Mayor plans to intensify Cannelton cleanup efforts

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Recipient of city letter calls it politically driven

CANNELTON - Cannelton Mayor Smokey Graves wants to clamp down on people who allow their properties to remain unsightly, and has enlisted the aid of the county sanitarian in that effort. One city resident, however, said a cleanup notice he received was politically motivated, a charge denied by the city's building inspector.

"Jermie (Farmer) and I were out this week investigating some properties," Graves said in a call to The News March 13. Farmer "is putting some letters together; you'll see some emphasis on that in coming months."

City officials have fought for years to get some of the city's residents to comply with a property-appearance ordinance.

"We may need to change some ordinances to put some teeth in them," Graves said.

Nearly a complete change in city leadership occurred at the first of the year as a result of a November election, but the previous administration had fought a continuing battle against tumble-down and debris-strewn properties. Their efforts, led by then-Building Commissioner Mary K. Young, were more organized and regular than in previous years, and Graves wants to streamline them further to compel residents to become more responsive to notices they're violating city rules.

Residents can contribute to the effort voluntarily when street-department workers conduct an annual spring cleanup April 7-11, picking up oversized and other items normally prohibited from regular trash-collection runs.

In his phone call, Graves said some residents seem to exhibit contempt for the city. He cited as an example removal of an old mobile home from the corner of Herzeele and Seventh streets. While that run-down structure was removed, a trailer that is barely more than a frame, two wheels and a hitch replaced it, sporting "smiley-face" balloons.

Dennis Wardrip, 602 20th St., Tell City, who recently purchased the property, said he put the balloons on the trailer "just for anyone passing by, just smile and be happy."

"The whole thing is politics," he said of a demand from Building and Codes Inspector Bruce Myers that he clean up the lot. "Eugene (Fulkerson)'s wife ran for office, and I put her sign up there (on the lot). That's what this is about."

Myers served on the city council until he was defeated by Lynn Fulkerson, who nabbed four more votes than he did, and the District 1 council seat, in November's election.

Myers sent him a letter, Wardrip said, about the mobile home and a car parked on the property while it awaited repairs at the nearby Fulkerson Body Shop.

"Out of all the mess in Cannelton, he came after me on that trailer," Wardrip said.

He and Eugene Fulkerson pointed to a shed on a nearby lot, saying it belongs to Myers. From Wardrip's lot, its fallen-in roof is visible. A short drive around to its opposite side reveals walls, too, have collapsed, making the building an eyesore and a danger. A pile of limbs and brush also detracts from the appearance.

Myers' letter to Wardrip had called the car, whose need for body work was evident, a hazard to area children.

"That's simply not true," Myers said Monday of Wardrip's claim his clean-up demand was politically motivated. Cleaning up the city was a priority for him during his time on the council, he said. "I ran my campaign on it and feel like I did that throughout my four years."

His current job "is making sure property owners in the city abide by our ordinances," he said. "I take pride in my job."

He is simply "starting on that end of town" in identifying properties violating the property-appearance ordinance, he continued. "Mr. Wardrip is not the only one who got a letter. No one is being targeted. If you comply, you're OK. I'm going to make sure everybody complies."

The shed, Myers explained, is on a property that was next to his until he bought it "for the sole purpose of cleaning it up. It looks 10 times better than when I bought it."

The roof fell in this winter, he said, "and as soon as the weather breaks, it will be cleaned up."

The brush pile is a result of cleaning up the property "from where what we call a tornado came through," Myers said, and includes tree debris from neighbors. "That has been a joint thing; neighbors all put limbs on that pile," he said, adding "we hauled many, many truckloads of limbs down behind the floodwall after the tornado. There has been a big cleanup effort on the part of this whole block."