E'town councilman to forgo lien amnesty

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Bill Bennett close to qualifying for forgiveness

By Marty Finley

Elizabethtown City Attorney D. Dee Shaw said Councilman Bill Bennett is close to qualifying for a new lien amnesty program, but Bennett said he will refuse any financial forgiveness offered by the city under a policy he approved.

Bennett currently has two outstanding liens, the first dating back to September 2008 for $86.64. The most recent lien was filed in June 2011 for $181.54.

“It would be unethical and a conflict of interest for me not to pay those,” Bennett said Thursday.

City Council recently adopted an amnesty program waiving outstanding liens less than $500 in which the property has been maintained without violations for a period of five years or more. The initial forgiveness only applies to liens filed prior to 2010, according to Planning Director Ed Poppe.

“In the future, if the aggregate lien amount does not exceed $500, the property is maintained with no violations and the lien is more than five (5) years then it will be forgiven,” states the city’s lien amnesty policy.

“(I’m) not aware of any liens against any other council member or Mayor Berger,” Poppe wrote in an email response to a question.

Bennett was cited both times for violating Elizabethtown Code of Ordinances Section 92.036, which states “no motor vehicle shall be parked on any property in the city which can be viewed from a public highway or other city street, which vehicle remains for a period of one week in the same relative location or which for mechanical or other reasons cannot be moved or which will not operate properly or which is unsightly.”

Both Shaw and Poppe verified Bennett’s desire to be excluded from the amnesty program should he qualify.

“He’s told me he’s going to pay them,” Poppe said.

The city hopes to send letters to homeowners who qualify for amnesty by the end of the month, he added.

Bennett said he had forgotten about the liens until Poppe reminded him and the obligations played no role in his advocacy for lien amnesty. He said he supported a move toward amnesty to benefit the elderly and poor who may be unable to pay the liens as they “snowball” over time.

Shaw said Bennett indicated a philosophical difference with the ordinance, which is why he has declined to pay them until now.

Bennett believes the ordinance is a “bad law” because it is overly vague and does not properly define what “unsightly” means in a legal sense. The violations are tied to a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass owned by Bennett that he said could not be classified as a nuisance or eyesore. The car was purchased new by his grandfather and has been passed down through his family.

“It’s one of my retirement projects,” he said.

Bennett said he will propose changes to the ordinance to make it more reasonable and specific. If the car is properly maintained, on four wheels, is not a home for animals and is not sitting in a front yard, it should be left alone, Bennett argued.

The ordinance, too, does not take into account homeowners without garages, he said.

Shaw said Bennett has approached her about making revisions to the ordinance, and she indicated some changes may be warranted.

While addressing the liens, Bennett claimed former council candidate Arnold Myers has accused him of ethics violations in a “politically motivated” move to oust him from office.

Myers denied the allegations and said others in the city knew about the liens long before he did.

“Mr. Bennett needs to understand you can’t hide these things,” Myers said. “It’s a matter of public record.”

Had he been interested in driving Bennett from office, he said, he immediately would have filed an ethics charge against the councilman related to this issue.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.