The Essex Selectboard is considering the adoption of a Public Nuisance ordinance aimed at addressing incidents that are not currently backed by town legislation.
Police Chief Ron Hoague and Lt. Robert Kissinger brought the first draft of the ordinance before the Selectboard Sept. 13. It seeks to provide guidance and consequences for excessive noise, disorderly conduct, open alcoholic beverage containers and more.
As stated in the draft, the purpose of the ordinance is to:
“Preserve the public health, safety and welfare by prohibiting general nuisance behavior, which is unreasonable or unsuitable for a particular time and place. Such behavior is detrimental to the peace and good order of the community.”
A public nuisance ordinance will provide officers with another layer of options before pursuing criminal charges, according to a Sept. 8 memo from Kissinger to Unified Manager Evan Teich and the Selectboard.
He stressed at the meeting that officers will first and foremost use the ordinance as an educational tool. If necessary, any person in violation of any provisions in this ordinance shall be issued a civil violation. If any violation continues, each day shall constitute a new violation.
“I really like what I’ve read,” Selectboard member Dawn Hill-Fleury said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Loud vehicle noise
Many public nuisances like fireworks, public urination and nudity, open fires and solicitation are included in the ordinance.
Excessive noise, including load vehicles, are also addressed.
“This is one on a list of things that people really complain about,” Teich said. “And so this is the answer. It gives the police a tool to address it.”
The ordnance would now expressly prohibit:
“Operation of an automobile or motorcycle which creates squealing, squealing of tires, loud and unnecessary grating, grinding, exploding type, rattling or other sounds.”
Resident Margaret Smith said during the meeting she often hears vehicles with loud mufflers driving past her house.
“I’ve heard cars at 2 a.m. doing this,” she said. “It’s pretty chronic.”
Open alcoholic beverage containers
The proposed ordinance also prohibits the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages in a public space.
Selectboard members questioned what this section of the ordinance was striving to achieve, given that open containers are already prohibited in vehicles.
Right now, Kissinger said, if someone leaves a restaurant or permissible concert venue with an open beer, EPD can do nothing about it.
“If people were to wander off those premises, this gives us a way to handle the situation,” Kissinger said. “We don’t have to take action on it every time. We would prefer to educate people. But for those people who refuse the education, this is an available tool should we need it.”
Chief Hoague said the Village of Essex Junction is considering a similar section of ordinance because EPD has received complaints about people carrying around open alcohol containers on Railroad Avenue.
“In order to bring things in line, it's included in the town ordinance,” he said.
Selectboard Chair Andy Watts expressed concern that this section of the ordinance would not always be enforced equitably.
“I would want to make sure there is no bias affiliated with how it’s enforced,” he said. “We’ve been discussing equity, and certainly when we put in place something that we may choose or choose not to write a ticket for, we need to ensure we aren’t establishing a built-in bias of any kind.”
Residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed Public Nuisance Ordinance at a public hearing in October.
The board will vote Oct. 4 on its preliminary passage. The public hearing will most likely be scheduled for two weeks later. After that, the board will vote on final passage.