Benton Harbor Officials Discuss Removing Jail Sentences From Lead Line Ordinance | Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR — Several Benton Harbor town commissioners are unhappy that residents face jail time if they don’t have their lead service lines replaced within 180 days.

In February, commissioners approved an order making failure to replace lines a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to 90 days in jail and/or up to 250 hours of labor. general interest.

City Commissioner Ethel Clark-Griffin said at Monday’s city commission meeting that before voting in February, city attorney Richard Racht told her the penalty would be fines and works of interest. general.

“Not once was the prison sentence mentioned,” she said.

Racht said there is always a possibility of jail time if something is criminal, which is an order violation. He said whenever city staff issue a ticket for a violation of the ordinance, they are the ones who decide whether it is prosecuted and recommends a penalty.

“I’ve been handling the city’s lawsuits since 2017,” he said. “I think all of my recommendations for each order violation have been fines and costs.”

Under the ordinance approved in February, homeowners can replace lead service lines at their own expense or participate in the city’s free lead service line replacement program.

Mayor Marcus Muhammad said the goal was to replace every lead line by the end of 2023. But he said that could only happen if the form was signed so contractors could work on a property private.

An online right of entry form and electronic signature are available at

Residents who do not have Internet access or who prefer to sign the form by another method can obtain information from Sandy Riehl at [email protected] or by calling 926-4557.

Muhammad said people had been hired to go door to door, asking residents to fill in the form.

City Commissioner MaryAlice Adams said she would like the ordinance sent back to committee so the jail sentence element can be removed.

City Commissioner Edward Isom agreed.

“We are here to help people, not to hurt them,” he said. “…We just want the lead lines replaced.”

No official action has been taken to change the order.

Several city leaders are scheduled to attend a special Town Hall Part 2 meeting on the main law at 6:30 p.m. Friday, hosted by Gwen Swanigan, CEO of the Society Harmonizing Against Racial Profiling (SHARP) Foundation. Information on how to join this virtual meeting via Zoom and Facebook Live is available on the SHARP Foundation Facebook page.

In public comments, Swanigan said the 90-day jail term in the order was absurd, ridiculous and cruel.

“It’s like you’re creating a crisis within a crisis,” she said.

Racht said that in addition to making it a crime to fail to replace lead service lines, the ordinance allows tenants to provide consent for contractors to be on private property to replace the lines.

He said if the plumb lines are not replaced, the city can be penalized by the state and federal government.

city ​​manager

At Monday’s meeting, city commissioners approved a resolution to conduct a follow-up assessment on City Manager Ellis Mitchell on September 9. That would be six months after his closed-door evaluation earlier this month.

However, three commissioners voted against, saying Mitchell should be reassessed sooner.

City Commissioner Duane Seats, who voted against, said Mitchell must be reassessed within 90 days.

“Some things need to be fixed immediately,” he said.

Adams and Clark-Griffin also voted against the resolution.

Muhammad said Mitchell was serving without a contract at the will of the city commission. Mitchell was hired as interim city manager in July 2019 and received the permanent title in January 2020.

Engineering Award

Mitchell announced at the 2022 Engineering & Surveying Excellence Awards Projects gala last week in Detroit that Benton Harbor and his engineering company, Abonmarche Consultants, won an award for work done to improve the water plant and system. city ​​distribution.

Additionally, Alex Little, director of the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development, said City Commissioner Jerry Edwards recently received a Civic Volunteer Award from Small Town America for being one of the top 100 national winners for his exceptional volunteerism in the public service.

Little said when asked to submit a candidate for consideration, Edwards and Isom were handing out food to people.

“I could only submit one name and I thought about how often Commissioner Edwards stepped in to help with recreational stuff and so on,” he said.

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