To the Editor-
As a recent UWSP graduate and general enthusiast for our wonderful community, I was exuberant with the purchase of my first house in the lovely Fifth Ave. neighborhood.
However, my excitement was quickly tampered by a letter from the city’s neighborhood improvement coordinator, Mark Kordus, informing me that, according to ordinances 23.03 (10, 1, 17), I needed to mow my lawn within the week or face a service charge for the city to mow.
I reread the letter and looked at my lawn, confused. “Well,” I thought, “I guess they’ve got to be drawing from some kind of law.”
Upon digging into the code of ordinances, however, I found nothing more than what he’d cited: ordinance specifics referring to noxious weeds, of which we had none; rodent harborage, of which there was none; and public nuisance, which included no definition or description.
I left a voicemail with Mr. Kordus and waited a week before emailing him, explaining that, due to the absence of tangible law behind his request, I would not be mowing my lawn at this time.
That prompted a response, and we held some voicemail and phone interactions in which he stated again that, “…You just have to mow; that’s all there is to it.” When faced with the question of the legality of the city’s request, he responded that there is an “unwritten law,” that exists, but just “isn’t on the books yet,” that sets a general limit at eight inches.
He also mentioned that he had issued the notice while he was in town on other business, apparently unprovoked by any actual complaint from the neighborhood.
One month after the initial notice, I went out and took photos of the lawn with a measuring stick, showing the length at seven inches, still under the “unwritten” legal limit. Regardless, within two weeks, a contractor showed up while we were leaving and mowed the lawn, charging us a rate for a lawn length of over 18 inches, and including a $100 charge for “Inspection After Initial Notice.”
Why it costs our neighborhood improvement coordinator $100 to assess the status of a lawn, I may never know, but the need to appeal was evident.
So I called Mr. Kordus. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do at this point; you have to fill out the appeal form included in your charge and go through those steps.”
There was, however, no appeal form included in my charge. After going to city hall, finding and filling out an appeal form, I received a notification days before a public protection committee meeting that I was on the agenda to appeal my charge.
That Monday, I stood uncertainly before the committee and made my case, calling into question the ambiguity of the cited ordinances, the spottiness of communication, dated photo evidence of my grass within the unwritten legal standard, and the excessiveness of the inspection charge. The council members, however, were not interested.
They asked one question, “Why didn’t you mow?” before making a motion and denying my appeal, leaving me flabbergasted and humiliated.
I sat and watched two subsequent appeals go forth in much the same fashion. “What do Mark Kordus’ notes say?” “Was the voicemail left on the 3rd or 5th?” “I’m sorry, but we just can’t drop this based on your confusion with the charges…”
I looked ardently from face to face, but none would meet my eye. In a seemingly perfect closed loop of bureaucracy, the neighborhood improvement coordinator—responsible for issuing the charge—is absent for the appeal; the council refers to his notes alone, and neither questions the legality, coherence or sensibility of the charges.
I’ve since spoken with the city attorney, and the question of legality remains unclear. However, my underlying, fundamental concern is whether this process represents neighborhood improvement at all and whether these people represent me, or some other institution.
Expecting understanding, critical thinking, and willingness to listen; I found little, from the neighborhood improvement coordinator to the council to the city attorney.
While I respect the roles and service of all of our representatives, I hope the city possesses the fortitude to look critically at its current procedures, and take steps towards the development of sensible, service-based ordinances and enforcement.
If this is not possible, I hope for some turnover in the city council in the next cycle.
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