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County targets graffiti on private property

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

State prisoners, who clean up trash on county roadways, will now have the additional task of removing graffiti from abandoned and neglected private property.

Utilizing a section of the state's legal code, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) amended its laws this week to allow supervised prisoners to address graffiti on private property without the intercession of code enforcement officers. The ordinance also gives the prisoners the freedom, if necessary, to remove graffiti without the consent of private property owners -- if the property is visible from any public road or other public property.

The BOC unanimously adopted the ordinance during its regular business meeting on Tuesday. Commissioner Sonna Singleton, who introduced the ordinance for board approval, said she was inspired by challenges the county faced in removing graffiti at the Lake Harbin Plaza shopping center in Morrow -- particularly along an abandoned building, which, until recently, was a Food Depot grocery store.

"The Lake Harbin Plaza, it has been a real hard spot to deal with," Singleton said. "I had one lady who has actually brought spray cans and try to spray over it. All of a sudden, it became more and more ... more than she could handle. This area at the Lake Harbin Plaza is within walking distance of four schools ... so it was a real eyesore.

"T and D [the Clayton County Transportation and Development Department] is authorized to clean graffiti off of streets, but not off of buildings," she continued. "The code enforcement process takes some time to get that rectified, and I wanted an immediate solution, because it takes away from the image we want to present of Clayton County. This was our solution."

Singleton said the responsibility of graffiti removal will be placed in the hands of the Clayton County Refuse Control Department, which falls under the Clayton County Prison. She said private property owners will not be charged for the removal of graffiti.

Clayton County Prison Warden Frank Smith said the prison has used inmate labor to remove eyesores within the county for years, but have been impeded by laws preventing the use of inmate labor for the benefit of private citizens.

He said a law passed last year by the General Assembly, and the county's ratification of that law, gives the prison the ability to "swoop in and get rid of the graffiti."

"We've been doing it all along, but it's been a slow process," Smith said. "While we were thumbing around dealing with the first graffiti, this emboldens the perpetrator to go out and mark up other areas. [Now,] we have the right to proceed while code enforcement does whatever they want to do with the property owner. Now, we will paint it over as soon as we see it and keep the criminals second-guessing."

Smith said prison road-detail crews, under the supervision of officers, will complete the graffiti removal, and that paint and supplies will come out of the Refuse Control Department budget. He said the prison would like to eventually dedicate a crew that deals specifically with graffiti, and is soliciting donations of paint to help in the effort.

Singleton said she believes the new ordinance will encourage citizens to take a more active role in graffiti abatement. "Our [Refuse Control] department is not going to go to [The] Home Depot or Lowe's to try to match up the color," Singleton said. "It will be the responsibility of the owner ... we had one particular owner who we contacted and said that we were going to paint over it [graffiti], and it wouldn't be his particular color, and he agreed to paint over it himself."