‘Drug house’ ordinance being revisited

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council has revisited a proposed “drug house” ordinance after concerns were presented during a previous meeting calling.

Buckhannon’s drafted “drug house” ordinance is largely based on Martinsburg’s law, and would allow officials to identify certain properties as a public nuisance, which could lead to orders of abatement.

Properties that would be labeled as a public nuisance would be premises used for prostitution, illegal gambling, illegal possession, storage or delivery of or trafficking in controlled substances or other illegal drug activities. Buckhannon’s draft ordinance adds certain other offenses, including manufacturing of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver or delivery of a controlled substance.

If two incidents of illegal activities occur on a property within a 24-month period, the property would be considered a public nuisance.

During last week’s council meeting, city attorney Tom O’Neill presented council members with a revised version of a draft ordinance.

“The changes eliminate the references to illegal gambling, and it clarifies that searches of properties under abatement orders would require a warrant from the municipal judge for a search … ,” O’Neill said.

City Recorder Colin Reger expressed concerns regarding who should be authorized to issue an order of abatement.

Reger is referring to article two in the draft ordinance, which states the chief of police, city engineer, zoning enforcement officer or other authorized representative of the city may bring an action to abate a public nuisance described by this section in the municipal court.

“The chief of police, city engineer, zoning enforcement officer or other authorized representative of the city, I think that’s too arbitrary,” he said. “I think there needs to be people who are specifically designated and given the ability to order the abatement because what if someone considers themselves authorized, and who’s issuing the authorization –the city council?”

O’Neill responded by saying, “Then it would be a matter of whether they were in fact authorized.”

Reger stressed he thought the order of abatement portion of the draft needed more clarification.

“The purpose of other authorized representatives is really someone who is delegated by one of the main individuals …,” O’Neill said.

Reger said he’d prefer if Buckhannon City Council was the only entity that could authorize an individual to bring an abatement against a public nuisance.

Mayor David McCauley interjected, saying, “Let me caution us on something. We have a housing enforcement board that is already responsible to these kind of matters.

“I almost wonder if we shouldn’t delegate this responsibility to the housing enforcement board,” he said. “I’d rather this not be coming before city council. We’ve got an agency responsible for those kinds of (matters).”

Reger responded, “As long as there’s some kind of board, council or committee that can come together and grant the authority to the hired individual to issue the abatement required, I would feel more comfortable if there was another check and balance in who’s allowed to do this or take these kind of actions.”

O’Neill said he could revise the proposed ordinance to read “The chief of police, the city engineer, the board zoning enforcement officer as authorized by the housing enforcement board.”

“That would make me happy,” said Reger.

Council members will review the draft ordinance and report on any concerns during an upcoming council meeting.