Editorial: Jon Quinday, Town Manager of Russell, “It Takes a Village”

“Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

The exact origin of this adage is unknown, at least to me. Yet we have all heard: “It takes a whole village to raise a child. Let’s look at this proverb and the first five words, “It takes a village to.” What you have is the beginning of a call to action: it takes the help or involvement of many people to achieve a goal. Many tasks we accomplish in our lifetime require the help of other people, from learning new skills to the teamwork needed to win a basketball game.

Now let’s look at the word “village”. In most parts of the world, villages are settlements of people gathered around a central point – a community. Communities differ for many reasons, one being culture or values, beliefs and behavior.

Would you agree that “It takes a village to effect change?” Yes, I said the “C” word – CHANGE. I’m not saying everyone is resistant to change, and I fully understand that some feel comfortable with things as they are. Equally important, I understand that change causes anxiety, hostility, and frustration in some people. At the same time, it takes “change” to move forward, progress or grow.

What kind of change, if any, would you like to see in our community? I imagine some of you said ‘plague’, ‘trash gardens’, ‘overgrown land and gardens’ or ‘dilapidated houses’. In his book “13 Ways to Kill Your Community”, Doug Griffiths suggests that first impressions are the beginning So what is the first impression of our community for outsiders? Some people may say, “We care what they think.” I suggest we should all care. If we want our community to grow, we need people to invest in our community, families to move into our community, and our young adults to return after college or trade school. Griffiths provides an apt analogy. “Imagine the first impression of your community being like a job interview. Did you show up clean and presentable? Did you look and sound confident? I imagine you did.
If you show up sloppy and careless, you might be the smartest person in the world and perfect for the job, but you probably won’t get the job.”

If you were to say that you would like to see fewer burns, junkyards, overgrown lots and yards, or dilapidated houses, I agree that ridding the community of these objects would improve the aesthetic appeal and quality of life of Russell. So why is the City not doing anything? The city enforces property maintenance, nuisance, and overgrowth codes to the extent state law and available funds permit. So why isn’t the City more strict? Well, most nuisance abatement processes must follow state law and due process within those laws. Due process, an important provision of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, states that “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, except due process.” Due process enshrined in state law is one of the reasons you can call a nuisance or an overgrown yard, and it seems the city is “doing nothing.”

Here is an example of a homeowner with trash all over the yard:

  • The City must notify the owner of the specific violation(s) by personal service.
  • If you can’t serve the notice in person – sometimes people don’t answer their door
  • Then the city must send the notice by USPS certified mail with a return receipt requested.
  • It may take a few days to several weeks for the City to receive the acknowledgment of receipt or the notification that the letter could not be delivered.
  • When the notice is served personally or by USPS certified mail, the owner has ten (10) days to appeal and request a hearing before the city council.
  • Once the proper notice is served or the owner requests a hearing before council, the item is placed on the regular agenda of the next council – on the 1st or 3rd Tuesday of each month.

The Council is seized of a resolution ordering the reduction of the nuisance. The governing body must review the facts and determine whether it will approve a resolution ordering the abatement of the nuisance. Suppose Council approves the resolution ordering the abatement of the nuisance. In this case, they also determine the time, generally ten days, that the owner has to put an end to the infringement. The City must serve the owner with a notice indicating that he has ten (10) days to remedy the violation. Again, the process requires that the resolution be personally served on the owner, and the notice must be published in the newspaper if personal service fails.

This process took, on average, sixty (60) days or more, and the breach has still not been mitigated. All appropriate notices are served, a resolution ordering the reduction of the breach is passed and the notice is served; now we can clean up the property. On average, it takes more than sixty days to reach the point where the City can reduce or clean up the nuisance, and it takes even more time and money to condemn a property and repair or remove it. Recently, the city council changed the overgrowth process for property owners who reside in the city. The time is considerably reduced. The process for non-residential owners and all other nuisances remains unchanged. Making these changes will require a change in state law.

Back to the proverb, “It takes a village” – It takes the help or involvement of many people to achieve a goal.

To truly have an impact on eliminating the scourge – waste, overgrowth or dilapidated homes – we need to change our approach and work together as a community to improve our quality of life. The City cannot do it alone. Some people believe that it is the City’s sole responsibility to clean up the burn and improve the aesthetics or curb appeal of the community. It is counterproductive for the City to be the sole carrier of community cleanup. Remember those cutbacks we talked about a few minutes ago – mowing overgrown terrain, hauling trash, demolishing dangerous structures? Yes, you and I pay the majority of these costs through taxes.

What am I asking? Let’s work together to solve the scourge. We need influential people in the community willing to speak up and help their neighbors. It’s your block, your neighborhood and your community. Ask your neighbor if he needs help. Maybe they don’t realize that blowing bags full of grass clippings down the gutter helps block storm drains and flooding, or they leave tall weeds around the perimeter of the yard or hang over the above the sidewalk because they don’t have weed killer. This pile of waste may result from the fact that there is no way to get it to the landfill. I’m not asking you to mow their garden, pick up the grass cover in the gutter, or haul their trash unless you want to help your neighbor. Maybe you know of a resource that can help them, which in turn cleans up the neighborhood. More importantly, they might not realize that the condition of their property does not align with neighborhood and community values. If neighbors are reaching out to neighbors and the City continues to focus on those who don’t want to clean up, we have collaborated to clean up the City and demonstrated that scorching is unacceptable in our community. Time and time again I have seen this community come together with people who have experienced tragedy or need help. The response is remarkable and embodies the city’s vision statement:

“We will continue to be a community dedicated to family, friends and neighbors, where generations care for each other. We are One Russell, building a self-reliant future, and this is our home.”

If the City works on it alone, progress will be slow. If civic groups and individuals work alone, progress will be slow. In Griffiths’ research, local government supports investment in beautification (burn reduction) in thriving communities. Investment also comes from companies, owners, owners and volunteer groups – in other words, everyone is invested in the initiative. As a public servant and proud resident of Russell, I ask that you watch out for our neighbor, lend a hand, and demonstrate that burning is not an acceptable community value. For those who realize their property is damaged, overgrown, or full of trash – if you need help, give me a call and we can work together to find a solution.

It takes a village to effect change. It is by working together that we will reduce the scourge, increase community pride and improve quality of life. The help or involvement of many people is needed to achieve this goal. Together we can strengthen our community.

(Editorial by Russell City Manager Jon Quinday.)