Ordinance revises when a building is considered dangerous due to the presence of meth

Just under a year after a drug investigation resulted in a residence being sealed, the Hannibal City Council approved an ordinance that revises the criteria under which private property can be sealed by city officials because of methamphetamine.

The ordinance, which was given a first reading by the council on Dec. 19, 2017, and final approval on Jan. 2, is Chapter 7, Article 3, Division 4, Section 246 (d) of the city code.

“Under the proposed ordinance, unsafe contaminations from meth will be defined as residue resulting from (i) production of methamphetamine or (ii) storage of chemicals used in its production. It will not be triggered by meth use,” explained Jeff LaGarce, city manager, in a memo to the council on Dec. 19.

City Attorney James Lemon confirmed that a lawsuit filed against the city, which wound up in federal court, was a driving force behind the revision.

“One of the issues in that case was an argument that meth use should be treated differently from meth production, and our prior ordinance did not clearly delineate that issue,” he said. “The change in the ordinance should prevent a future dispute on that particular issue. From this point forward, the building inspector’s office will only refer properties for inspections where there was meth production or storage of meth producing chemicals. Meth use only won’t trigger an inspection.”

The lawsuit, which stemmed from an incident that took place in Jan. 6, 2017, challenged the city ordinance that allowed city officials to condemn and lock up structures where meth is believed to have been used or manufactured. That ordinance had been a part of the city code since late 2014 when it was approved by the city council.

Asked if the statute change represented a housekeeping measure or a significant change, Lemon said it falls “somewhat in between.”

“Basically housekeeping at this point,” he said. “However, it does clarify the issue that we will only be enforcing for meth production issues not meth use issues, so it’s not like it is trivial.”

Police Chief Lyndell Davis and Lemon agree that the change will not impact their respective jobs when it comes meth.

“The change in the ordinance has little or no effect on the way the officers investigate meth cases,” said Davis. “What was approved by council has more to do with the criteria or trigger by which law enforcement reports to the city building inspector when the meth substance is located.”

“It changes nothing for me or the police,” said Lemon. “It does change the building inspector’s way of doing things in that they won’t be referring properties for inspections unless there is evidence of meth production or storage of the chemicals used to produce meth.”

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com