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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
During its regular monthly meeting, the Rockford Town Council approved by majority vote adopting three ordinances to update existing ordinances.
At last Tuesday evening’s meeting, the three ordinances up for a final vote after being approved for a first view at last month’s meeting were relating to a curfew, street cutting and noise control.
White stated last Tuesday night, “Keep in mind, these ordinances have already been in place. It’s just some of them are adding a little bit to them. The curfew ordinance, I know there’s a lot of discussion on that one. Curfew ordinance has been in place since 1923.”
White added that it was only for if the town has “a bad tornado come through,” civil unrest, or a shooting where they have to encourage residents to stay indoors if someone is “on the loose,” adding that the curfew ordinance “is for nothing other than that.”
White then opened the floor for any questions from the council relating to the three ordinances. Regarding the street cutting ordinance, during discussion White stated that it is “for any utility company.”
There was some discussion regarding confusion and miscommunication with Rockford Utilities Board Member Ronnie Joiner wanting the board attorney to be able to speak to the council about the street cutting ordinance, Ordinance MC-2023-08-SC-01.
Joiner had initially asked to be placed on the agenda, but then asked to be removed, stating to Town Clerk Lesle Nelson that the board attorney, Nancy Kirby, would contact the town to be placed on the agenda instead. However, an attorney filling in for Kirby said that there had been some miscommunication in their office and that they failed to contact the town to be added to the agenda.
White asked town attorney Tom Young to speak on the matter, stating that if they let her on the agenda then the council would need to let anyone else on the agenda.
Young said that the town has been “fairly rigid” about its rules, including not letting people speak who are not on the agenda. However, he advised the attorney that if action was taken that night that the board wanted to address, she or the board could be placed on the agenda next month to address it and request an amendment to the ordinance.
“At this point, I think the rules are the rules; I’m sorry,” Young said.
White added that they “want to work with everybody.”
The floor was then opened again for any questions regarding the noise control, street cutting and curfew ordinances.
Councilmember Nieshia Whetstone stated that she had looked over them and compared them city to city and “looked at other things.”
“I kinda think it’s a bunch of BS,” Whetstone said. “I’ve been here all my life, and the noise and the curfew – I’m opposing it. I’m just going ahead and saying it. We don’t have those types of problems here – have never. That’s my opinion.”
Councilmember Shirley Ogle and Susan Rogers, part-time town clerk, mentioned that the ordinances are already on the town’s books.
Councilmember Lynn Anne Castleberry said that, to her, the ordinances are in place so that “if there is a problem, then there’s a way to deal with it.” She added that she understood Whetstone’s point about the town not generally having those problems.
“But if it arises, and we don’t have an ordinance on the books, then how do we deal with it; how would we enforce it,” Castleberry said.
Councilmember Cordarius Lee mentioned the ordinances already being in place, but said there was an issue with how they are read.
Regarding the noise ordinance, Lee said that he has been on the council since 2013, adding that the town previously had “quiet time” from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. He stated that the noise ordinance is “broad,” asking about it being for certain hours or all day.
Young said that the town was just updating the ordinances and “not changing the intent of the ordinances.” He stated that the ordinances are remaining the same, but went on to say they are being changed to reflect new and more current fees and some being updated to remove antiquated language, such as “calaboose,” an older term for a jail, which in some cases courts feel may invalidate the ordinance.
White said that the town is just updating the ordinances to be “more in line with what everyone else has.”
In ongoing discussion, Lee mentioned the noise ordinance including if the person can hear the noise from 50 feet away. He said he can talk loud enough that he can be heard from 50 feet away.
He went on to mention the example of having a TV in his garage for watching football games, stating that 50 feet is “not far at all” in his opinion, and mentioned the possibility of him being asked to turn the TV down or no longer watch sports in his garage because of the noise ordinance.
Rogers mentioned the 50 feet part of the ordinance already being on the books, as well, and Lee said maybe the town could change it. Young stated that if the council wants to look at modifying the ordinance then that is what it needs to do.
“Right now if you vote against it, all that does is put the old ordinance, and it’s still in effect,” he added.
White provided Lee with the old noise control ordinance from 2013 for review, which he indicated included the 50 feet rule.
“I think we should change that,” Lee said. “Since we’re redoing the ordinances, I think that should be changed. I think 50 feet is a little close.”
Lee further mentioned having an issue with the way the curfew ordinance reads, adding that it didn’t say anything about what White had said when first mentioning the ordinances.
“When I read it, I was like ‘woah, do we have a problem?,’” Lee said. “Have we had a lot of calls [about] kids out on the street or what? It sounds like the mayor can say you’ve got to be in your house at 9 o’clock at night, and it’s in effect until he says it’s gone. I think it should read different than that. It should read like what he said. Me looking at it, and if you ask me about it and I show it to you, it reads like the mayor says we’re going in tonight at 9 o’clock and going to be in effect until November 1. … Those are just my concerns. I think if we’re going to update, we should update them with the right stuff in them, to read right. I guess I’m going to oppose, too. So if it gets passed, it gets passed. I can only do what my one vote is.”
