Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jun 2010
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2010 The Clarion-Ledger
Author: Chris Joyner


An ordinance creating steps for the city of Jackson to tear down 
suspected drug houses passed a key committee vote today, but some on 
the council wondered whether the process is worth it.

The procedures in the proposed ordinance are mirrored in a 2008 law 
giving cities the power to tear down vacant houses used for drug 
activity, but leaves the decision up to a circuit judge. That's a 
higher legal burden than the city's normal procedures for tearing 
down blighted buildings, a fact that had some on the council concerned.

"I don't see a whole lot of help here," said Council President Frank 
Bluntson. "It's still going to be left up to the courts."

The ordinance is a version of a proposal first authored by Ward 3 
Councilman Kenneth Stokes in 2006 following a warrantless raid on a 
suspected drug house led by then-Mayor Frank Melton. Melton would 
spend the rest of his life (he died in office a year ago) fighting 
legal charges stemming from that raid.

Stokes said the ordinance, which still needs approval by the full 
council, is a start, and said the city needs to lobby the Legislature 
for more authority to move on suspected drug dens, including occupied houses.

Deputy City Attorney James Anderson said the state and city are bound 
by the U.S. Constitution, which restricts the power of government to 
seize individual property.

"There is a limit to what government can do," he said.

The ordinance is based on a law passed in 2008 allowing cities to 
seize and destroy unoccupied houses where there is evidence they are 
being used to sell or use illegal drugs.

Under the ordinance, the Jackson Police Department is charged with 
collecting evidence against a drug house, or a majority of residents 
living within 400 feet of the house can petition the city to move on 
a house suspected of being used for drugs.

Notice is then given to the property owner, either through the mail 
or through a legal ad placed by the city in a local newspaper. The 
council then has a public hearing on the house within 30-90 days and 
a vote to declare the house a nuisance.

After that, the case is filed in Circuit Court with the property 
owner and anyone else with a lien or interest in the house listed as 
a defendant. A final determination on the house is made in a hearing 
by a circuit judge.

"If any of these steps are missed, the process is flawed and has to 
start over," said Deputy City Attorney Monica Joiner.
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