By Justin Boron
Mary Patillo woke Monday morning to find a mix of county employees and prisoners ready to move a pile of defunct car parts and machinery from her yard that the 65-year-old said she would never be able to do herself.
The junk and debris in the Cherry Hills subdivision home would normally qualify for a violation of the county's environmental codes. But Monday it was the first day of Operation Clean Sweep, a community improvement initiative shared through various county government departments.
So she got a pass.
"We're not here to charge her," County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said of the woman, who is on a fixed income.
Each week, two neighborhoods will get the sweep treatment in hopes of removing eyesores that detract from the community's aura, said Suzanne Brown, the county's public information officer.
In Patillo's case, the glow of her garden was dampened by the junk, said County Commissioner Virginia Gray, whose district contains Cherry Hills.
"This is going to really help show your nice plants and those beautiful azaleas," she said.
In the Iron Gate neighborhood, County Commissioner Wole Ralph acknowledged a noticeable change after cleaning crews had combed the streets.
"It looks a whole lot better," he said.
The program will last about two years and the neighborhoods chosen will rotate by commission district, Bell said.
Next week in commission districts one and four, the neighborhood including Young America, Forest Manor South, and Yorktown along with the Clemons neighborhood will receive the sweeps.
Using volunteers, county employees, and prisoners incarcerated at the Clayton County Correctional Institution, Bell said the program will remedy environmental problems, where fines and warnings from code enforcement officers have failed.
Enforcement of property maintenance has become such a problem that an environmental court was proposed to provide more stringent consequences for violations, he said.
"An environmental court is something that I'm looking at, but that alone is not the solution," Bell said. "You can't fine your way out of this."
Prisoners involved in the cleanup are serving the latter part of their sentences, making them less of a flight and security risk, said Mickey Camp, the warden for the 225-inmate Clayton County prison.