On 23rd June 2013, Not The Item published an article about the plight of the Marshall family entitled “Nightmare on Spruce Street”. At that time Terry Marshall had been trying for almost 7 years to get the City to clean up his adjoining property – a property they had condemned back in 2006 and then taken from the previous owner in 2007, and which they then simply left to rot and decay.
Mayor Persing claimed lack of ownership was preventing his administration from doing anything with the property, as they had been unable to contact the legal owners.
However, this “lack of ownership” certainly did nothing to inhibit the subsequent reaction of Persing. Within a couple of days of our public exposure of this blatant injustice, the entire City work crew descended on the property like locusts, dismantling the rear fence, completely clearing the yard, cutting down trees, removing all undergrowth and a copious volume of pigeon feces, and taking away an old freezer from the back porch – one which had been filled with slowly rotting food.
Of course, the fact that there was an election taking place last year was purely coincidental, and did nothing to influence their speedy reaction. They certainly appeared to have no qualms about lack of ownership and a possible trespass claim on this occasion.
That was the first and last attempt made by the City to clean up the property. This impasse made court action inevitable.
On Thursday 20th March, Attorneys Kymberley Best and Timothy Bowers, acting on behalf of the Marshalls, filed a notice of action in Northumberland County Court against the City of Sunbury.
The City are being sued on 5 counts –
De Facto Taking – the City filed a Declaration of Taking on September 6th 2007, but did not assume ownership of the property, and have done nothing to remedy its blighted condition. Through its failure and refusal to remedy the blighted condition of #239, it has caused a number of conditions to develop and/or continue unabated:
- Numerous holes and openings in the basement, porch and cellar door permit water intrusion causing decay of #237 floor supports, putting its electrical service at risk and causing further damage
- These same holes permit the intrusion of vermin, pigeons, snakes, groundhogs, skunks and other undesirable animals which cause stench, spread disease and find access to #237
- The roof is in deteriorated condition allowing water to intrude upon #239
- Pieces of roof frequently fall down on the sidewalks and into the street
- The stench of animal feces spreads from #239 to #237
- Rotten food was permitted to decay in an unplugged freezer on the back porch until June 2013
- Failure to secure the premises has permitted entrance by unauthorized persons posing a danger to the safety of the Marshalls.
- Mandamus – to compel the City to follow their own rules and either demolish #239 or to sell it to someone who will bring it up to code.
- Trespass – By act of omission, Sunbury has permitted water, noxious odors and vermin to intrude upon #237
- Private Nuisance – Sunbury’s failure to demolish or remedy the blighted condition of #239 has impaired the Marshall’s quiet and enjoyment of #237. Their failure is intentional and unreasonable as well as being negligent, reckless and constitutes a private nuisance. It has caused immediate and irreparable harm to the Marshalls. The court is requested to provide relief by compelling Sunbury to demolish #239 within 30 days, to award just compensation, for Sunbury to pay the Marshall’s costs and provide such other relief as the Court may deem just.
- Public Nuisance – Sunbury has permitted #239 to become a haven for vermin, has permitted the roof of #239 to deteriorate to the point where shingles fall thereby endangering the public and the Marshalls have suffered harm separate and distinct from that suffered by members of the general public. The same relief is requested as in (4) above.
The attorneys have requested an early hearing and expect to be in court by the beginning of May.
Unfolding of a Drama
To discover the initial events of this drama, it is necessary to go back to 2006. The property had been occupied by a Beverly Ross, along with a multitude of cats and had been allowed to deteriorate into an unacceptable condition, with the foul smell of cat urine continuously permeating through the wall to the Marshall’s house next door.
The City took possession under the terms of their blighted properties ordinance, but never assumed ownership. Mayor Persing claimed that this was because of an inability to contact the owner who had moved on, but under eminent domain this step was unnecessary – all that was required was an advert in the local paper, and if this went unanswered the City would automatically assume ownership. Nobody seems prepared to explain why this simple step was not carried out, and their failure to do so has been deemed negligent by the pursuers.
The City have also claimed they have no money for this property, even though they have access to part of a $500,000 Northumberland County blighted property fund, as well as a seemingly endless supply of money from CDBG grants. It is about time they started using these resources to help the people who really need it in Sunbury, rather than, as is their normal practice, giving it away to friends and family members so that they can cheaply fix up their properties!
Persing met with the Marshalls and offered to sell the house to them for $40,000, but in the same letter he expected them, immediately on taking possession, to pay all the back taxes due on the property and do everything required there and then to bring it up to code. Terry Marshall never agreed to these terms, so it is disingenuous of Persing to now claim that it was he, Terry Marshall, who had backed out of the agreement.
Joe Bartello wanted to release funds to fix up #239 but the Mayor blocked this. Persing was adamant he would do nothing to help the Marshalls – this is thought to be down to the fact he had butted heads previously with Terry at the school board, and lost.
It would seem that his cunning plan was to wait until the property degradation became so bad that the City could slap a demolition order on Terry Marshall’s house too, and steal from them their biggest asset – something in which they had invested a considerable sum of money. Such is the morality of this administration – to plot and scheme to dispossess people of their homes and put them out into the street. It is an absolutely inexcusable and disgusting way to treat any citizen of this town.
Had the Marshall’s property been the one in need of repairs, and a building which suffered from serious code violations – could he, Terry Marshall, have turned round to the city and told them that he had no money to make the repairs and that they would need to wait until he came up with a plan? Right! They would be all over him like a rash.
City Above the Law?
The City are saying in effect that they don’t need to keep their properties up to code. They are once again putting themselves above the law. One of these days they are going to find out to their cost that this is certainly not the case. It is yet another glaring example of unequal enforcement of code in the City of Sunbury. We take this opportunity to remind them of a famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt – “No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”
The time has come to call a halt to Persing’s orgy of destruction; an orgy which only serves to diminish the City tax base and to turn otherwise viable properties into parking lots. Legal action should be a last resort, but it seems to be the only way to make this corrupt administration sit up and take note. We wish Terry and Mary every success in their pursuit of justice.
However, it should never have come to this. A responsible and proactive administration in City Hall would be working hard for the best interests of the citizens of Sunbury – all of them – rather than abusing their privileges to help themselves and to curry favor from an elite inner circle of family members, supporters and cronies.