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Cash For Trash

City Enforcement of Sanitation Code Takes Some City Residents by Surprise

The City Paper Digi-Cam%u2122

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 12/17/2008

A recent crackdown on the enforcement of a city code requiring residents to put their trash out in metal cans with tight-fitting lids has angered the residents of some neighborhoods where citations for the violation have recently been issued.

According to Peggy Smallwood, a resident of East Baltimore's McElderry Park neighborhood and office manager for the city's Midtown Community Benefits District, she recently discovered that code enforcement officers were visiting her neighborhood on garbage day and going through trash bags that weren't contained in trash cans. She says they were searching for information in the trash bags that might identify the owner of the trash.

"When I asked the code enforcement officer what she was doing, she told me that they were giving out fines to people who were putting out trash without trash cans," she says. Smallwood says she has lived in the neighborhood for about a year now and up until that point, she had never heard of anyone being cited for the violation. "I am new to the community, so I picked up the same procedures that the McElderry Park people were already doing."

That is, she says, putting the trash bags outside the morning of trash day without a can. She did not receive a citation because she took her trash off the street, but she says she thinks the way the city descended upon her neighborhood all of a sudden, issuing citations, was "unscrupulous." She thinks the city should have at least had the courtesy to remind residents of the city's code, which requires that people put trash out in metal cans with "tight-fitting" lids, and notify them that it would be tightening up enforcement in the near future.

Smallwood says she drove through other neighborhoods the morning code enforcement hit McElderry Park and was surprised to see no code-enforcement officers out on the streets going through trash. She also talked to residents of neighborhoods around the city and no one else had experienced similar code-enforcement sweeps. She says she thinks McElderry Park was being "targeted," possibly in an attempt to help the city fill its coffers during a rough economic time. "I do know that seeking and fining homeowners who work to make their neighborhoods into better communities is not the way to promote sustainability in the city," she wrote in an e-mail to other neighborhood residents and to Angela Frasier of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods.

Glenn Ross, a longtime resident of McElderry Park and community liaison representative for City Councilman Warren Branch (D-13th District), says he also noticed the sudden code-enforcement sweep in the neighborhood. He says he respects the city's code on how trash should be stored, but he says when he pointed out trash-strewn lots and vacant buildings to the code-enforcement officers as they were in the neighborhood, they told him they weren't interested.

"One of my neighbors' yards is atrocious," he says, "so I pointed it out, and I said, 'Are you going to write this up?' And they said, 'No, we're only here for trash cans.'"

City Paper contacted several city officials to ask about the code-enforcement sweeps. Steven Robinson, representative of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods' Eastern and Southeastern districts, referred all calls to Ian Brennan, spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon.

"I wasn't aware that this was new," Brennan says, before referring further questions to the city's departments of Housing and Public Works. "That's been the regulation all along . . . I know if you leave garbage out unattended and just in a bag, city law requires you be cited. So it shouldn't really surprise anyone."

According to Cheron Porter, director of communications for the city's Department of Housing, the city now has two kinds of inspectors: code and garbage. And garbage inspectors have been going out and enforcing the city's sanitation laws.

"In certain areas, we do targeted sanitation enforcement, based upon Mayoral goals," Porter writes in an e-mail explaining the recent trash-can sweep. "Principally, trash not being put out in cans on trash day and commercial corridors where private businesses are using the public cans. On the east side, McElderry Park is a residential area currently that is a priority for enforcement."

Smallwood says that's exactly the opposite of what residents were told at a Dec. 11 community meeting with city representatives. She says the city assured frustrated McElderry Park neighbors that their neighborhood was not a specific target for enforcement.

"We are told we are not being targeted," she says. "But I know there are areas not having the same problem. They don't have code-enforcement officers riding, patrolling, policing, going through your trash just to cite you."

One other neighborhood that apparently has been seeing an increase in trash-code enforcement is Federal Hill. In the December edition of the Federal Hillsider, the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association newsletter, an article warned residents that they could receive $50 fines for putting out bags on the street. After the neighborhood association received several calls from people who had received "environmental citations" for putting their trash out, a representative called the city to find out what was going on. "The inspectors are making weekly runs late on Thursday night into early Friday morning looking for violations in the area south of Montgomery Street, all the way down to Fort Avenue," the article says, and advises residents to make an investment in heavy-duty trash cans on sale at Wal-Mart for $25. "Obviously, the investment could save residents twice that amount in fines."

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