New court to crack down on vandals, polluters, property violators in Gulfport

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - After living several years in California, Jeff Slade is moving back to his hometown of Gulfport.  He's fixing up a house he bought on 10th Street.

"It's just more relaxed here," Slade said. "Every time I come home, I feel like I'm taking a deep breath."

But Slade is not too happy about one particular neighbor. Just two doors down is a vacant house with a boarded up window, graffiti on a shed, even remnants of a blue roof.

"This house is sitting here just falling down and that's a big concern for me.  It's not just property values, but quality of life," Slade said. "To make my house nice and I almost feel like it's pointless with a neighbor like this."

To deal with the rise in problem properties after Katrina, the city created an Environmental Court to take some of the burden off the Municipal Court system.  The court opens November 2.

"That's a separate court under Mississippi law that's going to deal with making the way we live in this town pleasant to everybody," Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel said.

The court will prosecute code violations like neglected and derelict properties, unsafe buildings, junk cars, and overgrown lots.  It will also tackle cases involving vandalism, animal control, as well as the city's sign ordinance and new tree ordinance for residential properties.

Violators could be brought to court in a matter of days, instead of weeks or even months.

"That'll be a night court. It takes place separate from the regular criminal activity, so that you as a citizen can be a part of making this town better," Mayor Schloegel explained.

The mayor said the court is a vital step in building a cleaner, safer city and a place anyone would be proud to call home.

"I'm looking forward to moving back here and having a nice neighborhood where everybody gets along and takes care of their property reasonably and just have a happy life," Slade said.

The mayor will appoint a judge for the Environmental Court at next Tuesday's city council meeting.  The prosecutor for the court will be Todd Thriffley.

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