Panama City Commissioners make positive changes by approving nuisance ordinance

PANAMA CITY— The City Commission approved a controversial ordinance Tuesday that allows heavy law enforcement presence to be considered as a factor in declaring a property a chronic nuisance.

It was drafted in an effort to reduce problems associated with homelessness, but some raised concerns that it could have wider reaching effects that would penalize landlords, be used discriminatorily and even make the homelessness problem worse.

The ordinance was passed on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Mike Nichols voting no.

Commissioner John Kady, who helped draft the ordinance, said it will compel the organizations that do not want to work with the city to address problems on their properties to do so through an abatement process. He has described it as a matter of responsibility.

Though the ordinance is technically in effect, Panama City Police Chief John Van Etten said he does not plan to enforce the ordinance until he receives direction from City Attorney Rowlett Bryant about how it should be implemented.

Van Etten, who was involved in discussions about the ordinance but not in the drafting of the final ordinance, said the law is vague in some regards and it wasn’t clear how it should be enforced. Bryant said he would try to have a letter for the Police Department sometime this week.

The decision to approve the ordinance before Bryant drafted the letter was criticized by the Rev. Billy Fox, executive director of the Panama City Rescue Mission. He said he thought the ordinance should have been tabled until enforcement was clear.

It wasn’t the only concern he had.

Representatives of the Panama City Rescue Mission said the ordinance could exacerbate the downtown homelessness problem.

Fox said there is a “very strong possibility” the mission will open its Day Center only to those involved in mission programs and close it to all others.

“Our board has already resolved that that could very well be one of the answers to protecting our organization,” Fox said. Notice how Mr. Fox’s priority seems to be to “protect his organization” instead of being an organiziation that provides services while being a positive entity to its surrounding neighbors.

Henry Hazzard, president of the mission’s board of directors, said most of the calls to law enforcement made at the mission are related to the DayCenter, which was opened in July 2005 to address problems associated with homeless men and women loitering. It is open to everyone during the day to give them a place to go to get off the streets, he said.

“This Day Center has come back to bite us,” Hazzard said.

Fox said closing the day center could put 30-50 people back on the streets during the day, which will make it look like the number of homeless people in the city increased. They are already “on the street”. They just use the rescue mission like their personal country club to grab a meal and then back out around town. More silly nonsense from Mr. Fox. He wants to frighten people into thinking that his facility is the only solution. The reality is that Fox isnt going to cut a program. When has he EVER cut a program? He NEEDS to have larger and larger numbers to justify his budgets. CUTTING a program, having lesser numbers of people that have now become dependent on the services of the mission is never going to happen unless an outside force like a powerful new ordinance pressures him to scale back.

It’s not the only concern Fox has with the ordinance.

He said he is worried the ordinance will make people think twice about calling police during an emergency. Actually the new ordinance will have the OPPOSITE effect. It will ENCOURAGE  citizens to call the police. In the past a telephone call would only bring an officer to address the one single incident. Many people would not bother to call because calling never seemed to solve the problem. Now, when a call is placed it allows that call to become a statistic, one that has real meaning. Through ongoing input from the community the ordinance now gives local government leverage to address the root core of a problem.

“Somebody’s life is going to be in danger,” he said. MORE threats to the community. If someone’s life is in danger as Mr. Fox professes, then the whole facility should be shut down TODAY

Mayor Greg Brudnicki said one possible solution would be for organizations that rely heavily on the police to hire security.

“There has to be a certain amount of security you provide in your business,” he said.

The chronic nuisance ordinance states that owners or occupants of property where goods or services are provided and properties where owners or occupants permit legal activates would be classified as a chronic nuisance if law enforcement is called to the premises five or more times within a 30-day period.

It would not penalize property owners who report a nuisance created by a third-party to law enforcement, as long as the owner is not a participant.

After hearing from several property owners, commissioners cut a section of the ordinance that allowed a chronic nuisance to be declared based on circumstances that are “annoying to neighbors, the neighborhood and the community, that is injurious to the health of citizens in general or that corrupts public morals.”

Those in violation of the ordinance will go through the city’s current nuisance abatement process, which will include an appearance in front of a magistrate and the creation of an abatement plan.

Commissioners also held first reading of an ordinance that prohibits panhandling and regulates behavior on public property. It will return to the commission at a later meeting for a final vote. A complete story on the ordinance will be in Thursday’s edition of The News Herald.

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1 Comment

  1. The rescue mission is big business but how to find out who is behind it property appraiser website doesnt show who owner is but i have heard the one in atlanta is owned by the person that owns that one i just want it gone it is one huge enabler


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