SALEM - The ordered removal of graffiti from property, possibly by property owners, will be the first priority of any proposal to tackle the graffiti issue, Rules & Ordinances Committee members indicated.
City resident Loretta Price, though, strongly voiced her disagreement with the idea of putting it on the property owners, or doing any kind of graffiti ordinance, saying there were already laws on the books regarding vandalism or criminal damaging.
"If there is graffiti done on my property, that's my business. I will remove it when and if I want," she said, adding it's about private property rights.
The idea of putting the responsibility on property owners, whether the property is public, private or commercial, was one of several graffiti rules discussed for possible legislation during a meeting Tuesday of the Rules & Ordinances Committee of city council.
Committee Chair Councilman Rick Drummond stressed that notes he distributed of what could be included in graffiti legislation were just that, notes, a possible starting point for discussions. He said a number of people had asked the city to look at the issue and that's what they're doing.
He also said graffiti was not helping the city in any way and could actually be hurting it, making potential businesses and residents not want to move here.
"Communities that have addressed graffiti and addressed it aggressively, have reduced it and have it under control," he said.
He admitted at the beginning of the meeting that the one point that may be the most contentious is the idea of putting it on property owners to get rid of graffiti. He said he understood where they were coming from, but the problem isn't going away and won't go away if they don't do something.
The committee took no action, with the next move a yet-to-be scheduled committee work session with city Law Director Brooke Zellers to formulate proper language for a proposed ordinance.
All three committee members, Drummond, Councilman Clyde Brown and Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, favored doing something about the removal of graffiti. The second idea will focus on graffiti implements, such as spray paint cans, with discussion Tuesday on prohibiting their possession with an intent to use them for graffiti. They'll also look at possibly modifying the current ordinance dealing with crimes such as graffiti.
In the written notes presented, there was a section regarding prohibiting the furnishing of graffiti implements to minors, but Drummond expressed his reservations about it and Dickey said she did not think it should be included because it puts too much pressure on businesses.
The section regarding possession of graffiti implements noted some exceptions, such as if the person was using the paint for a non-graffiti purpose, such as at home, school, church or work and was on the way to the activity.
The section regarding removal or graffiti noted that property owners could be ordered to remove the graffiti in a set amount of time, receive a written notice if they don't, and the chance for a hearing before an already established board, such as the Board of Housing Appeals. If they still didn't remove the graffiti, the city could remove the graffiti and then charge the property owner through their property taxes and charge a fine.
Drummond said nothing was set in stone and they needed to talk with Zellers about what they can and can't do legally.
Price started her presentation by saying most of the council members were Republicans and as such, they were supposed to be for smaller government. She asked her fellow citizens to quit going to their council representatives and "using them as a hammer against the rest of us." She called the proposal "too over-reaching."
Other citizens who attended included members of the beautification committee and Audrey Null, executive director of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, who all indicated a need to do something about the graffiti. Null said graffiti sends a message of an "I don't care" attitude.
"That's not what we want in Salem...we love our town. We want to see our town flourish," she said.