In an emotional outburst, Alderman Herb Adams said the city’s different treatment of two neighbors cited with identical code violations was unfair and unacceptable.
Speaking at the Oct. 2 board meeting, Adams grilled City Administrator Steve Roth and Building Commissioner Shawn Seymour over the different penalties assigned to the two neighbors.
Robert Villery, who lives at 108 W. Park, and Dawn Metzger, 705 N. First St., had both constructed fences of wire material that is not allowed in city building codes. Villery was given 30 days to remove his fence and Metzger was given 365 days.
Villery was at the Oct. 2 board meeting to protest his treatment.
“I want an answer to my fence problem,” Villery said. “She (Metzger) was given 365 days to take down her fence. I had to take mine down and put up another fence, which I did.”
Villery said the city had issued him a permit to erect the illegal fence that he later had to take down.
Mayor Steve Myers told Villery that Metzger’s fence problem is in the process of being handled.
“The fence situation with your neighbor is in the process,” he said. “It’s between her and the city. She may be going to court.”
“Why was I given a permit to put that (wire) fence up?” Villery said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Adams weighed in saying he wanted an explanation of the different treatment of the neighbors.
Adams said he got involved when Villery phoned him several times. He said he contacted the city and specifically asked about Metzger’s fence.
“I was not given the complete truth and I don’t like that,” Adams said. “Mr. Villery was not handled correctly. I’m a city ofﬁcial and I came and talked to you (administration) and I was not handled correctly and I’m offended by it.”
Roth said he is aware that the city had issued Villery a permit in 2017 to construct a fence of wire construction, but the neighbors complained.
“It was clear to me that the fence did not meet code and the building permit was in error,” Roth said. “I wrote Mr. Villery a letter and said the fence was in violation and asked him to remove it.”
Roth also said he offered to reimburse Villery for the building permit fee that he paid initially.
Around the same time, the city had received a complaint that Metzger also had a fence not in compliance with city code and a letter was sent stating the fence must be removed.
The determination of both fences was turned over to new building commissioner Shawn Seymour.
“I will say this, I’ve given Mr. Seymour latitude to handle this aspect of the job,” Roth said. “This decision did not cross my desk.”
Seymour offered a different version of events. He said both Villery and Metzger had approached him about their illegal fences. He told each one that if they submitted an application for a new fence he would approve it and give them each 12 months to remove the illegal fences and erect new ones.
“I gave both individuals the same opportunity to abate the ordinance violation and to get right with the city code,” he said.
After Seymour’s notice to the two parties, Roth and the mayor met with Villery’s neighbor, (who was not named), who demanded that the time for Mr. Villery’s fence be moved forward.
Adams said the neighbor’s complaint should not have affected the city’s action.
“It was not(the neighbor’s) place to decide how much time Mr. Villery had to remove his fence,” Adams said. “He is a citizen and he has a right to complain. He did, and we should listen. But when it comes to making our decisions affecting other people, to be even and fair, that was on the city to decide that and not Mr. Villery’s neighbor.
Adams said regardless of who at city hall made the mistake it was wrong to let Mr. Villery’s neighbor determine how much time Mr. Villery had to take down his fence.
“You allowed the neighbor to decide that?” Adams asked.
“The complaint was not made to me or my office, sir,” Seymour responded.
Adams said the city should have explained to the neighbor how code violations are treated and that Mr. Villery had a year to replace the fence.
“We can talk another hour, two hours, we can talk until the next day or morning and you cannot justify your decision at all,” he said. “You cannot justify it. You were wrong. Mr. Villery was done wrong. Period.”
Adams said most of his anger about the incident is a result of his visit to city hall to discuss the matter. He had asked about Metzger’s fence, but was not told that she had a year to replace her fence.
He said when board members, elected officials, come to city hall and ask the staff questions they should get not part of the truth, but the whole truth.
“When I asked about Dawn’s fence, you knew exactly what I was looking for,” Adams said to Roth. “You did not give me the whole story. I’m the one that’s elected, not you. I insist, I demand the truth. No one told me Dawn was given a year and Mr. Villery was given 30 days.”
He said if officials had told him the full story, the issue would have been handled at city hall and not in a public board meeting.
Alderman Andy Nemeth asked why the city only offered to reimburse Villery for the permit fee for the illegal fence.
“So we told him the wrong thing to do and he spent money and we did not give him his money back?” Nemeth asked. “I can’t understand why we didn’t pay him back for the fence we told him was OK and then he had to tear down. That’s not right.”
The mayor said it’s not too late to reimburse Mr. Villery for the fence and asked Nemeth if he wanted to make a motion to that effect, but Adams said it was not the aldermen’s job to correct the problem.
“Instead of a motion coming from the board of aldermen, this problem did not come from the board of aldermen,” Adams said. “So I would like for the administration to come up with a solution and make a recommendation to the board of aldermen and then the board will decide if we will accept your recommendation as a solution. You created the problem. Bring the solution to us.”
Myers said the administration would craft a response for aldermen.