2005-03-04 / Front Page

Council member summoned for four ordinance violations

By John Temple Ligon

Council Member E.W. CromartieCouncil Member E.W. Cromartie

  • Columbia City Council member E. W. Cromartie was summoned four times in the past 14 months for building code violations, according to documentation issued by Magistrate Womble’s office at 2712 Middleburg Drive. Cromartie’s jury trial was set for this past Monday for all four charges, but a delay until April was allowed.
  • Magistrate Simons of Eastover (501 Main Street) was presiding, and he allowed for the delay. Guardedly, as the Eastover magistrate, he was out of city bounds and, thereby, out of city influence. “Call me back on the first of April, and I can tell you about the new court date,” said Magistrate Simons Wednesday morning.

    Landlord puts fresh paint on front face of roof and neglects the sides of his rental unit at 2479 Bratton StreetLandlord puts fresh paint on front face of roof and neglects the sides of his rental unit at 2479 Bratton Street Two of the summons, both issued January 8 ’04 and both concerning Cromartie’s unoccupied de-tached house at 2479 Bratton Street, carry the issuing officer’s underlined directive “COURT APPEARANCE REQUIRED.” City of Columbia Uniform Ordinance Summons Number 11678 calls for a $500 bond. Its description of ordinance reads, “VIOLATION OF BOARDED UP DWELLING.” Number 11679 reads, “INTERNATIONAL PROPERTY MAINTENANCE – UNLAWFUL ACTS (1st OFF.),” and it calls for a $153.75 bond.

    Landlord installs emergency shrubs and straw Landlord installs emergency shrubs and straw The two summons set a February 25, ’04, court date, but Cromartie’s court appearance was delayed until May 28, ’04, according to notes on the summons. Now it appears the charges are unresolved and set for an undetermined court date this April, 15 months after the issue.

    City Summons Number 6489, issued November 3 ’04, is concerned with Cromartie’s single–story apartment building at 2121 Senate Street, about a block east of Harden and a block south of Gervais. The bond is also $153.75. The description of ordinance is “UNLAWFUL ACTS (1st OFFENSE).” The issuing officer added, “MUST APPEAR IN COURT.” The date of the trial, originally February 25, ’04, is set for this April.

    The fourth summons, number 11627, is also concerned with 2121 Senate Street, and it is dated February 10. Similar to number 6489, the summons’s description of ordinance reads, “UNLAWFUL ACTS 1st OFFENSE,” and the bond is also $153.75. However, the name cited is “CERA INVESTMENTS LLC.” The date of trial, February 28 ’05, is delayed until April.

    According to televised news reports, Cromartie’s apartment building at 2121 Senate Street was under response to Number 6489 (November 3, ’04) with a construction crew and no city construction permit. Red flagged (stopped by city officials), the project resumed with a city permit dated January 24, ’05. Even so, Cromartie was cited again with city summons 11627 on February 10, ’05.

    The city’s prosecuting attorney is former assistant US attorney Eric Ruschky, recently retired from the federal government and well removed from city government. Ruschky agreed to take the case with the understanding he had no ties to city council.

    Cromartie’s defense lawyer is Franchot A. Brown of Columbia. Reportedly, he claims his client Cromartie is selectively prosecuted because he is an African–American member of city council. A long–term landlord and highly regarded attorney, Cromartie is learned in the law and the city building requirements in particular.

    By April, both Cromartie properties targeted by the four summons are expected to be in compliance with city requirements, and landlords in Columbia typically see their charges dropped in such cases.

    Initiating construction with no construction permit on a project where a construction permit is required – getting red–flagged – is another matter altogether for a lawyer and landlord who is also a member of city council.

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