Proposed Columbia city ordinance would deal with graffiti problem

Friday, June 5, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Vindication. I have said it since 2007. Now it is in the public record.

Fifth Ward City Councilwoman Laura Nauser told the city council on April 6 that there are organized gangs in Columbia, and they are not “a loose affiliation of people.” She recognized 20 gang “tags” giving locations of drug sales, names of gang members and more during a 30-minute tour of Douglas Park. She wants a law.

Nauser’s proposed city ordinance was a bit misreported in May, when it was indicated that the ordinance may compel victims of the defacing of property and trespassing, the property owners, to be responsible for the repairs if the perpetrators of the act are not arrested. Not quite.

The basis of this proposal was Washington, D.C., 2009 Bill 18-0069. This was a statute I wanted to read. However, locating anything on the D.C. Web site is next to impossible. After five telephone calls and an hour of frustration, I finally found B 18-0069.

The new proposed ordinance is loosely based on the D.C. statute and there may be a small keyhole for businesses and landowners to escape the wrath of Columbia if graffiti is not removed.

Most curious is that fact that the city does not already have anything on the books concerning graffiti. There is no apparent definition or crime against “tagging.” Div. 2 § 11-230 does not define graffiti as a “nuisance,” therefore, the act itself is apparently not covered under current ordinances. Trees, garbage and noxious fumes, yes; but not graffiti.

The current ordinance does permit the city clerk to bill the property owner for the removal of any “nuisance” through a “special tax” and a possible lien on the property, a perceived problem. The current ordinance, however, focuses on problems that are usually the responsibility of property owners.

The portions of the Washington law referred to by the council member concern the establishment of a “graffiti trust fund” to assist in payment of removal of graffiti and a couple of definitions. The rest belongs to Columbia.

The new code would add Division 6 Sections 270-275 to the books. This would rectify the lack of current definitions and laws, making the act of graffiti a nuisance and the carrying of “graffiti material” for tagging an offense.

Here is where the “keyhole” comes to play. Sec. 11-272 says if the property owner waives liability (not unusual) and if the city has the funds, the graffiti will be removed by the city at no charge. Where do these funds come from? The Graffiti Trust Fund, of course, made up of fines and donations.

This is where the new director of the Regional Economic District, J. Mike Brooks, will be the key in making a major change in our little world.  
Sir: Columbia is currently not a business friendly town.  Think manufacturing and transportation.

I am not sure if you can do anything about the “artists,” those who believe graffiti is not destructive but art, and the city is their canvas. Asking permission to use a wall and a little cooperation would be a start. That is what happened in Denver and New York. But there are still the gangs and their graffiti that Ms. Nauser and CPD have finally recognized.

The gang problem can and must be fixed. The reason kids, black, white and every color in between, join gangs is that they see no other method of making it in this world. Bill Cosby, in his May 2004 speech, “Pound Cake Speech,” acknowledged the problems. No work, no role models, no encouragement from parents, teachers or the city to succeed. In our fair town, there are few options unless you want and can work in medical, banking, insurance or education arenas. You can add the lack of blue-collar work and a poorly designed bus and transportation system to the problem.

So, Mr. J. Mike Brooks, please consider this, as you take over Regional Economic Development Inc. in July. There is more to life than white-collar and professional careers. There is a ready and able labor workforce in Columbia. We need more manufacturing. We need better transportation and bus service. We need role models and encouragement. Look at this untapped resource as an asset. As Columbia becomes more business-friendly, your charge, in part, is the reduction of graffiti in Columbia.

David Rosman is a award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at



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