Columbus' Senior Assistant City Attorney William Sperlazza frequently gives presentations to municipal prosecutors around Ohio, most recently in Springfield and coming up in Cincinnati.
"I used to go around Ohio and say, 'When you think of drugs, you think of prostitutes, think of me,' " Sperlazza said at the March 19 quarterly meeting of Block Watch coordinators in the Northland area. "That's when it's time to call Bill Sperlazza."
He said his purpose in making these appearances is to share a formula, a hard-won approach to addressing problem property owners and problem properties, the kind that can plunge a neighborhood into a spiral of drugs, crime and prostitution.
"When it comes to nuisanceabatement law, we're setting the pace here in Columbus," Sperlazza said.
Much of the knowledge about how best to rein in nuisance properties was gained as Division of Police personnel and the City Attorney's Office grappled with mostly rundown hotels and motels around Columbus, particularly the cluster of such establishments at the intersections of Interstate 71 with Morse and East Dublin-Granville roads.
Columbus police officer Scott Clinger, a community liaison to one of the Northland precincts, said the information Sperlazza presents in his speeches is important.
Sperlazza credited the creation of the city's zone initiative to former city attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer. Under the system, which was established about 10 years ago, a specific assistant city attorney is assigned to each of the five Division of Police zones in the belief that helps them understand the specific concerns of the people in those neighborhoods.
"The idea is we ought to be able to go to our clients," Sperlazza said.
The violence, prostitution and drug sales associated with some of the hotels and motels in the Northland area, part of the zone to which he was assigned, led Sperlazza and community liaison officers to focus on nuisance abatement.
While that's a broad term, Sperlazza said that under the law, Ohio Revised Code, Chapter 3767, activities that meet the definition include felony drug arrests, prostitution or lewdness and violations of alcohol laws.
Loud music might be annoying, but it's not a nuisance, nor are problems with parking on public streets, he said.
Under nuisance abatement, a property owner or manager doesn't face criminal charges from the city, but rather is the subject of a civil lawsuit.
The owner, the person running the place, employees and even the property itself can be the subject of injunctions if a judge is convinced a public nuisance exists. When a property is found to be a nuisance, Sperlazza pointed out, the injunction stays with the site, and subsequent owners can face possible contempt of court charges if nuisance behavior resumes.
In some instances, a judge will allow city officials to board up a property for a year.
"This is the biggest hammer," Sperlazza said, because it shuts off whatever revenue stream the owner has from the property.
In response to a question from William Logan, president of the Karmel Woodward Park Civic Association, Sperlazza acknowledged that the recent decision by the acting chief of police to disband the vice squad takes away one of the means by which nuisance abatement cases were cobbled together, that of sending undercover officers to purchase drugs and meet with prostitutes.
"I feel your pain," Sperlazza said.
"Who should the citizenry (complain) to downtown to solve the problem?" Logan asked.
"I don't have the answer for you," Sperlazza responded.