In addition to the Board of Aldermen meetings, I've also been trying to attend the Planning and Preservation Commissions' meetings. Tonight I went to the Preservation Commission meeting and really got an earful. Judge Al Johnson owns a house on Clifton Avenue on the bluffs above the river, right smack dab in the middle of the Historic District. He apparently decided to build a fence and didn't bother to obtain the appropriate permissions and permits. He could plead ignorance, but he is, after all, a judge. Aren't judges supposed to know the law? A neighbor informed his son that a permit was needed, but the neighbor was ignored and called a name. Someone apparently informed the authorities, and the Judge was before the Planning Commission trying to get after the fact permission.
Not only did he build it without appropriate permission, but the fence didn't even conform to the guidelines. He asked the Commission to approve his application anyway. He said it was similar to a fence at his neighbors. However, his neighbor's fence was built before the guidelines were in place. There were neighbors there testifying about how the fence was nonconforming, but the best testimony was given by Gwen Ball, of condo fame. She said the issue was a matter of enforcement, especially in these times. The guidelines are a part of the law, and the Commission's job is to enforce those guidelines. She said she expected that a judge, whose job it is to enforce the law, would willingly abide by the rules. Hmmm - is this another case where an elected official thinks he is above the law?
It is the Commission's responsibility simply to determine if an application meets the standards of the guidelines. It was obvious this one did not. Although the Commissioners were in agreement about their decision, a motion was made to approve the application, since that's the proper procedure. However, the motion died for lack of a second. Judge Johnson was visibly angry as he stormed out of the room.
I'm wondering if he will appeal the decision to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, which he has the right to do. And I wonder how the Board will vote. Will they vote to uphold the law, or will they vote that the Judge should be treated differently from anyone else? This is the same Judge that ruled in favor of the City on the condo issue - as well as the Fat Mama's zoning decision. But of course, that has nothing to do with anything.
UPDATE: In case you missed it in the Legals section of the paper, there has been a special meeting of the Preservation Commission called to deal with this issue again! It will be Monday, April 23 at 5:15 pm in the City Council Chamber. Should be very interesting!
UPDATE 2: Preservation Commission decisions regarding private property must be appealed to the Circuit Court. Apparently, the Judge was so upset about having to follow the law that he threatened to go to Court - oops, I thought he was the Court. Oh well, this is Natchez.
It seems that the fine print somewhere says if no action is taken on an application by the Preservation Commission within 60 days, the application is deemed approved. Since the Commission failed to approve the Judge's application but did not deny it, this might be considered a lack of action on the application. So the Commission had to have the special meeting to be sure their decision was made properly. This time, they approved the application with conditions - basically that the fence be changed to conform to the guidelines. The Commission also entered into the record a notebook provided by the Historic Natchez Foundation on guidelines for historic fences. (Remember, they have to worry about going to Court.)
No word yet on whether the Judge will abide by the conditions or continue with his appeal to the Court.
To make matters even more interesting, the Judge owns another house on Commerce Street, also in the Historic Distric, where a similar fence has been installed. Wonder if anything will happen with that fence.