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State your case on Gulfport code crackdown Wednesday

Cheryll Grogan makes a statement on her lawn. “They treat us like trailer trash, like we’re not smart enough to think for ourselves.”

PATTI EWALD | Special to the Times

Cheryll Grogan makes a statement on her lawn. “They treat us like trailer trash, like we’re not smart enough to think for ourselves.”

GULFPORT — Artist Cheryll Grogan's latest work of art isn't one of her beautiful oil paintings of laid-back life in Key West.

But it is about laid-back life — in Gulfport — and city attempts to regulate it.

It's a tongue-in-cheek lawn display with a message.

It includes a sofa, refrigerator, beer cans, cigarette butts and a sign purposefully laden with misspellings lampooning the city's recently passed legislation banning smoking on the beach and its proposal to ban sofas as lawn furniture.

"They treat us like trailer trash, like we're not smart enough to think for ourselves," said Grogan, who has lived in Gulfport since 1996.

"I think they should listen to the people without snapping to judgment," she said.

Her lawn display is food for thought as a town hall meeting on city codes and their enforcement approaches.

Some residents have made it clear they don't want the city telling them what they can and can't do on their property. Others have said they are tired of unkempt lawns and front yards doubling as RV storage lots or junk yards.

What's a city to do?

Well, first, hear them out, Mayor Mike Yakes said.

City Manager Jim O'Reilly said a town hall meeting, away from council chambers, is the best way to hear from the community and have a "respectful dialogue" on the issue.

"In an older built-out community such as Gulfport, there are no perfect code enforcement answers or remedies and many contributing factors," he said.

"The job at hand is to hear from the people, make notes of the issues, and see how far we go with compromise to resolve it," Yakes said.

O'Reilly will present drafts of the same ordinances that drew community ire at a council meeting and led to this forum. Public comment will be factored into future drafts.

The man tasked with tidying up the town, code enforcement officer Bruce Earling, is the one most squeezed between a rock and a hard place.

He's under pressure to clean up things but has no teeth to enforce many problems — like garbage cans in the front yard or grass growing over curbs — because there are no ordinances against them.

While he thinks a tidy city improves housing values and deters crime, he said, "What I think doesn't matter. It's what they write in the code."

There's an even deeper wrinkle to his no-win situation. Some have accused him of selective enforcement, accusations that make the former police officer angry.

"I have ethics. Don't ask me to lie. Don't ask me to treat this guy differently because he's poor," Earling said.

If he could tell residents one thing, Earling would say, "Maintain the exterior of your property on a regular basis. That includes cutting grass, picking up trash and debris. Make the exterior of your property presentable. Make it look like something you wouldn't be embarrassed to have someone come take a picture of."

>>fast facts

Town hall meeting

7 p.m. Wednesday

Gulfport Senior Center

5501 27th Ave. S

The first targets

The most common complaints the city wants teeth to enforce:

• Remove nonoperable/unregistered vehicles parked in the front yard

• Require edging at curbs or street; trim landscaping

• Define lawn furniture and prohibit all others outdoors

• Define and limit the number of boats, trailers and RVs in front yards

• Shorten time debris can sit on curb from seven to three days

• Get garbage cans out of street view

• Specify how many and where RVs can be stored

Source: City Manager Jim O'Reilly

State your case on Gulfport code crackdown Wednesday 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 3:31am]
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