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TUESDAY, JANUARY 24, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Doing business in Decatur no walk in the park

For years, even decades, word is that Decatur is not a business-friendly town.

Gripes often turn out to be endorsements of the city in that inspectors refuse to cut corners. They are doing their job.

Business people acknowledge that they hear, "Do it by the book or don't do it," when they plead for the city "to work with me."

Some builders who complained to the newspaper refused to go on the record, fearing, they said, retaliation from the city. But this week a local business owner came forward with a story that may or may not illuminate the years-old reasons business people shun Decatur if, indeed, they do. In any event, his story is a nightmare, which the city more or less said was the result of poor or a lack of communication.

Jerrell Oaks bought a portion of the Westgate Shopping Center on West Moulton Street for future expansion of North American Fire Equipment Co. that employs about 100.

NAFECO is across the street from the shopping center and Mr. Oaks said he watched for years as the building declined. As soon as he purchased the closed portion, Mr. Oaks said the city sent him a registered letter telling him to clean up the property.

He said he did, but soon got another registered letter specifying how long he had to get a permit and to raze his portion of the center.

That infuriated Mr. Oaks who thought he was doing a good thing that City Hall might appreciate. He also wondered why the remainder of the center still stands, saying that although it is occupied it was in no better shape than his portion.

The city says that's not true, making a sharp distinction between vacant and occupied buildings. Coincidentally, the city says, the building became unsecured after he bought it, probably from a storm. That changed its status.

Weeds probably grew more rapidly after the storm, too.

From previous conversations with builders, they are no doubt sitting back saying "Amen, amen, amen," to Mr. Oaks' frustration.

Decatur residents want their city built to accepted code standards; however, they don't want City Hall's insensitivity to drive away reputable businesses.

Some problems must be real or bitter gripes would not persist. Let's hope Mr. Oaks gives other business people courage to step forward and demand cooperation at City Hall.

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