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May 15, 2021

Spencer alderman’s code violation left off public log

SPENCER — Spencer’s former code enforcement officer accused Town Manager Larry Smith of covering up a violation she issued to Alderman Jeff Morris, one of six elected officials on the town board.
Sylvia Chilcott told the board Tuesday night that she wrote up Morris a few months ago for a public nuisance — construction materials, motor oil, aerosol cans and other items visible in his carport and yard — after a resident filed a complaint.
Chilcott, a part-time employee who quit her job last month when the divided board voted 3-2 to follow Smith’s recommendation to change her position to full-time, said Morris’ violation did not appear on the monthly log given to aldermen.
“I just wondered why it happened to slip through and didn’t make it to public documentation,” Chilcott said.
Smith said he did not include Morris’ violation on the monthly log after he discovered that Chilcott had given another alderman with a code violation — overgrown grass at a rental property — the courtesy of a phone call and did not write him up. Smith said Chilcott was not administering the code evenly and called it a personnel matter.
“It’s common to call anyone you have easy access to,” Smith said.
Smith also questioned the length of time it took Chilcott — about 30 days — from first learning of Morris’ violation until sending him a certified letter.
Morris, who acknowledged that he had violated the code, said he had been “unfairly targeted for selective code enforcement.”
But Alderman Reid Walters called Smith’s explanation for pulling Morris’ violation from the public log “horse manure.”
Walter, who owns seven rental properties, said Chilcott wrote him up recently when one of his tenants left a garbage can at the curb too long. The violation went in the public log, and Chilcott did not call Walters beforehand.
However, Chilcott did call Walters about overgrown grass at another of his rental properties. She said she received a complaint and looked up the property online. She had heard that Walters was buying the house, but the deed was not in his name.
Chilcott said she called Walters to ask if he owned the property yet. He said he had just closed on the house, the overgrown grass was his responsibility, he would take care of it and told Chilcott to write him up.
“Seven houses and only one code violation for a trash can,” Walters told the Post after the meeting. “We rent to good people who keep up our properties.”
Chilcott did not issue a violation.
Smith said he did not include Morris in the monthly log because “it didn’t seem fair to single out one alderman.”
“All other aldermen are given the courtesy of a phone call,” he said.
Walters pointed out that his trash can violation appeared in the log without a phone call.
“We made the list for it,” he said.
Smith said he encourages his staff to call code violators and take care of issues by phone if possible, saving the time and expense of photographing and documenting violations and sending certified mail. Smith said if he had realized Walters was on the monthly log for the trash can violation, he would have called him.
“Don’t call me,” Walters said.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel also said he does not want a phone call.
“Do not excuse Jim Gobbel if he is in violation,” he said.
Alderman Mike Boone said no violator should be left off the public log and questioned the practice of calling some but not all.
Before Chilcott spoke, Morris made a motion to defer her request to address the board to next month so aldermen could review a summary of her subject matter, titled “basic issues in town.” Alderman Scott Benfield agreed with Morris, but the motion failed on a 4-2 vote and Chilcott was allowed to speak.
Morris said after the meeting that he did not know Chilcott was going to talk about his code violation and wanted to defer her request to speak because she had recently resigned.
When Morris learned of his code violation in the spring, his cleaned up the items and asked Chilcott to come by for a reinspection, which he passed. Smith said Morris told him he did not want special treatment when Smith informed the alderman that the violation would not appear in the log.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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