Messy Mt. Pleasant yard the subject of pow-wow this morning

Glenn Smith Debbie Hodgkinson, left, and her sister, Linda Ruggles, confront Mount Pleasant Code Enforcement Officer Jim Palmer outside their home.

MOUNT PLEASANT - The town’s attempt at building a cooperative relationship with Linda Ruggles did not go as planned this morning. She and her sister told a code enforcement officer in no uncertain terms that they will not be bullied into cleaning up their yard.

Officer Jim Palmer arrived with salutations and compliments on the work Ruggles had done to fix the leaky roof of her Longview Road home, the subject of past complaints. Ruggles wasn’t buying it. With a video camera pointed toward Palmer’s face, she demanded to know just what was wrong with her property and why the town was harassing her.

“Ma’am, I’m not harassing anybody,” he said. “I’m here to try to help you.”

Palmer notified Ruggles last week that she had to clean debris from her yard and remove a van he thought was abandoned. It’s not. He gave her a June 4 deadline, but the town has since softened its stance, with officials saying they would prefer to work with Ruggles to resolve the problems.

But Ruggles and her sister, Debbie Hodgkinson, said they don’t see where a problem exists. The plants and lawn furniture that their neighbors consider any eyesore, they see as a lush and beautiful garden.

Ruggles told Palmer she is stuck in the middle of a “bully sandwich,” with nosy neighbors on either side who give her a hard time. She said she plans to get an attorney and fight any attempts to give her property a makeover.

“I’m being picked on,” she said. “I have spent the last three years rolling over on this. And I am not going to roll over any more.”

The two sisters hammered Palmer with questions and comments as he tried to explain why an old mattress-turned-dog bed didn’t belong in the front yard and why they couldn’t store items on a trailer in the driveway for more than 48 hours,

After about 15 minutes, Palmer finally threw his hands up and walked to his truck. “Ma’am, I came here today in hopes of being helpful,” he said. “But Ma’am, we’re done.”

Ruggles, a 53-year-old photographer, spent six days in jail in January after failing to abide by the town’s orders to clean up the yard. She has since begun regular mowings and had the roof of her home replaced earlier this month, installing the shingles that sat atop her house for the past three years.

Her neighbors aren’t satisfied. They say the debris pile in front of her home has only grown in recent months and she has ramped up her scatterings since receiving a violation notice from the town last week.

Neighbor Jeff Teneyck watched today’s meeting from his property, and told Palmer he was welcome on his land any time. “She should get a place out in the woods off 41 somewhere for all her (stuff),” he said. “This is not the place for it. She is just ridiculous.”

Ruggles said it is her neighbors who are ridiculous. She said finds Teneyck’s square-cut hedges unappealing but doesn’t try to tell him what to do. “Why do I have to conform to his sterility?”

Christiane Farrell, the town’s director of planning and engineering, was disappointed the meeting didn’t go well, But she said the town will push ahead with plans to form a task force to help Ruggles and other owners of property problems address their code problems in a cooperative fashion.

“These issues are tough, and they can be sensitive,” she said. “I really think the answer here is to take a more comprehensive approach.”

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