Proceed with caution on crime-free ordinance

May 7, 2013 

The desire to fight crime inspired Belleville city leaders to draft a crime-free housing ordinance, but questions about fairness and the threat of costly lawsuits should give them pause about adopting it as currently written.

The respected Sergeant Shriver Center for Poverty Law is sounding the alarm. It feels the ordinance is too broad, which is not only unfair to the public but puts the city at risk of being sued -- by a tenant who is unfairly evicted, by a landlord who has his license taken away, or by the federal government over housing discrimination.

Belleville already had to settle a hiring discrimination case with the U.S. Justice Department. It doesn't want to go through that again.

The Shriver Center offered to work with Belleville to develop an ordinance that would address the city's crime concerns but said it never got a reply.

What does Mayor Mark Eckert have to say about all this? Why didn't the city take the organization up on its offer of help? Eckert said he won't comment until after a new city attorney is hired. That leaves a lot of serious questions without answers.

We urge the City Council to put off the vote until after the concerns raised by the Shriver Center can be fully and publicly addressed.

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