The Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team (UNIT) in Danbury did its work fighting blight through negotiation and follow-up since its founding in the early 2000s, but in an ordinance the City Council may pass Tuesday night, the city has upped the ante.
Under the new ordinance, the UNIT can fine a property $100 per day, and an unpaid fine becomes a lien on the property.
Shawn Stillman, the UNIT coordinator, is a natural diplomat, who sets up appointments with property owners, meets them and works to convince them that cleaning up their property is the right thing to do. Mostly it works.
"What we do is person to person talks," Stillman said. The goal has never been to issue fines. The goal is to maintain the quality of life. Sometimes that means, "'Hey mister, I need you to cut the grass.'"
Stillman said he thinks putting the fines in clear language that works within state statutes is excellent, but the people who ignore a reasoned approach from the UNIT are few.
"A simple conversation works almost every time. To me, in my department, it's business as usual. If there is no compliance. The final step will be enforcement with fines," Stillman said.
For Ken Gucker, the deputy chairman of the Danbury Democratic Town Committee, the issue is what happens in Danbury when Shawn Stillman, the diplomat, is no longer the UNIT coordinator.
"Too much in this kind of law is left up to interpretation. Shawn works well with people without adding to the problem," Gucker said.
If the people enforcing the blight ordinance have an agenda or a bad attitude, Gucker said, that leads to problems.
City Council President Joe Cavo chaired the city council committee that reviewed the proposed regulations. Cavo said he figured the regulations will be approved.
"This is putting some teeth into what Shawn is already doing," Cavo said. "Sometimes, despite negotiations and working with people, they absolutely refuse to clean it up. Some people you have to back against the wall."