Attack politics nets few apologiesA Superior City Council candidate is making some apologies after distributing a campaign flier using a councilor’s name and photograph without permission and criticizing city staff for doing their jobs.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
A Superior City Council candidate is making some apologies after distributing a campaign flier using a councilor’s name and photograph without permission and criticizing city staff for doing their jobs.
Marty Curtiss, a candidate in the 2nd District, condemned city officials for enforcing the law. The flier also noted Councilor Mick MacKenzie provided help to the property owner facing enforcement action and used a photograph without his knowledge or authorization.
“I apologized deeply to the councilor,” Curtiss said in a prepared statement. He declined to address specific questions about the information provided to residents that notably omitted early efforts by the city to gain compliance without issuing citations. “I stand behind what I wrote,” Curtiss said of the information in the flier. “My research was thorough …” He said he reviewed the file and talked to staff in building inspection.
He made no apology to city staff after calling City Attorney Frog Prell “the Devil” and criticizing the fire and building inspection departments because they “are not business friendly and have added obstacles.”
“If anyone misinterpreted my flier and was offended, I am sorry,” Curtiss wrote in an email to the mayor and city staff, in which he expressed regret for using MacKenzie’s name and image without his knowledge.
MacKenzie appreciated the apology, but said he would not have allowed his name or image to be used in connection with something that criticized people.
“It seems to me that it was carefully crafted so to avoid an apology to any staffer,” Prell said of the email.
In the flier asking for votes from 2nd District residents, Curtiss describes the plight of a 72-year-old man living in the Itasca neighborhood who came under order to repair his property — a dilapidated garage with an unpermitted woodstove and missing siding and peeling paint on his home.
Code Compliance Officer Tammy Thibert discovered the problems while performing her duties and issued a “notice to correct” Sept. 15, 2011, giving the owner 30 days to take action to make repairs. On Oct. 18, 2011, with no action taken, Thibert issued a notice of intent to issue citations if action was not taken in 30 days.
Dilapidated conditions can impact the value of neighboring homes, and not having protective treatments such as paint on the home eventually compromises the structural integrity of the home or garage, Thibert said.
On Nov. 21, 2011, Thibert issued three citations for failure to obtain a permit for the stove, failure to repair protective surfaces and failure to repair or remove a dilapidated garage.
After citations were issued, the property owner reached an agreement with Prell in mid-December through his attorney. He entered a no contest plea on the charge of failure to repair protective treatment and the charge related to the garage was held open until May 18, 2012, to give time to repair or remove the garage. The third citation was dismissed.
Curtiss described the agreement as making “a deal with the Devil (in this case City Attorney Prell).”
The mayor made apologies to city staff for the “disparaging and what I believe to be slanderous comments” made by Curtiss.
Hagen called on Curtiss to retrace his steps and collect fliers that were distributed; however, Curtiss declined to state whether he had.
Hagen advised staff he supports their efforts on behalf of the well-being of the community.
“In carrying out such responsibilities and enforcing the ordinances, law and codes, it needs to be known by all that the Mayor’s Office not only supports you, but also will not curry to or favor any insertion of political or other wranglings that would interfere with your ability to carry out the responsibilities …,” Hagen wrote in an email to staff.
“We only enforce what we are told to enforce,” said Port and Planning Director Jason Serck. He said enforcing the city’s property maintenance code comes down to protecting public safety.
A citizen task force developed the city’s maintenance code more than a decade ago to address the city’s aging housing stock, one of the oldest in the nation.
“Our biggest task right now is working on some of our housing issues,” Serck said. He said part of that multi-pronged strategy, which includes development of new housing, is to enforce the city’s maintenance code.
According to the flier, the property owner planned to use proceeds from the sale of another property to make repairs to his Itasca neighborhood home once an unrelated court case was settled.
“He could have contacted me at any time and explained his situation,” Thibert said. “I would have definitely worked with him, but he still would have needed to make progress in order for me to cease writing further citations.”
When the deadline came and went with no action taken to repair the property, the city began issuing citations weekly in an effort to gain compliance, according to building inspection records.
On May 30, the city started issuing two citations every week for the dilapidated garage and peeling paint on the house.
“I truly believe two citations a week were in excess,” Curtiss said. “I place most of this squarely on the shoulders of the City Attorney.”
However, under city code, each day an offense continues after due notice is given, it is a separate offense, and citations can be issued daily.
In fact, the last two citations — six in total — were issued June 14, a week before the property owner took out a permit to raze the garage and nearly two weeks before building inspection records indicate work had started to repaint the house.
On July 24, the city attorney and property owner reached an agreement concerning the six citations issued in May and June. While the owner pleaded guilty to all six citations, the agreement provided an incentive schedule in which all fines would be forgiven if work was completed and passed inspection by Sept. 5.
The fine schedule was designed to encourage the property owner to bring the property in compliance, Prell said.
With the work complete in early August, Prell asked the court to assess no fines for the six citations issued in May and June, and he sought to have the citation issued in November vacated, forgiving more than $2,100 in fines.
Prell remained dumbfounded as to what he might have done to evoke the criticism from Curtiss. While the candidate routinely attends city meetings, Prell said he’d only had one encounter with Curtiss in the last year, and that was an awkward but amicable conversation compelled by Curtiss falling behind in his property taxes.
Curtiss is working to get caught up, according to records available on the County Treasurer’s website. Since December, he has caught up on his 2011 taxes. He is working to catch up on his 2012 taxes.
“Due to a long-term illness that has prohibited me from working regularly … I struggle with my monthly obligations, Curtiss said.