State Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, must have liked to play make believe when he was a child. He still plays it today.
Last year, he played it when he made the public believe that his taxes had been paid in spite of the fact that there was still a lien on his house for the unpaid debt, and he offered no proof that he had paid the taxes. For years, he has made some people believe that he is a good legislator when he hasn't accomplished anything of substance during his tenure.
Now he wants to play make believe in a whole new situation.
In July, Warren Councilman John Brown was notified by a constituent that there were some strange things going on at a home at 3171 Foster Drive N.E. in the 3rd Ward. The home is owned by Letson and zoned single family residential. According to the complaint, there had been late night parties and noise coming from the house. There were numerous cars parked at the home, and many times the cars were speeding down the quiet street.
Building official Chris Taneyhill investigated and found that rather than a single family living in the home, there were eight men living there, including some living in the basement. Mr. Letson was sent a letter informing him that he was in violation for use and occupancy and gave him until Aug. 20 to correct the situation.
At some point, it was claimed that this home was being used as a sober living home.
Mr. Letson's initial response seemed to indicate that he was unaware of what his house was being used for, stating that he leased the home to two individuals. He later wrote a letter formally appealing the citation based on the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act stating that those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction are considered disabled under the law and are a protected class.
In the Aug. 22 hearing with the Zoning Appeals Board, Mr. Letson reiterated that defense stating that because the individuals living in the home are recovering addicts and live as a family, forcing them to move would be a violation of both the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
During questioning from the board, Mr. Letson stated that there were eight occupants of the home. He claimed the home has four bedrooms, however the property description on the auditor's website says there are three.
Mr. Letson also admitted that the house is not a registered rental; but stated that he had contacted the Health Department after his lease was signed, and it has yet to be inspected. Later during the hearing, it was clarified that the legal method for registering a rental is to do so prior to renting out a home. Mr. Letson claimed that the police had never been called about the home, and that no one had ever called him directly to complain.
Prior to the hearing, over 20 citizens wrote letters requesting that Mr. Letson's appeal be denied. Some of those who wrote letters also spoke. During those speeches, Mr. Letson worked crosswords on his iPad.
Natasha Frenchko, an attorney who lives near the house, spoke about how neighbors had seen the residents of the home openly intoxicated and that there were late night parties. Ms. Frenchko pointed out that only those who are recovering addicts are considered disabled. If an addict is not maintaining sobriety, he is not considered disabled. At least one person who spoke told of smelling marijuana coming from direction of the home. Another said that she had seen a "beer pong" table set up in the garage.
Ms. Frenchko and others pointed how this "sober living home" is changing the character of the neighborhood. She also refuted Mr. Letson's claim that the police had never been called, stating that she herself had spoken to the chief of police about the issue on at least one occasion. She said that the residents would have called on more occasions, but they knew the Mr. Letson had been informed of the zoning violation given until Aug. 20 to correct the situation. Later when talking to the media, Ms. Frenchko also stated that citizens had attempted to contact Mr. Letson, but calls went unreturned.
Attorney Frank Bodor, who lives in the 3rd Ward, spoke of how granting Mr. Letson a variance would open the door for more exceptions. He explained that at this time, the City of Warren should be looking to raise their standards rather than lower them.
One resident questioned the building inspector whether the house met the qualifications for a home of this sort. The answer was no.
Mr. Letson was questioned whether there is supervision and whether there are policies and procedures for the home. He claimed that the residents were drug and alcohol tested and that there are policies and procedures.
On Tuesday morning, Tannyhill filed a misdemeanor charge of violating the zoning codes against Mr. Letson in Warren Municipal Court. Mr. Letson will be arraigned on Sept. 4.
Mr. Letson is continuing to play make believe. He is trying to make people believe that this new venture of his is to help people, but reality is beginning to intrude on Mr. Letson's fantasy. If the meeting was any indication, the residents of the 3rd Ward aren't playing anymore. They know the truth, and they are seeing Mr. Letson for the opportunist he is.
Yoder is a Farmington resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org