Zone initiative picks up speed

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The lines of contact between Columbus and its residents are growing as City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer markets a Zone Initiative program designed to enhance communication across the city.

Pfeiffer and assistant city attorneys are touring five zones throughout Columbus – designed along Division of Police boundaries – explaining the initiative, introducing the attorney responsible for individual zone contact, and fielding questions and concerns from residents attending the information sessions.

“I believe in direct communication,” Pfeiffer told a group of Westside residents attending a Dec. 4 meeting at Westland High School. “Our goal is to find out from you if you have persistent problems. We’re not pretending this will cure all the world’s ills. We’re trying to reduce it, manage it, and keep it under control.

“First, we try to develop relationships. We have to build credibility with you and the best way to deal with problems is straight on.”

Pfeiffer’s Zone Initiative is designed to facilitate communication between his office, police, code enforcement, health and sanitation departments, neighborhood associations, and community organizations. Working closely with all entities, the unit focuses on the elimination of public nuisances blighting neighborhoods across the city.

Abandoned and deteriorating houses; opening dumping; street prostitution; boot joints; and excessive noise, trash and/or debris are all targets of the program, which encourages citizens to notify the city attorney’s office, code enforcement, etc. Using statutory jurisdiction of the Environmental Division of the Franklin County Municipal Court, the office will file complaints and seek solutions for persistent problems.

According to Pfeiffer, a secondary goal of the initiative is to increase municipal court prosecutors’ and judges’ awareness of the effects of crime on the quality of life in local neighborhoods. Zone-specific attorneys, such as Jody Spurlock, who assists with problems in Zone 3 on the Westside, are responsible for becoming familiar with the area and issues affecting residents and assisting in addressing issues through criminal and civil litigation.

“I am a civil and environmental attorney,” Spurlock told residents filling the high school library, “covering issues stemming from housing code violations and nuisance abatements. I also handle the city’s foreclosures, which we like to think are the good foreclosures (shutting down blighted properties and crack houses).

“I am on call for Columbus police officers and get calls regarding nuisance properties where drug dealing is going on. For citizens, the reporting is all confidential. Our main goal is to enhance communication between the city attorney and the community.”

Spurlock said there are numerous cases involving her office, such as the recent closure and demolition of Woodland Meadows – a hub of drug dealing, violence, and source of city headaches for many years before it was torn down earlier this year.

“There is a shopping center on Briggs Road we now have in court,” continued the assistant city attorney. “It’s been vacant about 30 years and has been a serious problem for the community.”

When asked about abandoned properties, the legal representatives said although it might be easy to access the name of a property owner through the county auditor’s Web site, many times it is not as easy to contact the owner because they moved, passed away, or the property changed mortgage companies; which compounds the notification process and drags out a solution or remedy.

“Our goal is always to find a human being responsible for the property,” continued Pfeiffer, who advised residents with housing code violation concerns call code enforcement or contact Spurlock at 645-8928 or via email at jmspurlock@columbus.gov.   

Issues of residential concern also included problems with occupancy and too many people living in a single housing unit, landlords refusing to bring a building up to code, drug activity in local parks, children outside long past curfew, and fear of retaliation when reporting violations.

“If you have a sensitive issue, call our office and it will be treated anonymously,” emphasized Spurlock. “If you email us, it is considered a public record. If you think a property is blighted, I can get code enforcement out there to make a determination because they have to respond to every complaint.”

Pfeiffer emphasized, “If you are afraid to say something because of fear of retaliation, you don’t have to give your name. You can remain anonymous.

“Squeak a lot and we’ll try to get you some grease.”

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