Journalists aren’t above the law, but neither should the law — and those who enforce it — go out of its way to target us.
It should perhaps come as no surprise, though, that that’s what’s happening in Mooresville.
I’ve lived in my home in downtown Mooresville for 20 years. Until a few years ago, I never had any issues. Then the land behind my house was cleared, two homes were built, and a couple relocated to Mooresville and into one of those homes.
With that particular new neighbor have come repeated “courtesy letters”/visits from the Town of Mooresville planning department and its code compliance officers. Last year, the neighbor complained about a section of my privacy fence. So I replaced the fence. Last fall, I received a notice of violation from the town about a different section of my fence. So I replaced that, too.
Last week, in response to more phone calls from the same neighbor, I received yet another visit from the town’s planning department, pointing out three more possible violations on my property — all of which had been present in the fall when the fence violation was written.
This time, the town pointed out the following possible violations:
- “Overgrowth” on the back of my property/fence line that is not “in keeping” with the neighborhood. But which neighborhood? The one before the new homes were built? Or after? For more than 15 years, that space was nothing but natural overgrowth, and never once did anyone complain about it. Now that someone else developed their property, which is their right, my property isn’t compliant — even if it’s in the same condition it’s been in for decades.
- An 8-foot-tall fence on the back of my property that was built around 2019, under the town’s old zoning ordinance. The fence, even if it is two feet taller than the ordinance allowed, was never cited as a violation under the old ordinance.
- The back of an old barn/building on my property, which has stood here longer than I have and is, admittedly, plug-ugly.
It’s easy to get the feeling that something more than barn wood is rotten here.
If the violations are on my property, they’re there. Of course, with 500 pages of ordinances to cite, if town leaders are committed to finding a violation on someone’s property, they’ll find one.
The opposite is also true: The town has the power to engage in selective, preferential non-enforcement if, for example, an elected official’s house is allowed to remain in disrepair or if an organization on whose board town officials sit has had clear violations on its property for years.
But let’s face it: this isn’t really about violations, and we know that because of three key points:
1. The town is using irregular personnel.
My pesky neighbor long ago wore through the patience of the town’s planning and police employees, so as I’ve been told, Town Manager Randy Hemann — not the planning director, code enforcement officers, or other planning personnel — has taken it upon himself to take my neighbor’s calls and field complaints against my property. This is the same town manager I’ve strongly criticized on these pages. (And I’ll keep doing so until he packs his bags and departs for his new gig in Tennessee!)
And remember: The overgrowth, the old ugly barn, and the 8-foot-tall fence were all here when the town took photos attached to a “courtesy letter” about my aged privacy fence being in violation of ordinances in the fall. Those letters included no mention of the other “violations” — until the town manager took it upon himself to play planning director and field my neighbor’s complaints himself.
2. The town is using irregular procedures.
The town’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), adopted in 2022, details enforcement procedures for potential violations of town ordinances. Nowhere in those procedures are “town manager” or “elected officials” mentioned. Instead, the job of enforcement is tasked exclusively to the planning director — in this case, Danny Wilson — and his staff. But Hemann has reportedly offered up himself as a “direct pipeline” for my neighbor’s complaints against me.
Why would the town manager, with a taxpayer-funded salary of almost $225,000 a year, involve himself in garden-variety zoning ordinance complaints? What special interest might he have in me and my property? And why?
Consider this, too: Last week in closed meetings, Danny Wilson notified elected officials of potential violations on my property. It is not standard procedure for the town board to be notified of complaints against a property owner.
3. The town is displaying a pattern of targeted retaliation.
As you all know, I have been a very prominent voice pointing out the town planning department’s targeting of Josh’s Farmers Market the past year.
When the market was still situated at the YMCA, I documented that a code compliance officer from the planning department cited the market with two violations during one inspection. Then, a week later, she returned and — with no changes made to the property — cited it for a dozen more, which occurred only after the officer debriefed Wilson on her findings, Hemann immediately arranged a meeting with Wilson and assistant town managers and the officer was then given a list and ordered to go back out and find more violations.
And then there was the town’s willingness to enlist state officials in its campaign of retaliation. As I previously reported, Wilson contacted the state Department of Agriculture to sic investigators on Josh’s Farmers Market. (Wilson later lied about it and was then caught lying about it, something that has somehow not cost him his job. Why should anyone in Mooresville trust a town official caught lying?)
Now let me be clear: The town is perfectly within the law to cite me for every possible ordinance violation it finds on my property. But the number and frequency of the letters/visits suggest an ulterior motive.
I’d liken it to this: A cop is perfectly within the law to pull a motorist over and cite them for driving 2 miles per hour over the speed limit. The officer could follow the same car around every day, citing each and every technical violation it makes, including not coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign or maybe briefly crossing the center line.
But while I think we’d all agree that the officer would be well within the law, I bet we’d also agree he wouldn’t be acting in good faith or the public interest. Instead, he’d be acting in bad faith and for the improper purposes of retaliation and harassment. Whether the cop’s target is technically violating the law isn’t the point. What matters is that the cop is targeting a particular person.
That’s what matters here, too.
If you have a complaint to make against a neighbor, it seems Hemann wants to hear from you. He can be reached at 704-662-3199, 919-603-7677, or by emailing email@example.com.