Group will aid owners of problem properties

Mount Pleasant resident Linda Ruggles said she is through trying to appease those who don’t share her taste in outdoor aesthetics. (File/Staff)

MOUNT PLEASANT — Town officials plan to form a task force to deal with problem properties in the wake of a long-running battle with a local woman who spent six days in jail for having a messy yard.

Christiane Farrell, the town’s director of planning and engineering, said the task force will likely consist of planning officials, police and representatives from nonprofit organizations. Its goal would be to work with property owners and try to resolve code violations in a cooperative fashion, she said.

Farrell announced the move Monday, just hours after Longview Road resident Linda Ruggles voiced her intent to fight the town’s latest threat to penalize her if she doesn’t clean up her yard.

Ruggles, a 53-year-old photographer, said she just received a letter from town Code Enforcement Officer Jim Palmer last week stating that she was in violation of town ordinances for having an unkempt yard and an abandoned vehicle on the property. They gave her until June 4 to remedy the problems, but Ruggles said she is through trying to appease those who don’t share her taste in outdoor aesthetics.

“There is nothing wrong with my yard,” she said. “If they don’t like my table and chairs, they need to get over it. If they don’t like the way I decorate my yard, they need to get over it.

“This is America, and I can decorate my yard any way I want.”

Palmer is scheduled to meet with Ruggles to discuss the matter, but the town probably won’t push the June 4 deadline and will instead try to work with Ruggles to remedy the problems, Farrell said.

“I think we’ve got to try a different approach to resolve these issues,” she said.

Ruggles’ neighbors have complained to the town on several occasions about the condition of her property and the effect it is having on their property values. The complaints have riled Ruggles, but next-door neighbor Marty Vermillion said no one is trying to be mean to her.

“All anyone wanted was to get the yard in shape so it wasn’t bringing down the values of the whole neighborhood,” he said.

Neighbor Jeff Teneyck said he and others have offered to help Ruggles clean up her property, but she has rebuffed their good will.

“She is just a terrible, terrible neighbor,” he said. “She doesn’t care about anybody else.”

Ruggles’ plans to repair her home stalled in 2008 when the economy soured and her photography business tanked. Piled packages of shingles sat on her roof, unopened, for three years. And her driveway was littered with scrap metal and other items she collects to help pay her bills.

The town cited her for a “clean lot violation” and fined her $480 in December 2010. Officials insisted they bent over backward to work with Ruggles and help her avoid jail, but she ignored court dates and warnings. After a year of trying to resolve the situation, police arrested Ruggles on Jan. 5.

A landscaper mowed and tidied up her yard after she was released from jail. And a contractor fixed her roof for free earlier this month.

Still, town officials said they have documented tire rims, metal debris, plastic containers, a kids’ pool and other junk in the yard, along with a van that has an expired license plate. Palmer twice visited her home before sending the May 17 violation letter but was unable to speak with her, Farrell said.

Ruggles insists her property is in fine shape; neighbors just don’t like her gardening style. As for the supposedly abandoned van, it is registered and has current tags, Ruggles said.

Ruggles said she is going to call her lawyer and fight any attempts to force a makeover for her property.

“I am not going to be bullied,” she said. “I am not going to take this anymore.”

Neighbors said she already moved in more lawn trinkets over the weekend after she received the town’s letter and has taken to painting polka dots on the privacy fence surrounding her property.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.