Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Topeka Chief of Prosecution: 'I Inherited a Mess'

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Topeka Chief of Prosecution: 'I Inherited a Mess'

Article excerpt

Standing before neighborhood leaders Saturday morning, the city of Topeka's chief of prosecution said he inherited an office this past September that inconsistently and unfairly handled code compliance cases.

"I don't want to dwell on the past, but I inherited a mess," said Charles Kitt, who was named to the position Sept. 28, 2015.

Some code violations were prosecuted by his predecessor while similar cases sat unattended for several years, according to Kitt.

"Others just disappeared," he added.

Kitt launched a docket in November specifically tasked with handling building code cases. He prosecutes all cases himself, and they are heard by one judge, he said. The city's property maintenance and code department assists in the cases.

Kitt's comments came during a two-hour roundtable discussion with representatives from more than 20 of the city's neighborhoods. The meeting, held in a basement at Washburn Institute of Technology, focused exclusively on property maintenance and code concerns.

Joseph Ledbetter, president of the Hi-Crest Neighborhood Improvement Association, asked Kitt how his office differentiates between landlords who ignore codes on 100 properties for profit and a single homeowner who can't afford to paint a home or fix a fence.

"We haven't had any repeat offenders come up yet, but they will be treated differently," Kitt responded.

Kitt stressed on several occasions that his office prosecutes code violations in hopes of spurring compliance, not as a source of revenue or excuse for jailing citizens. He said his office takes into account that many citizens don't understand the city's property maintenance ordinances.

"Everyone knows you're not supposed to steal," Kitt said. "Everyone knows you're not supposed to commit murder. Not everybody knows you have to paint your house."

Several neighborhood representatives asked Kitt to target delinquent property owners, namely Topeka developer Kent Lindemuth. Kitt said his office will prosecute code violations but doesn't target anyone.

John Campos, a former Topeka City Council member representing the North Topeka Neighborhood Improvement Association, asked Kitt what safeguards are in place to ensure neighbors aren't using code complaints to harass others. …

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