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Hartselle officials have received 732 nuisance complaints this year.
Photo courtesy of city of Hartselle
Hartselle officials have received 732 nuisance complaints this year.

Cleaning up in plain sight in Hartselle
Daily series contributes to rise in cases

By Deangelo McDaniel 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Do you know where Marx Dewayne Duke is?

If so, Hartselle is looking for him because Duke allegedly failed to appear in municipal court last month about junk on property he rented, according to Jeff Johnson of the Department of Development.

"He didn't call or come by," Johnson said.

The nuisance complaint about property where Duke lived is one of 732 city officials have received this year.

That's up significantly since 2004 ,when Hartselle worked 74 nuisance complaints. The city had 103 complaints in 2005 and 373 in 2006.

"I'd say The Daily's 'Hiding in plain sight' series is the big reason complaints are up," Johnson said.

Even before The Daily's series started, Hartselle mounted a campaign to rid the city of unsightly property.

And, for the most part, Hartselle has been successful, especially when it comes to closing cases.

Of the 732 complaints received this year, only 31 remain active. One of them is the case against Duke, 32, who rented property at 1700 Peach Orchard Road.

Johnson said the city received a complaint about his property March 28.

"We tried until August to get him to clean up before summoning him to court," Johnson said.

City records show that Duke appeared in municipal court Aug. 9. Municipal Judge Mike Broom ordered Duke to eliminate the nuisance by Aug. 13 and call City Hall for an inspection, records show. He didn't comply with the order and the city summoned Duke back to court Aug. 23.

After he failed to show, a warrant was issued for his arrest, according to court documents.

"Officers went to the premise and he was gone," Johnson said. "This will be one of our active cases until we conclude it."

Another active case is at 1307 Salem Road where neighbors have complained to The Daily and the city about James Tim Barber's residence.

"He has a lot of debris in his yard," Johnson said. "We are aware of his heart condition, but I've told him he can't do this (have junk in his yard)."

The Daily tried unsuccessfully to contact Duke and Barber.

Hartselle's oldest nuisance case involves Ronald Hammon of 802 Rhodes St.

The council took action in the nearly four-year-old case when it voted in May to give Hammon 120 days to make repairs and eliminate yard blight.

The 120 days was a comprise after city officials started condemnation proceedings.

The deadline has passed and Hammon has not fully complied with the council's deadline, Johnson said.

That's why the case is on the council's work session agenda for discussion Monday.

Before Hartselle can destroy the home, the city has to pass a resolution authorizing the abatement.

Considering the size of his staff, Johnson is proud of how fast the city is closing nuisance complaints.

"We're dispensing about 18 per week," he said.

Even at that pace, work remains, Johnson said.

"We're just trying to make Hartselle a cleaner place to live," he added.

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