legal issues.

Paul asked Kennedy if municipal court offenders were supervised when they went out on community service and Kennedy responded that they were sometimes but not all the time depending on their task.

Council agreed that Paul would draft an ordinance, circulate it to council and bring it back up at the August council meeting.