OC Council wants stiffer penalties for unruly houses

By JUDITH O. ETZEL – Contributing writer

An Oil City resident who keeps a location ripe for “idleness, gaming, drinking … or misbehavior” is due for higher fines and longer jail terms if city council has its way.

Commonly known as running a disorderly house, the infraction was addressed by city council at a meeting this week.

Council, aiming to amend a 1928 city ordinance in order to stiffen enforcement and modernize the city code, gave its preliminary approval to changing the measure with a final OK set for the next council session.

The 1928 law calls for a fine of not more than $100 and a jail term of not more than 30 days. Those stipulations were not sufficient, suggested District Judge Andrew Fish who told city police Chief Bob Wenner that revisions were in order.

The judge is dealing with a very high amount of disorderly house charges in Oil City, Wenner told council at a previous meeting.

In addition to changing the penalties, the amendment also tossed out a 1928 insertion that the mayor or an alderman could convict any person charged with running a disorderly house. The new article puts that responsibility solely into the hands of the city police.

While council members favored upping the penalties – $100 to $300 and/or a jail term of 30 to 90 days – for the first misdemeanor charge, there was a discussion of what constitutes “idleness.”

“How do you define idleness?” asked city councilman Ron Gustafson. “(I think) … you should strike ‘idleness’ from this.”

That prompted a discussion as to whether drinking a beer and watching a football game equated to “drinking” and “idleness.”

City solicitor Robert Varsek agreed that idleness is “an outdated term” and told council, “I don’t have a problem eliminating idleness.”

Councilman Michael Poff told Wenner, “I’m not worried about your judgment in this. … My concern in the language is that 30 years from now (as administrations change), we don’t have a problem.”

Wenner told council that his department issues numerous warnings in an incident involving loud music, unruly behavior and other definitions fitting the disorderly house rules and notifies the offenders that they may face citations.

“We are dealing with the same houses over and over again,” he said. “This is only done after multiple warnings. … You gotta work at getting (a citation).”

Council agreed to leave the idleness reference in the amendment, a move that prompted Gustafson to laugh and add, “Well, I’ll just keep busy.”

Parking fines hiked

In a second amendment to an existing city code, council gave tentative approval to boosting parking fines to conform to state-set standards.

The move was prompted by the city’s intent to purchase bulk parking tickets as well as a propensity of some drivers to use no parking zones or fire hydrant areas because the fines are less than a parking ticket.

The new rates, based on final approval by council, include:

– $50, not $20, for parking in a handicapped zone

– $20, not $5, for parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant

– $15, not $5, for parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk.

– $5 from $2 overtime fine in parking lots

– $15 from $5 fine for parking in a no parking zone

– $10 from $5 fine for improper parking in a permit spot.

There would be no changes for overtime parking on some streets ($15), second ticket for that offense ($20), exceeding the two-hour maximum parking limit ($10) or parking in a loading zone ($20).

The parking fees would go into effect early next year.