HUNTINGTON — Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the city will not hand out citations for children playing basketball in the streets despite an ordinance on the books that prohibits it.
Speaking to City Council members during Monday night’s meeting, Williams said he was addressing a disagreement that arose last week that led code enforcement officers to give notice to a homeowner in the city’s Westmoreland neighborhood. The homeowner had a basketball goal encroaching on a street and the notice instructed it be removed within 72 hours or a citation would be issued, according to the mayor.
However, Williams told council members that will not happen.
“Understand this: No citations are going to be issued for kids wanting to play basketball on the street,” he said. “I am not going to allow it.”
The situation unfolded last week when someone complained to the city about the homeowner’s basketball goal. Code enforcement officers then stepped in to resolve the conflict, Williams said. The homeowner had placed the basketball goal at the edge of the lawn and was using the street as the basketball court.
Under a city ordinance regarding street obstructions, no one may play any game or athletic activity on the city’s “public streets, highways, alleys, thoroughfares, roads or avenues.” However, they may play ball on public streets designated with a sign that warns drivers to be cautious, according to the ordinance.
Williams said it was unusual for him to get in the middle of a dispute between neighbors, but the discussion created discord within the community.
People debated on Facebook whether the city was being too strict or if the city was right to look out for the children’s safety.
Williams said city code allows for discretion in some cases. He compared the city’s neighborhoods to Mayberry, the fictional town from the 1960s sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“Do you want us to administer city government like Barney Fife, or Andy Taylor?” he said. “Barney Fife is going to take the absolute meaning of the ordinance and say, ‘This is absolutely the way it’s supposed to be.’ Andy Taylor would see the spirit of the law and get people talking to one another.”
He encouraged neighbors to talk things out instead of airing grievances online. He also gave a passionate defense of playing ball in the street, saying the children’s presence helped deter crime. During a walking tour of Westmoreland recently, Williams even joined a basketball game with some children in the street, he said.
Williams added he is not advocating for selective enforcement of the city’s ordinances. Citations would only be issued to homeowners who allow their children to willfully destroy people’s property and cause other problems.
Council member Joyce Clark, who represents the district including Westmoreland, said parents should use common sense when it comes to children playing on the street. The street in question is a “dead end street” and no parent would allow their children to play on one of the higher-traffic roadways, she said.
“As long as I lived in Westmoreland, it’s been this way. Kids will play basketball in the street,” she said. “I’ve never known of an accident in all my years of living here, which is all my life.”
Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.