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Proposed no jail for code violators hits snags

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OGDENSBURG — The City Council is considering removal of imprisonment as punishment for 13 violations of the city code, and there are signs already that the proposal is in trouble.

One of the sections of the code where violators could be punished with a $250 fine instead of the current jail time penalty is the city’s 2007 Child Protection Act against registered sex offenders. The current penalty is 10 days imprisonment for going too near a city park, playground or recreational area.

The lawmakers will be asked Monday to set a public hearing for Sept. 9 on the code amendments, which would leave fines as the sole punishment. The other code chapters proposed for no imprisonment are related to building codes, flood damage prevention, bingo, peddling, and junkyards and junk dealers.

The proposed amendments, suggested by City Manager John M. Pinkerton, raised some eyebrows.

Mr. Pinkerton said the reason for the proposed amendments was to keep the city from the expense of defending itself over code violations.

“It’s just to avert the possible cost element,” he said. “It’s an avoidance of cost.”

“I probably won’t support it,” said Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley, adding that fines can go unpaid forever with no legal consequences.

“That’s the one deterrent,” Mr. Morley said Friday. “The threat of jail.”

Councilor Wayne L. Ashley is also opposed.

“At this point, I don’t see any pros to it,” he said Friday. “There have to be some teeth in the law. You got to make people accountable for their actions.”

Code Enforcement Officer Gregg A. Mallette said that fines often aren’t enough punishment unless the possibility of jail time exists.

“Does it take out some of the teeth of the enforcement process?” he said. “Yes it does.”

Police Chief Richard J. Polniak Jr. declined Friday to comment, saying he planned to discuss the matter with City Judges William R. Small and A. Michael Gebo.

Mr. Small called the issue “city politics” in a handwritten reply. “They determine,” the judge said of the councilors. “We enforce.”

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