In further discussion, specifically relating to the noise ordinance, Lee mentioned it becoming a problem if a person’s neighbor or someone does not like them, stating that it “is kind of biased” depending on who a person lives by and whether they get along with their neighbors.
“There’s no right answer,” White said.
After discussion, the council took action on all three ordinances as one action item for a final vote.
Councilmember Robert Smith made a motion to approve and adopt the ordinances, with Castleberry seconding the motion. The motion passed with a majority vote of 3-2, with Smith, Castleberry and Councilmember Shirley Ogle voting in favor of the motion and Whetstone and Lee opposing the motion.
There had been an amount of discussion in town regarding the curfew ordinance, Ordinance PO 2023-08-CU-01. That ordinance is an update to Ordinance 55, approved on February 16, 1970.
That ordinance read, “An ordinance to promote the public safety and welfare; to authorize the mayor, upon determining a state of facts to exist, to proclaim a curfew within the corporate limits of the Town of Rockford; to provide for the giving of notice thereof; and to prescribe penalties for violating the provision of this ordinance.”
Section One of that ordinance went on to read, “Whenever the mayor of the Town of Rockford shall determine that it is necessary in order to promote the public safety and welfare by reason of civil unrest or disobedience to proclaim a curfew within the corporate limits…”
The updated ordinance approved at last week’s meeting states that the curfew is to promote safety and welfare.
It reads, “Whenever the mayor of the Town of Rockford shall determine that it is necessary in order to promote the public safety and welfare by reason of civil unrest or disobedience to proclaim a curfew within the corporate limits.”
It reads that the mayor will post a proclamation at Rockford Town Hall stating the date and time the curfew will begin; effective times for the curfew; who is required to abide by the curfew; exceptions to the curfew proclamation, if any; and when the curfew proclamation will end, if known.
The updated ordinance also has a section regarding minors, which reads, “It is unlawful for any minor to loiter, wander, stroll, or play in or upon the public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, playgrounds, or other public grounds, public places, public buildings, places of amusement, eating places, vacant lots, or any place in the Town of Rockford, unsupervised by an adult having the lawful authority to be at such places.”
The penalties listed for the curfew ordinance are a $50 fine for a first offense and a fine up to $100 for a second violation within one year and “all subsequent violations thereafter,” with it further stating that an offender that continues to violate a curfew may be arrested.
The noise control ordinance, Ordinance PO-2023-08-NC-01, reads that it is enacted to “protect, preserve and promote the health, safety, welfare, peace, and quiet for the citizens of Rockford, through the reduction, control and prevention of excessive noise.”
It further states that the purpose of the ordinance is to establish standards to reduce unnecessary and excessive noise that “may jeopardize the health and welfare of safety of its citizens or degrade the quality of life.”
Regarding Lee’s statement about the town’s “quiet hours,” the ordinance further reads, “This ordinance is written for enforcement during anytime day or night, but enforcement during the ‘quiet hours’ between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. will be of extreme importance.”
The ordinance further details specific acts that are prohibited, as well as exceptions that are exempt from the ordinance.
The listed penalties in that ordinance are a $50 fine for each violation for “any person violating any of the provisions of this article or any regulations and specifications adopted thereunder.” It further reads that after the first violation, “each time such violation is committed, or permitted to continue, shall constitute a separate violation, and the fine increases to $150.”
The ordinance pertaining to “cutting of street or right-of-way requirements,” Ordinance MC-2023-08-SC-01, states that a permit from the town clerk’s office must first be obtained before “a person, business, entity, or utility company or anyone acting on their behalf may install or repair utilities under a town street; or cut, trenched [sic], excavated [sic], or improve a street, alley, public property, or public right-of-way.”
The ordinance goes on to details street cut requirements and the manner in which all cuts, trenches, or excavation within the town streets shall be repaired.
Relating to the permit, the ordinance states that a permit will be issued once the permit fee of $50 and a deposit; which is to be 25% of the repair cost, or a minimum of $700; are paid. The deposit will be refunded “if the street is repaired within 30 days to as good or better condition as existed before said repairs or installation by the person, business, or entity of the utilities company.”
The ordinance also references emergency situations, stating that in the case of an emergency cut “every attempt must be made to contact Town Hall or the mayor as soon as possible to inform of the damage to the street. A permit and deposit of funds is [sic] still required within 48 hours of the cut.”
The ordinance further states that the town shall be notified “by the permittee before starting and the completion of the repair work” and that “all work to repair the damage shall be subject to inspection and approval by the town.”
Copies of all town ordinances are available for review at Town Hall during regular business hours.
Additionally, copies of these three ordinances approved at last week’s council meeting are available, in their entirety, on the newspaper website, www.thecoosacountynews.com, free of charge for public view.
For coverage of the remainder of the Rockford Town Council meeting, see next week’s edition.