April 17, 2015 - Commissioners, County Judge, law enforcement, and members of the community attended a public hearing in the community room of the Shelby County Courthouse on Thursday, April 16, 2015 concerning trash and public nuisances in unincorporated areas of the county.
The prompting for the public meeting being held was because of the number of calls fielded by County Officials concerning trash and public nuisances. Shelby County Judge Allison Harbison explained, "We are aware of the (trash) problem and are very concerned about the problem."
Harbison opened the meeting up inviting the members of the audience who signed to speak to address the commissioners. First to speak was Donnis Adams who addressed health issues he says he has had as the result of dead chickens being dumped on his road. Adams said, "I was diagnosed with Avian TB (tuberculosis) from my neighbor dumping his dead chicken carcasses. If you go out by my driveway right now, I just mowed my yard, there is a pile of white chicken feathers right beside my drive. Now, I want to make sure anything you guys may do does encompass dead animals being dumped in the county." Adams listed health issues he states he now has because of Avian TB which included glaucoma and deteriorated vision leading to blindness in one eye, a hole in his lung the size of a golf ball, hearing problems which he said are the results of the treatments he has undergone to try and kill the Avian TB. He continued to speak about the dumped dead carcasses stating, "It's dangerous to you and it's litter."
Another concerned citizen spoke and also addressed an issue they are having with their neighbor who has farm animals. According to the concerned citizen, the neighbor is disposing of the guts of animals being slaughtered right next to the their property and at times on their property. Photographs were presented to Commissioner Jimmy Lout since it was occurring in his precinct.
Buren Lowe was the last concerned citizen to speak, "Its embarrassing to say that it seems like our county has become so trashy. It's heartbreaking to go down some of our back roads and see the amount of trash that is throwed out." Lowe suggested the county instigate some kind of program which would encourage people to not throw out trash much like the Texas litter campaign - Don't Mess With Texas. "We don't have any place in Shelby County for people to dispose of their goods. I commend the commissioners for being on board again about the recycling program which is a great asset to recycle some of our waste; its really great. I would love to see Shelby County have a landfill that would afford the people of Shelby County [a place] to take their goods because we've got to dispose of them somewhere, there's really no place to dump them," expressed Lowe. He finished saying, "It's just really, really embarrassing being a Shelby County person to drive down our roads and see how bad it looks."
Commissioner Precinct 2 Jimmy Lout spoke about the dumpsters being available; however, the dumpsters don't allow tires or household trash. Sheriff Willis Blackwell said, "That's mainly what we run into on the road is household garbage. That's were the problem is; they don't have anywhere to go with them black sacks coming out of the kitchen." Chief Deputy Shad Sparks expounded on the procedure the Sheriff's Department has when trash dumping is reported, which included, after the investigation reveals to whom the trash belongs, is to give them an opportunity first to pick it up. He said they often find that many of the people dumping don't have the funds to afford monthly trash pickup which means they are also not going to be able to afford a ticket for dumping either. Sparks said, "If they don't pick it up or they are repeat offenders, we write them a dumping ticket. If they can't pay for it, they get an FTA (Failure to Appear) and they go to jail."
The discussion of using prisoners to clean up on work detail was brought up and Sheriff Blackwell answered, "There has to be a certified peace officer to take those prisoners out of that jail and go somewhere with them, so it's not a question of whether a jailer could take them out and work them, we can't. It has to be a certified peace officer with them." Sparks added saying "We would love to have a work detail, that's not an issue with us, everybody is just short-handed right now." It was mentioned that cleaning up the roadways has been used for community service time for people who couldn't pay citations off or for teenagers who had gotten in trouble as a learning lesson or as a deterrent.
There were a number of citizens from Huxley who were unable to attend the meeting. Harbison said, "In the last three and a half months, the ones that I have heard the most about are close to Toledo Bend or on Toledo Bend... I have three or four different things (letters with photographs) here from the same community and I've done some research on it and I have a paper that was prepared by the legal council of the Texas Association of Counties and there are actually laws on the books already that covers public nuisance. It defines the public nuisance and everything that we've talked about today is classified in this as a public nuisance."
"I think that we probably just need to start an abatement program to utilize the laws that are already in the health and safety code. One of the laws says that it's a public nuisance if they're keeping, storing or accumulating rubbish including newspapers, abandoned vehicles, refrigerators, stoves, furniture, tires, cans on the premises in a neighborhood or within 300 feet of a public street for 10 days or more," stated Harbison. She continued, "There are laws already there and I think we should look at enforcing them. I think turning a blind eye to them is not the best way to do it. I just want to let the public know I empathize with their problems and that I really do want to work towards a solution."
Harbison spoke on behalf of the commissioners' court saying, "We really don't want to have a law that impedes anybody from doing anything on their private property because you bought that property and you paid for that property."
The way the law works would be a citizen would file a complaint with the commissioners and they would decided during commissioners' court if it is in fact a public nuisance. If it is approved to be a nuisance, the court would send out a notice giving the property owner a time period to clean it up. If the property owner fails to comply, they can be fined. In the long run the county could hire someone to clean it up and a lien could be placed by the county against the person's property. It would be a civil case.
"I'm not for telling anybody what to do on their property, but if you're living 300 feet of a public road, if it's dead carcasses by your property that is impeding your well being and your health, I think it's our duty to look into this and to do what we can to help the community. I may be dead wrong but I don't think it's infringing on anybody's private rights if the laws that are already on the books are enforced," stated Judge Harbison.
Take pride in your community and help keep it beautiful. Lowe suggested a new slogan - "Don't Trash Shelby County"
- Educate all your family and friends about littering and how bad it is.
- If you see a litterbug, you can report it on the Don't Mess With Texas and Texas will send the litterer a Don’t mess with Texas litterbag along with a letter reminding them to keep their trash off of our roads.
- Form a community service group to help with picking up litter.
- Foster respect for a clean city among school children, visitors to parks, patrons of fast-food, and smokers.