A Farmington resident who lives with her husband and children in the 800 block of Columbia Street appeared before the Farmington City Council at its July 25 regular meeting during a time set aside for visitors to address the councilors. She informed the council that she wanted to discuss two separate but related topics.

The resident and her husband, along with their children, moved to town on April 1 of this year and were initially very happy with the town and the central location of their home.

“We were quickly won over with Farmington’s charm and wholesome, small-town feel and particularly fell in love with Columbia Street for its obvious beauty and its proximity to our school, church and downtown,” she said. “Our home sits close enough to these places to walk and offers a particular benefit of being right next to a park — which is ideal for us because we have small children.

“Back in 2018, a transaction occurred, and the city took ownership of a sliver of this property and not only reconstructed this piece to incorporate a sidewalk that offered better access to the park, but they also installed a six-foot privacy fence that runs about 450 feet long. The fence stops where the sidewalk ends. My backyard, which butts up against the park, has an old chain-link fence that is still in place, and it’s around 290 feet in length.”

She further described the fence as being in poor condition, offering no privacy for either her family or the people using the park. The resident admitted she and her husband couldn’t understand why the fence line wasn’t extended the entire length of their yard, but they were now requesting the city complete the fence and offered several reasons why.

“We’ve had to call the police five times since living here, just due to issues related to this park,” she said. “We see someone sleeping at the park daily, using the pavilions and bathrooms as if they lived there. I have confirmed an official ordinance that outlines the hours of operation as 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. [Police Chief Rick Baker] assured me that these people are asked to leave after hours but reiterated that they can’t possibly patrol the area around the clock, as much as they’d like to.

“People do not follow this ordinance. I wonder why there are not signs, at the very least, to discourage this inappropriate usage. On one occasion, my sister-in-law was visiting with her young children. We decided to walk to the park — two adults and five children under 5. Upon our arrival, we were accosted by two men, which we assumed to be homeless based on their appearance and the amount of personal property they seemed to have stored under the pavilion.”

The resident told the councilors the two men requested money from the two women.

“While they very well could have meant no harm, we were uncomfortable and felt our safety might be at risk,” she said. “Now I think to myself, will I ever be able to let my children walk here alone? Another time we called the police when a lewd crowd under the pavilion played such loud and vulgar music that we couldn’t even let our children stay outside. The pavilion is only feet from our fence, so you can hear just about everything that’s going on at these gatherings — even while inside our home.

“The final straw was when some of these young men began climbing on top of the pavilion to shout at us in an attempt to intimidate us. I had to call the police several times to get the officers to go convey the seriousness of the complaint. Each time they leave, these people just return to the scene again. I can’t entertain in my backyard with this stuff going on. A recent encounter was especially disturbing for my children. We started to hear a screaming noise so loud that my husband thought it necessary to go see if someone needed help over at the park.”

The resident described finding a barely-dressed woman who “appeared to be under the influence of something other than alcohol and/or having some type of manic episode.” Because of the woman’s extremely erratic behavior, the family called the police.

“A friend of mine who happened to be a teacher at St. Joe’s shared the most disturbing stories,” the resident said. “She had walked her students to the park recently, and a child found a gun… a gun. Thank goodness no one was hurt, but this is terrifying. She explained that the police officer who arrived that day told her how bad the drug scene was here and that this is a popular spot for drug deals, which explained the gun finding. These examples will only continue, and I will keep reporting and documenting these instances to the police department. Mr. Baker has assured me that our calls are appreciated and help them to stay up to date on the issues.

“My husband and I would like the city to seriously consider the continuation of the privacy fence along our property and feel we should not have to witness these uncomfortable situations from our own backyard. We feel these scenarios decrease the value of our home. I’d like to also point out that the new state law passed last week — Missouri Bill 1606 — states that no person is allowed to sleep on state-owned land without prior authorization. This law will take effect in January of next year. Does the Farmington Police Department plan to adopt this law to be exercised on a local scale?”

At this point, the resident moved to her second topic.

“We were eager to start walking to places when spring hit but just haven’t felt comfortable enough with the large number of suspicious characters that loiter downtown,” she said. “More specifically, we noticed a residential care facility that sits very close to the sidewalk on Columbia that happens to be on our route to and from school and church. The men look unkempt with blank stares, strange stupors and usually with odd behavior doing nothing out in the front yard. After researching this property, I discovered it is a halfway home that houses ex-criminals and psychiatric mental health patients and attempts to integrate these people back into the community. This property is just one of four in town. They’re managed by the same company and in total, have up to 93 residents. I called these homes to find out what their policies were, where the residents came from, where they’re going and what the rules are about their participation in the public, as well as how they’re monitored.

"I learned that every resident has a unique plan and set of circumstances. Some have guardians; some do not. But what I found to be most interesting was their policy on unsupervised outings. A lot of these people are completely free to walk around downtown unsupervised. Now, I feel that all of these people deserve good care and good housing, and I appreciate that they, too, have rights, but what I don’t understand is why these types of homes are allowed to sit in such close proximity to our schools and tourist attractions. These people have documented backgrounds that at one time jeopardized public safety. I would argue that they still pose a threat to our safety, no matter the amount of rehabilitation they might receive.”

