A fight involving about 15 people – including some who were throwing beer bottles and wielding belts as weapons – has residents of Retton Court in Reynoldsburg continuing to wonder about the legality of three homes rented to immigrant workers in their neighborhood.
At the July 2 meeting of the Reynoldsburg City Council service committee, resident Tim Kenney of Retton Court told council about the fight, which occurred at about 7 p.m. June 22 at a home on the street occupied by legal immigrant workers in the country for a nine-month period.
Since May, council has been wrestling with the issue of these "boarding houses" for immigrant workers in homes zoned for single-family use. The landscape management company Five Seasons, based in Etna Township, purchased homes on Retton Court, Rider Road and Malone Drive for the purpose of housing seasonal immigrant workers brought to the country through a federal program.
To comply with Reynoldsburg’s law regarding single-family homes, all occupants are supposed to be related, and Five Seasons has maintained that all of the workers living in the homes are blood relatives and documentation has been provided.
According to Kenney, however, when the police arrived to break up the fight, "The only one who speaks English said none of them are related."
Furthermore, Kenney said neighbors are disappointed there hasn’t been more effort on behalf of the city to put a stop to the situation.
"We’re doing a little bit," he admitted. "If (the property owner) doesn’t have to do anything, or if he doesn’t have to respond, he’s not going to."
City Attorney Jed Hood said the business owner no longer has legal representation.
"The burden is on the city to prove he is committing a violation," he said, noting that he will pursue the claim that nobody residing in the homes is related. "That’s one lead and it may lead to other evidence. We may have a case then. But as of now we don’t."
Councilman Brett Baxter wondered if Reynoldsburg could prove they are not related by having them come in and file to pay taxes to the city.
City Auditor Richard Harris said the immigrants are not required to pay taxes to the city, much as college students who attend school away from their home town are not required.
"They are not required to pay taxes to the city," he said. "They have a permanent residence somewhere – but it’s not here."
Resident Ken Wright wondered if there would be a way to require them to take a DNA test to prove they aren’t related.
"If the city’s responsibility is to find out whether they’re related … that’s the easiest way to tell," Wright said.
Councilman Mel Clemens, chairman of the service committee, said he didn’t think that would work. "People do have rights … I can’t see the city getting involved in that."
Clemens said the service committee will continue to keep an eye on the issue.
"We intend to stay on it and do everything we can to correct the situation," he said.
Hood noted this situation is proof the zoning ordinance needs to be revisited.
"It’s important not to have a knee-jerk reaction to this specific issue," he said. "We do need to retrofit our code. This is the federal government bringing these workers into our city."
He continued, "Our ordinance is so vague it would be very, very difficult to prove."
In other news, the service committee held a discussion pertaining to yard signs. Councilman Preston Stearns said he requested the discussion after signs from a homeowner’s association community sale were removed during the city’s clean-up week. He said the organization had good-quality, metal frame signs to advertise their neighborhood sale.
"We put out four and only three were returned … That kind of upset some of the residents," he said. "What can be done so an issue like this doesn’t happen again?"
Clemens said community yard sale signs shouldn’t be an issue as long as they aren’t posted on street poles or in gardens.
"My only thought is it must be a misunderstanding by code compliance," he said, noting there are new code compliance officers this year. "I do think it was probably something they didn’t realize was always allowed."
Steven DeBolt, director of the Department of Safety and Service, said the clean-up went very well, and they are very appreciative of the community’s support.
"That was one part of the event maybe we need to work on," he said. "We can look at that."