Christopher Washington

After an Oxford city council meeting Tuesday, Miami University students can partially relax, as council voted on ordinances that would not completely take away students’ outdoor beer game privileges. Yet off-campus students and Oxford residents will still be facing tougher fines for outdoor furniture, litter and noise in the coming months.

In a 7-0 vote from council members, the revised furniture, litter and noise ordinances passed, after a change to the debated furniture component.

Under the new furniture ordinance, Oxford residents and Miami students are forbidden to keep, store or allow to remain outside any couches, chairs, tables or other furniture not manufactured for outdoor use – including plywood boards, construction materials, saw horses, tubes, pipes or rigid materials suspended between two supports, so as to be used as a table.

According to Oxford City Manager Jane Howington, the new furniture ordinance is an extension of the current furniture ordinance because it includes tables. Prior to the new legislation – which excluded tables – only indoor furniture, such as couches, were not permitted to be stored outside.

“The purpose of the ordinance is not to prevent someone from using a beer pong table or having indoor furniture outside,” Howington said. “What it does say is, you can’t leave it out there overnight and when you’re done with it, you need to put it away.”

The three ordinances will be effective 30 days subsequent to the April 3 council meeting.

When discussion began in October 2006 regarding the failed outdoor drinking game ban proposal, city council expressed concern pertaining to the image of the city.

Miami sophomore Taylor Robinson said the new furniture ordinance is a more efficient way to clean the town and will add a new vibrancy to Oxford.

“I think it gives students the ability to still be able to live off campus the way they want, but they also have to have responsibility for their homes and take care of the way their city looks,” Robinson said.

Oxford Mayor Jerome Conley said the new furniture ordinance accomplishes Oxford’s goal for a cleaner city. Additionally, he said he enjoys the student interaction and social games played during weekends.

“I love seeing the engagement of kids out having a good time,” Conley said. “To me, it points to a vibrancy (within the students).”

City Councilor Alysia Fischer echoed Robinson’s sentiments, but also expressed concern regarding the enforcement of the ordinance. She said she is fearful students will challenge what is considered outdoor furniture.

“I’m hoping that people won’t push (the limits of the law) and will just put things away,” Fischer said.

Although students are permitted to use indoor furniture and tables outside, violators who maintain them outdoors will be fined under the ordinance. According to the new legislation, perpetrators will be charged a fourth-degree misdemeanor with a $250 fine, a third-degree misdemeanor with a $500 fine and a second-degree misdemeanor with a $750 fine for the first, second and third offenses, respectively. Subsequent offenses after the third will result in a first-degree misdemeanor with a continuation of the $750 fine.

In addition, the city council meeting also rendered new legislation for the litter and noise ordinances. City council ruled that the litter ordinance requires that all yard litter be removed from property lawns and disposed. The new ordinance was designed to parallel the fines of the furniture ordinance. But prior to the new litter law, violators received a fine of $100, $250 and $500 thereafter for the first, second and third offenses, respectively.

Conley said the fine was raised because of the little effect the $100 fine has on the community.

According to Howington, two types of litter exist that could produce fines from the city. Howington said litter from an open garbage bag can result in a fine from Oxford’s department of code enforcement while litter and trash produced specifically from a party could lead to a visit and fine from Oxford police.

Miami junior Whitney Langsdon said she agrees with the litter ordinance because it preserves the visual quality of the city.

“I support it because do you want to live in Oxford if it’s dirty and gross and full of trash?” Langsdon asked. “By imposing some kind of financial consequence, it would deter people from doing that and provide a consequence for people who do leave litter or beer cans around.”

But Jennifer House, Associated Student Government (ASG) secretary for off-campus affairs, raised concern pertaining to the households fined with multiple residents. House said she was worried that a resident would be fined regardless of who hosted the party. However, according to Conley, when members of the city approach a house littered with trash, code enforcement and Oxford police are to fine the resident who answers the door.

“The actions of one is the responsibility of all,” Conley said.

Concern also arose regarding who would be fined if visiting neighbors were present in the home when city officials approach a house to issue a fine. Oxford Police Sgt. Jim Squance said the residents of the household would still be held accountable, regardless of if they are home.

“One of the residents (who lives in the house) would be held responsible,” Squance said. “We would probably take some photographs of the location, issue a citation to that address and then come back on a later day.”

Oxford Law Director Steve McHugh agreed with Conley.

“If police come to your house and you show up at the door and the litter hasn’t been cleared up, you’re going to get cited,” McHugh said.

Exceptions to individual fines arise only for organizational litter, such as trash from Miami’s fraternity houses where the entire institution would be fined, according to McHugh.

The final component of the ordinances includes the newly revised noise legislation, which states Miami students and Oxford residents are forbidden to produce excessive amounts of noise. Under the original code, the ordinance outlined a general rule to not produce high levels of sound. The revised code declares that loud sounds originating from televisions, radios, electronic sound devices and electronic music devices are forbidden and may not be heard from 25 feet away. However, sounds heard from more than 25 feet away that disrupt the quiet, comfort or repose of any dwelling can also be considered a violation.

Additional restrictions include no loud yelling, shouting and singing between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on private and public property. Under the establishment of the ordinance, violators can receive a citation from Oxford police.

Referencing the 25-feet limit, McHugh commented that Oxford police officers should use discretion when determining what is too loud.

In agreement, Conley also said Oxford police officers should be tactful when called to a scene where residents complain about excessive noise.

“Some folks are just going to complain just to complain,” Conley said. “Some are light sleepers or they might just be in tune to what is going on.”

Oxford Police Chief Steve Schwein also assured council explaining officers would make a judgment call when determining what is deemed as too loud.

“The officer will make the call at his or her discretion,” Schwein said. “I would not expect a police officer to cite someone for talking on their porch.”

Miami junior Tom Tilton said he felt the noise ordinance was slightly subjective, in that the 25-feet restriction is somewhat limiting.

“It seems this is a way to compensate for the outdoor drinking ban that didn’t pass,” Tilton said. “Students obviously need to be considerate of others and their neighbors. But the community needs to know this is a college town and with that comes noise. It’s fair enough in some regards, but you need a compromise.”

While many city council members are hope
ful the new ordinances will benefit Oxford, Howington addressed the issue of acceptable behavior from students. She explained her reservations about the new laws changing student conduct.

“What the three ordinances do is they strengthen enforcement capabilities,” Howington said. “If the goal is to change behavior, I don’t know if this will change behavior or not.”

According to House, ASG will be sending representatives to distribute information around campus to explain the city’s three new laws. Furthermore, ASG will be working to inform students when people return to the university in the fall.

“I’m really excited about being able to tell students this is allowed and this isn’t allowed,” House said. “In the end, I think students got more than they thought they were going to get. The outcome from months and months of dialogue has turned out to be pretty positive.”