Last night we were happy to welcome Judge Larry Potter of the Memphis and Shelby County Environmental Court to our June community meeting. Judge Potter began with a brief history of his time with the court starting in 1982. In that time, the court could only assess fines-usually around $50 per infraction per day-to motivate landowners to clean up their properties but Potter wasn’t satisfied. He began offering property owners the option of addressing the issue in question for a significant reduction to their fine and, lo and behold, many took the option and fixed the problem. Today the court handles many types of cases that Potter never hoped possible including cases of animal cruelty, historic preservation, and even filing injunctions against gangs. Thanks in large part to Potter and his team, the Memphis Environmental Court is one of the most efficient and productive in the country; they hope to continue this great track record in their brand new courtroom downtown. Moving forward, Potter has even more ideas to improve Memphis and he is particularly interested in looking into issues that arise from absentee property owners. Memphis has a number of landowners who do not live in Memphis or even in the U.S. and it is very difficult to get these owners to comply with local ordinances. Potter would like to require all landowners to have a local representative who can be legally responsible for compliance.
After his presentation, Judge Potter opened the floor to questions. Their were several people interested in finding out what is happening with 2219 Young and, although he could not speak specifically about that case, Potter did give us some insight into what might happen with the property. In this case, the property is in receivership with the City of Memphis; they are currently in the process of doing due diligence to decide the best course of action to rehabilitate the property. After they decide, they can put a lien against the property to cover and monies spent in making it compliant with city ordinances. We at the CYCA will continue to keep an eye on this property to see what happens next.
Several attendees were also interested in what happens when you call 311 to report an issue. Liz Royer, the CYCA Vice President and Code Awareness Chair, fielded the questions and shared that, when 311 is contacted, they make a report of the issue and send that to city department in charge of that particular problem. They will also give the person who reported the incident a number so that they can check the progress at any time. Judge Potter also reminded us that he cannot bring people to court himself but instead relies on citizens and city officials to identify these problems.
Thanks again to everyone who came out last night, especially Judge Potter, for making our June meeting so interesting and informative! Be sure to come out to our next community meeting on Tuesday, July 14th, when our topic will be safety and crime.