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Squabble erupts between Canton mayor and code enforcement officer

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CANTON - A squabble over a parking issue has prompted Canton Code Enforcement Officer Russell B. Lawrence IV to accuse Village Mayor David C. Curry of pressuring him to enforce village code regulations that don’t exist.

In an undated letter addressed to Mr. Curry and sent to several other town and village officials, Mr. Lawrence claims the mayor is asking him to violate his oath of office.

“Neither your authority nor mine extends to enforcing law that does not exist,” Mr. Lawrence wrote. “I feel very uncomfortable being put in a position where this happens. I never have before so I am in new territory.”

He accused the mayor of yelling at him and swearing when they were discussing the situation. Mr. Curry declined to comment on the letter.

The dispute was prompted by a complaint from Ollie and Jennifer Sheridan, 6 Lincoln St. about neighbors at 4 Lincoln St. who were parking their vehicle on the side of a house. The 4 Lincoln St. property is rented to Nicole Villnave.

Mr. Curry allegedly directed Mr. Lawrence to inform the driver not to park on the side of the house. He cited Code 276-18 in the village code books, which the mayor claimed prohibits crossing a vehicle over a sidewalk.

Mr. Lawrence disagrees with the mayor’s interpretation of the code, saying that no one would be able to get in their driveway if cars were kept from crossing a sidewalk,

“It is a misinterpretation of this section to think that people’s cars can’t cross a sidewalk,” Mr. Lawrence wrote. “The Department of State holds me personally responsible for upholding the code. By encouraging me to tell residents that they are violating the code, when in fact they are not, leaves me in a very vulnerable position. In my years as a certified code enforcement officer, I have been very cautious not to create code that doesn’t exist.”

Mr. Lawrence said he was also encouraged by Mr. Curry to use the code to tell residents that they could not use the side yard for a driveway, even though the code does not regulate driveways. The code states that drivers can’t park in the front yard in a residential zone.

“The code says that parking shall be located in the side or rear yard only. When I reported that to you, you still said that I should press the issue,” Mr. Lawrence wrote. “Because of my resistance to using the code to do things that are not contained therein, you started yelling at me in the lobby of the municipal building and in my office.”

Mr. Lawrence said he thinks it would be ill-advised for him to meet alone with Mr. Curry and he suggested that he be joined by his direct supervisor, Canton Town Supervisor David T. Button, Town Attorney Charles Nash, town councilman James T. Smith or village trustee Mary Ann Ashley.

“I felt they would appreciate the ethical and legal dilemma that you have placed me in by asking me to do something that violates my oath,” he wrote.

Mr. Lawrence serves as joint codes enforcement officer for both the town and the village, with his salary split evenly between the two.

Mr. Button said he was aware of the situation, but did not want to comment.

“It’s a personnel matter and I would rather not,” Mr. Button said.

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