Salem committee digs into graffiti issue again

SALEM — The issue of graffiti has returned to the city of Salem.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey reported she’s been getting complaints and asked that the Rules & Ordinances Committee, which she chairs, draft an ordinance defining graffiti and putting the onus on the property owners to remove it.

“If it is your property, you need to clean it up,” she said.

No action was taken, with Councilman Geoff Goll, another member of the committee, suggesting they just start by asking city Law Director Brooke Zellers to research the issue for a definition and similar ordinances from other communities. Councilman Andrew Null, also on the committee, agreed after asking if other places had any type of similar ordinance dealing with graffiti cleanup.

Dickey had read off a definition of graffiti she found on the Internet, prompting Goll to warn that the problem will be defining it in such a way to be able to enforce it, adding they would have to make it criminal.

Dickey spoke about the previous experience the committee had several years ago studying the graffiti issue, how they determined there were laws already on the books to handle the vandalism or criminal damaging and worked with some businesses and volunteers to clean up some of the graffiti rather than pass an ordinance against property owners who don’t clean up graffiti on their building or home.

When they tried to discuss putting the responsibility on the property owners, one woman said she could have anything she wanted on her building because it’s her property, which Dickey said isn’t really the case considering rules for decency and rules for keeping properties cleaned through the International Property Maintenance Code in the downtown.

She used the example of a broken window. If someone throws a rock and breaks a window in someone’s house, does the property owner have the right to just leave it that way?

She said they were talking about the city as a whole and not cleaning up graffiti is no different than neglecting to repair something.

Goll had commented that one person’s graffiti could be another person’s art, but she said in the case of the graffiti, it would be defined as something illicit that the property owner didn’t ask to be done.

She said she doesn’t want to hurt businesses, but the last time some businesses said they would clean up, they didn’t. She also said she feels for businesses that would have to repaint or find a way to clean graffiti off, but she also said they could have a warning first, then a fine system that would make it cheaper to just clean up.

Null commented that if a business has to keep repainting, that could be costly.

“You’re punishing the wrong people,” he said.