|In the old sitcom, Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld's nemesis and arch enemy
was his neighbor "Newman." Seems every time Seinfeld had a problem it
was caused by Newman. Jerry would squint his eyes, grit his teeth and
mumble "NEWMAN." Based on Monday's county commission workshop, a lot of
Loudon County residents have their own "NEWMAN" and his real name is
Newman, Russ Newman.
Russ Newman is the current Planning and Codes Enforcement director for Loudon County. For the last few months, Newman's office has been on a tare all across the county writing violation notices to dozens of county property owners for what his office perceives as violations of a county ordinance that deals with messy or overgrown property.
As with anything the government gets involved with, Newman and his office have gone far beyond the intent of the regulation that was adopted thirty or more years ago.
The standing room only crowd was in no mood for more regulations and they let commissioners know about it. Every citizen at the meeting was there because of the actions from Newman's office. A number of residents addressed the commission about their particular notice of violation from Newman's office.
As the meeting progressed, Newman asked Mayor Herron if he could address the commission about some misinformation that was being stated. He explained that his office was merely enforcing regulations that had been on the books for a long time.
Newman went on to state that he had a new codes enforcement office that he described as, young and energetic, indicating that the officer may have been over zealous in his enforcement of the regulations. To me at least, it sounded like Mr. Newman was throwing his officer under the bus to cover his own tail. That employee is Jesse Boiling. Boiling went to work in Newman's office about six months ago.
Eventually, the meeting devolved into mostly a shouting match at which point the mayor ended that portion of the meeting and told the angry citizens that she and the commission will be working out the issue. Russ Newman is a direct employee of the county mayor.
Residents blast Loudon County Commission over codes, zoning rules
An angry crowd of Loudon County residents, many of them farmers, confronted county commissioners Monday night over what they described as heavy-handed enforcement of codes and zoning restrictions.
As many as 75 residents, some holding notices of violation they received from the county’s Planning and Codes Enforcement Department, blasted commissioners for what they felt was a violation of their rights.
“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We shouldn’t be told we have to mow our yards. It’s time the American people stood up and said enough is enough!” farmer Alfred Davis said to shouts of approval from the audience.
Loudon resident Ted Sitzler said he felt that farmers in the county were under attack from the zoning department. The zoning regulations violate the Tennessee Right to Farm Act, which exempts farmers from such restrictions, he said.
John James, farmer and businessman, took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper last week complaining about the codes enforcement office. On Monday evening, James told the commission he felt the department was out of control.
James described problems with code enforcement going back to 2009, when he was granted one of the first liquor licenses in the county. He said his attempts to comply with zoning regulations were frustrated by the department despite the fact that his business generates about $435,000 per year in tax revenue.
“My taxes support that entire office,” he said.
James also complained about a $1,500 fine levied against him because he was using old tires to hold down a tarp on his silo. He urged the commission to “take hold of the problem.”
Much of the crowd’s ire was directed again county Planning Director Russ Newman, who attempted, amid numerous interruptions from the audience, to address specific issues associated with the complaints.
The letters of violation are not fines, Newman said. The amount listed on the violation reflects the cost for the county to clean up the property, he said. He also described as “energetic” the actions of a recently hired codes enforcement officer. He explained that his office doesn’t make the regulations but only enforces them.
“The regulation is what it is and it was adopted by the county a long time ago,” he said.
Newman’s explanations were returned by the crowd with shouts and remarks, including references to communism, Adolf Hitler and President Barack Obama. As the mood became increasingly hostile, Newman left the room in the company of a Loudon County Sheriff’s Office deputy
County Mayor Estelle Herron rose from her chair to bring order to the meeting.
“We are not going to argue this anymore tonight,” she said.
Herron explained that the zoning ordinances were enacted in 1973 but were never vigorously enforced. She promised to work on the issue and to address resident’s concerns.