Tag Archives: Charles Samuels

Noise Ordinance Found Unconstitutional

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Attorney Steven Benjamin has been leading the charge for months now, consistently lambasting the city’s new noise ordinance as “unconstitutional”. He gave countless interviews to media outlets and even took up a case for free to fight it. Sure enough, a judge agreed with him this week.

Richmond General District Chief Judge Robert Pustilnik declared the ordinance unconstitutional. He ruled it was  too broad and unfairly promotes religion.

The ordinance prohibits noise that can be heard 50 feet away after 11:00 at night. Violators face a class 2 misdemeanor and up to 6 months in jail. The ordinance allows for religious music, church bells and organs to be heard at anytime.

Steven Benjamin said after the hearing, “The city’s ordinance is completely unconstitutional on its face. It criminalizes noise that one makes within one’s own home and it advances religion and religious noise. The ordinance makes it impossible for people to know whether the sounds they make in their daily living are lawful sounds or not.”

Judge Pustilnik gave the city until December 14th to appeal his ruling to Circuit Court. If no appeal is made then Pustilnik will dismiss the charges against the four band members. Either way, it appears City Council will have to take up the issue again.  Assistant City Attorney Greg Lukanuski says the city will take its time deciding whether or not to appeal.

Steven Benjamin said, “I hope the city will make the responsible decision and not waste anymore time defending this ridiculous thing, and will instead go to work and give us the noise ordinance that we deserve.”

In a statement issued shortly after the ruling, Councilman Charles Samuels (who led the way for reforming the noise ordinance) said he was, ” disappointed by the outcome, but respects the judge’s decision.” Samuels went on to say, ” Much has been made of the issue with our city’s current noise law. After the Virginia Supreme Court’s Tanner decision nullified the “unreasonably loud” standard in 2009, I worked with the city attorney’s office to review what other options we had. Since April I have been meeting with a workgroup to craft a new noise ordinance which I hope to introduce in December or January of 2011. ”

Here’s a link to a blog with more information on the “Tanner Decision” from the fine folks at VA Lawyers Weekly.

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Filed under City Council, City Hall, Noise Ordinance

By the Power of City Hall!!!!!

Rachel DePompaRachel DePompa – bio | email

For those of you who just got my slight He-Man reference in the title… Kudos! 🙂 (Sorry, child of the 80’s here!)

So, who has the power to do what at City Hall? Simple enough question, but the answer varies depending on who you ask.  It’s still hard NOT to forget the power struggle we saw nearly every day at City Hall during the Doug Wilder Administration.  But the question has arisen again, even when everyone is “just getting along.”

The Shake-Up:

Shortly after the Jones’ Administration announced its first major internal shake-up , I got a few calls from people telling me the move was a violation of city’s charter. And on the surface, they appear to be correct.  According to sec. 4.02 of the charter. Only the City Council has the power to create, alter or abolish departments.

Sec. 5.03 of the charter also says the Chief Administrative Officer has the power to make temporary transfers of personnel between departments.

The Debate:

The changes to the Departments of Community Development and Economic Development were announced last week. People were shuffled and the deal was done, without ever getting approval from the council. As some council members put it to me: It’s a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. People appear to be hung up on “the process.”

The Mayor’s Press secretary says, the CAO made the moves after first consulting with the City Attorney. She also said he’s already told council he plans to submit papers this budget cycle to “officially” seek approval.  But as some council members point out….. the changes will have already been in place for months before the council ever has a chance to sign off on it. Council member Bruce Tyler has asked the City Attorney to render an official opinion. Tyler and Councilman Charles Samuels would both like papers introduced to council sooner rather than later.  They city has indicated MORE changes are coming and that it wants to wait until they are all complete.

The Talk:

Bruce Tyler says, “I think the Mayor’s trying to do the right thing but we’ve got a little bit of a miss step here and we need to get the thing lined back up and put in the proper order.”  I’ve consulted with a few members of the Charter Commission (a group put together to clarify the current charter) and they said it appears to be a clear violation of the charter. The City Attorney,  however, still has to officially weigh in. And, as the Mayor’s Press Secretary, Tammy Hawley aptly points out, “The intent [of the changes] is to improve services and to generate an efficient operating government.” By all accounts, the move itself is not under the microscope… just the process.

Charter Commission:

The Charter Commission has wrapped up its meetings and has submitted a list of recommendations for changes to the charter. Those changes will be reviewed jointly by the Mayor and City Council. The two want to present a united front to the General Assembly. State lawmakers have the ultimate say to any proposed changes to the city’s charter.

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Filed under City Hall Talk, Dwight Jones