SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — The city's website describes South Pittsburg as "the tidiest town in Tennessee," but at least one resident is taking issue with that claim.
At the South Pittsburg City Commission's February meeting, Mark Guinn said he and his wife fell in love with the town years ago and used to drive there just to explore the historic neighborhoods.
Guinn invested in the town by purchasing five homes over five years and moved there two years ago because he has "such a love for South Pittsburg."
But since then, he said, he has noticed city ordinances on property upkeep being "broken continuously."
Guinn shared photos with the board of his neighbor's house along the 300 block of Pine Avenue, which is surrounded by historical houses that are frequently used as tour sites during the annual National Cornbread Festival.
The house's residents piled up a truckload of debris from the yard before last year's festival in April, he said, but brought it back two weeks later.
"It has been there ever since," Guinn told the board. "I began working on this problem several months ago. I began by going to the police station and talking to a couple of officers."
Guinn was told to contact Mayor Virgil Holder, which he did. Guinn said the mayor told him the tenants would have to pay a fine.
About three weeks later, the trash around the house "got worse," and he returned to complain to Holder.
"He [Holder] said they had been fined three times, and that they had paid the fine three times," Guinn said.
Holder said he remembered the conversation, but that he told Guinn the house's residents had been cited three times.
Those citations occurred before Holder took office in December, he said.
Interim Police Chief Ryan Meeks said the residents had been cited at least once, and the house has been condemned.
Guinn spoke with the city judge and said there is no record of the tenants being cited or fined "or anything for this issue."
He said chemical smells from the house have become unbearable at times, sometimes forcing his family to spend the night in hotels.
A recent fire on the property prompted an examination of the house, Holder said, and that created a "drug case" with "meth involved."
The house can't be torn down while the police investigation is ongoing.
"There are no city ordinances that are not violated here," Guinn said. "Not one. I've listed every one of them, and I've seen evidence of every single ordinance on [South Pittsburg's] city ordinances being violated here."
"We don't live in a police state, so we can't just form a SWAT team and go kick doors down whenever we get a complaint," Holder said. "We have to build a case."
The way a house looks on the outside "doesn't give us the right to go in and kick the doors down and all," he said.
The discussion turned heated when Holder asked Guinn if he had "signed anything" regarding his complaints.
Guinn replied he would, but didn't know what he needed to sign.
"OK," Holder laughed. "We're doing what we're going to do, but we don't let someone else dictate to us what we have to do. We will follow the law."
"I'm not dictating," Guinn told Holder. "I'm taking you at your word. You've got to understand that I am frustrated, and I don't mean to upset you."
Holder said he's "as frustrated" when he drives around the city, too.
"We have our planning commission, and we're meeting constantly on trying to get things in line," he said. "You can't do it overnight."
Guinn said he's "trapped now" because his house is "worthless."
"There's a lot of folks in that position," Holder said. "And we're working on that. You don't change it overnight."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.