In an effort to preserve the historical integrity of Olde Towne, City of Clinton officials recently brought one Olde Towne Clinton property owner to court for over 1,400 misdemeanor charges (and counting) of multiple code violations including demolition by neglect of a historic building. Matt Wiggins of Kemah, Texas, was charged and has plead guilty to the charges in Clinton Municipal Court.
Demolition by neglect is a legal term meaning the owner, by his own neglect, is allowing a historic structure to be demolished by his inaction and lack of proper maintenance.
Charges are connected to eight (8) historic structures within the Olde Towne Historic District owned by Wiggins, formerly of Clinton, Miss. Among the issues with Wiggins’ properties are broken windows, deteriorating or leaking roofs, crumbling mortar, mold, exposed electrical wiring, rotten floors and missing floor joists.
For many years, multiple city administrations had made numerous attempts to work with Wiggins to bring resolution to the neglect of the historical properties that represent a significant portion of the Olde Towne business District core.
Following multiple certified letters outlining the code violations and attempts to gain Wiggins’ cooperation to repair and restore the historic buildings, city officials began the process to charge Wiggins with fourteen counts per day of violation of city codes. Beginning in late September, once Wiggins accepted a certified letter notifying him of the violations, charges and fines began accruing.
With multiple violations accruing each day, over 1,400 charges and $200,000 in fines had accumulated as of the January 26 court date. The counts will continue to accrue each day until all repairs are made to the eight properties. Properties included in the violations include 110 and 112 West Leake Street; 402 Jefferson Street; 102 West Leake Street; and 304-310 Jefferson Street.
Due to jurisdictional boundaries related to the defendant’s Texas residence, the city was prohibited from serving a court summons until Wiggins returned to the state of Mississippi. On December 24, 2016 the city was notified that Wiggins was in town and immediately served Wiggins with a summons for Clinton Municipal court to answer the charges.
In commenting on the plea agreement and pursuit of Wiggins, Mayor Phil Fisher noted “the city will make every effort to protect the integrity of our City’s history and structures. This administration has pursued the upkeep of neighborhoods and businesses to protect property values.”
Wiggins entered a plea of not guilty at his January 12 arraignment but agreed to a plea deal at his January 26 trial in Clinton Municipal Court. Within the plea agreement, Wiggins is required to bring all properties up to code within 120 days or stand in contempt of court.
Should Wiggins fail to fulfill the requirements of the deal, Wiggins will be responsible for all accrued fines that could be over $400,000 by the late May 2017 completion deadline. In addition, Wiggins has waived extradition, with the understanding, that should he be in contempt of any plea provisions, he could be arrested and brought from Texas to Mississippi to face criminal charges as well as contempt of court charges. Contempt of court carries up to a $1000 fine and 180 days in jail per charge.
Provision was made in the plea agreement that allows Wiggins to sell the property, within specific parameters. Wiggins is prohibited from selling to any business or company he may own or have a vested interest in.
City prosecutor Kevin Rundlett noted the importance of securing the plea deal “though we were prepared to try the case, the City’s goal is to see the repairs and improvements in the buildings for the good of Clinton and the historic Olde Towne District. We (city) want to see them structurally sound and up to code.”