BOWLING GREEN - City officials are looking at a new approach to handling age-old problems ranging from snow-covered sidewalks to letting the grass get too long.
City Prosecutor Matt Reger has drafted a civil infraction ordinance that would decriminalize a variety of offenses, allow city employees other than police to respond to neighborhood complaints like barking dogs and litter, and prevent Bowling Green State University students from leaving town with a criminal record.
"This is really an attempt to provide another tool to deal with issues that are important to citizens and provide a quicker remedy in certain regards," Mr. Reger said.
Mayor John Quinn said the civil citations would work much like parking tickets. Offenders would pay a fine, or if they chose to contest the citation they could request a hearing before a city hearing examiner.
Either way, the matter would not be a court issue that would wind up with the offender a criminal. The mayor said that should bode well for university students who graduate and enter the job market.
"If you get a parking ticket, nobody talks about it in your life's record book," Mr. Quinn said. "If it's criminal it could impact your life or career."
The mayor, Mr. Reger, and Second Ward Councilman Mike Zickar plan to present the proposal to the Undergraduate Student Government Monday evening.
While the proposal has not been introduced to city council yet, Mr. Quinn said city officials agreed they should make BGSU students aware of the concept and get their input before school is out for the summer.
"The concern was with what happened with the nuisance party law," the mayor said. "The end of the school year is coming up, and we're going to introduce something that may be debated over the summer when the students aren't here."
Last June, council approved its controversial nuisance party law, which allows police to shut down a party and cite the host if illegal activity is taking place there.
When students returned to campus in August, many felt the law unfairly targeted them.
A contingent of BGSU students also showed up at council meetings last fall to complain about the city's decision to begin actively enforcing a 30-year-old law that says only three unrelated persons may live in the same house in most residential neighborhoods.
Although 37 students were cited for violating the occupancy law, the mayor ultimately granted them a reprieve but warned that the law would be enforced beginning May 15.
Mr. Quinn said the occupancy rule could fall under the civil infraction code if council chooses.
Mr. Reger said a variety of offenses could be covered by the civil code, including common offenses like open container of alcohol, disorderly conduct, even nuisance party violations.
"Right now it's all in a proposal standpoint," he said. "I've kind of left it up to council."
The proposed code is based on laws adopted in Oxford, Ohio, and in Cincinnati.
"It's been primarily used for quality-of-life issues - litter, zoning violations, things like that," Mr. Reger said. "Oxford said they passed the ordinance and didn't do much with it until they hired a code enforcement officer and he really jumped on the litter problem."
Mayor Quinn said the city included in its 2005 budget money to hire a full-time zoning inspector, but that position has not been filled.
"We would like to see where this legislation is going to go before we hire this person," he said, adding that if council adopts the civil infraction code, he would like to get the new zoning inspector on board before BGSU students return in August.
Alex Wright, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, said he's eager to hear the city's presentation, but it sounds like a good idea.
"I think it's good for everybody, not just students," Mr. Wright said.
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