If you have a beef about a property in your neighborhood, you might call your councilman or commissioner; but in Putnam County, the commissioner himself is the landlord some neighbors are complaining about.
Cheryl Vick lives close to two trailers just outside the Cookeville city limits. She said she and her neighbors have had enough -- Vick said that the trailers have been a mess for years.
"It's honestly, an embarrassment," Vick said.
Until recently, neighbors said, a family with two young children lived there. A young boy asked neighbors if he could go to the bathroom in their house.
"They didn't have running water," Vick said. "I don't know how they survived, I really don't."
The landlord is their own Putnam County Commissioner, Jerry Ford. The property is in his wife's name.
The county building codes inspector cited Ford twice, threatening to fine the property owners if they didn’t clean up the lot within 30 days.
Putnam County Executive Randy Porter said, yes, it is awkward, but said codes are enforced no matter who you are.
"We have a job to do. My goal is to treat everyone the same," Porter said.
The News 4 I-Team’s Nancy Amons approached Jerry Ford after a county meeting. He said he’d had a bad tenant recently that wrecked the place. Ford gave contradictory answers; first saying a family moved in without permission.
Amons: "They were squatting there?"
Ford: "They were squatting there."
Amons: "They never paid a dime?"
Ford: "They never paid me a dime."
But Ford later admitted he did rent to the family because he felt sorry they were living in a motel at Christmastime.
"I thought, it's Christmas. I'd take two month’s rent," Ford said.
The rent was to be subsidized by the taxpayers.
"I was going to rent to her because she was on the HUD program."
Ford said the tenants never filled out the HUD paperwork and that they stayed about six months, leaving a mess.
A property was in such bad shape that a state electrical inspector pulled the meter out.
"Do you think it's appropriate for the county to have an elected official, your own county, writes you a letter to clean it up? Isn't that embarrassing as an elected official?” Amons asked Ford.
"It is when Channel 4 news shows up to interview you," Ford said.
He said he wants to keep his properties looking nice but said he had recently had health problems and that his lawnmower was in the shop.
"I don't want junky places, all nasty and filthy," Ford said.
Ford said his neighbors have a motive for calling codes: they're trying to buy his property. He says it's not a fair offer. He said he collects $450 per month in rent from each trailer.
"If you had a half acre in the city that brings in a thousand dollars rental a month, and someone comes in and offers you a tenth of what it's worth, would you sell it?" Ford said.
Cheryl Vick had told News 4 up front that she and her husband had offered to buy the property. She said they just want the mess gone.
"I'm sick of this. I'm sick of this. And we all are, as well."
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