Council seeks faster process

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &045; When aldermen return to their normal meeting after Christmas, a review of the abatement process for blighted properties will be on the table. But exactly what that review will entail is still a little unclear.

It seems the overwhelming desire is to streamline the process for speed, but exactly how much streamlining can be done is questionable.

Councilman Melvin Yelverton, who told his fellow councilmen earlier this week that he wanted to review the process, said he wants to &8220;cut the process down some to make it simpler.&8221;

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Yelverton could not remember what city he was referencing, but he believes such as system would &8220;get things sped up,&8221; adding that some of the properties still under review by the city have been in the queue for 18 months.

Councilman Woody Collins agrees that an expedited system would be advantageous to the city, but his goal is to move the process to the courts quicker.

Collins said he believes the courts would turn an unbiased eye to the proceedings, where as the council is sometimes hindered by politics and friendships.

One consideration that would undoubtedly come in any review of the process would be the Citizens Task Force, which is a group of people appointed by the board to identify blighted properties and recommend them to the city for action.

Mayor Cecil Williamson said the group was started after interested citizens brought the idea to city leaders. According to her, the Task Force is also charged with notifying property owners who are being turned over to the city. In some instances, that has led to confusion over ownership.

The mayor said one landowner who read a Times article in Satruday’s edition detailing properties currently under review advised her that he did not own both properties listed in the newspaper. The mayor did not identify the man or the properties.

A similar situation caused the demolition of a house after ownership had changed. In the time between the city serving notice of demolition and the demolition taking place, the property was allegedly sold, the mayor said.

In both cases, the mayor said the Task Force had identified the properties owners through title searches.

Collins, however, said that City Attorney Rick Manley performs a title search of every property before moving forward with any such action. In the demolition case, where the owner ultimately said she was not upset because she had planned to demolish the property anyway, Collins said it was his understanding that the deed transaction was never recorded and that it was done from one family member to another.

Manley could not be reached for comment. The mayor did not identify the landowner of the demolished house or the property description.

As part of his plan, Yelverton said he would like to see the legal work come up on the back end of the process instead of the front. He said much of the delay comes from going through an attorney.

Collins said the city attorney is not relying on anyone else in performing title searches or conducting other methods to determine ownership.