The resident passed out a chart to the councilors showing the location of schools in town, as well as the Farmington Public Library.

“I compared their proximity to each of these homes,” she said. “It turns out that over half of all routes are under one-mile distance — some just yards away. One home sits feet away from Washington-Franklin Elementary. Most of the children in our community under the age of 15 attend a school that sits within one mile of these homes. I simply want to know why. Why was this deemed appropriate? Who approved these locations, and how can they think this arrangement is in the best interest of our children and community?

“Again, I think these homes serve a wonderful purpose, but why do they need to be so close to the downtown area and so close to schools? Are there really no better locations to house these people? I feel my concern is valid, and I imagine that many locals would agree with me. The men loitering outside are clearly not working, so why are people not fit for employment deemed safe enough to cross paths with our children on the very sidewalks they’re using daily?”

In response to the resident, City Administrator Greg Beavers explained that the fence was installed in compensation to earlier residents in return for an easement on their land.

“We don’t typically build privacy fences around parks,” he said. “That’s why it is where it is.”

Responding to the woman’s complaint about the location of group homes around town, Beavers said, “We can’t regulate locally any group home location with less than eight people. I believe the statute is for homes with fewer than eight people. We can’t put any zoning regulations on them.”

Beavers went on to say that there is a state statute that city governments can’t make zoning regulations for group homes.

The resident thanked the council for allowing her to express her concerns.

Committee reports

Ward 1 Councilor David Kennedy of the Public Safety Committee made a motion that the council approve the city’s participation in Missouri’s Highway Safety Program. The committee will hold its next meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, at Long Hall. Because the meeting time conflicted with an already calendared budget meeting, Beavers said the budget meeting would be moved to 5:30 p.m.

Ward 3 Councilor Wayne Linnenbringer with the Public Works Committee reported that its next meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Aug. 11.

Ward 2 Councilor Chad Follis with the Public Services Committee reported that checkouts, visits and volunteers are all up at the library. “[Library Director Travis (Trokey] is knocking it out, there,” Follis said. He reported the library is also dealing with several homeless situations.

Follis noted that the library, city hall and civic center are looking for a full-time custodian, 17 people took part in the city’s first line dancing program, bids are out for Wilson-Rozier tennis court maintenance to restripe the lines and perform other general painting. In addition to the tennis court restriping, Follis said that pickleball courts will be painted on them as well.

As far as the all-inclusive playground under construction in Engler Park, Follis reported that all of the play structures have been completed, surfaces are down, and workers are waiting on the completion of concrete work, landscaping, fencing, and signage.

“It will be finished up within the next month or so,” he said. “We’ll be holding an open house real soon.”

Ward 4 Councilor Garett Boatright informed Follis he’d received a call from a resident asking if any improvements were going to be made at Randy Ragsdale Field. Follis said his committee was planning to discuss options in a future meeting.

Because Ward 4 Councilor Vanessa Pegram was unable to attend the last Administrative Services Committee meeting, Beavers presented the committee report instead.

“We did receive our annual Anthem renewal for the year,” he said. “That is our healthcare policy. Our renewal is 9.9%. It was negotiated down by our consultant from about 17.9%. That sounds like a lot; however, last year, we had no increase, so we’re still averaging since 2007 — the last 15 years — a 4.5% increase, which is hard to beat.”

As far as the city’s Worker’s Compensation insurance, Beavers said he had received a letter of non-renewal from the company because they are getting out of firefighter coverage in Missouri. The city’s insurance broker is shopping the market to find the best coverage at a reasonable price. Beavers said that in five years, the city might have no place to get firefighter insurance.

New business

The council approved four resolutions authorizing the mayor to enter into and execute letters of engagement with Decker & DeGood, CPA for auditing services; a stormwater drainage easement at 130 Pine St.; Haugland Energy, LLC for the 2022 Electric Reconductor Project; and with Brian Hurst LLC.

In the presentation of legislation, the council performed second readings and passed city ordinances amending the municipal code regarding Title IV: Land Use, Chapter 405: Zoning Regulations, Table A: Uses in Zoning Districts; and Title IV: Land Use, Chapter 405: Zoning Regulations, Article VI: Supplementary Regulations, Section 405.230: Accessory Buildings or Structures.

A first reading was heard of an ordinance amending the Municipal Code of the City of Farmington, Missouri, Title VII: Utilities, Article III: Discharge Restrictions and General Pretreatment Regulations, Chapter 710: Sewers, by Amending Sections 710.300: Additional Pretreatment Measures.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Larry Forsythe spoke about the importance of keeping up Farmington's historic buildings for the enjoyment and education of future generations. He specifically mentioned Long House and the old Spring House.

Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-783-9667 or kjenkins@farmingtonpressonline.com

Originally published on dailyjournalonline.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.