BURTON — On the morning of June 22, resident and former city councilman Gary Isham said he walked outside and was greeted by a city brush hog mowing the right of way on his property, taking with it raspberry bushes he and his wife had grown and harvested from over the past decade.
Isham owns the property at the corner of Saxon Street and Marion Boulevard, in the area of Atherton and Center roads, and he said for 25 years the city has never mowed the right of way on his property – until that faithful morning in June.
“When that operator pulled up with that broom on that brush, it was a sea of red,” he told the city council, Aug. 16. “I had been picking berries for just over 7-8 days. It was going to be my best harvest ever because of the full sunlight there and a decade to develop.”
The Burton Department of Public Works admits it did cut down Isham’s bushes, but Charles Abbey, director of the DPW, said the bushes were partially in the city’s right of way.
In mowing that portion of the right of way, Abbey said the driver admits he also may have gone over the line by between 12-16 inches, taking out more of the bushes than he should have.
“The problem we’ve got is we cut stuff out of the right of ways all the time,” he said. “When you are running a big tractor with an arm on it – brush hogging – we cut trees, we cut bushes, we cut shrubs everyday out of the right of ways. It’s not supposed to be planted in the right of way, period.”
Isham said his wife, Pam, is a master gardener. She created the Roots and Shoots Garden at Vern Van Y Elementary and together the couple started the Burton Community Garden.
He said she used the 100 square feet of berry bushes to make her “Happy Pam Jam.”
Isham said he and Pam have devoted countless hours and energy to the city over the years, adding they love the city of Burton, but he called the destruction of his berry bushes a “travesty.”
“The director of the DPW doesn’t want to stand up and admit a mistake took place,” said Isham. “This is wrong. I would appreciate your consideration in righting the wrong that was done.”
Isham said he complained to the DPW and was told someone would investigate. He told them he wanted “closure” on the matter by the end of July, so he called the city Aug. 1 when he hadn’t heard anything. After phone calls to Abbey and staff were not returned, he said he decided to take his case to the council.
Abbey said apologies were made by others in the DPW, including the driver, but he wasn’t sure what else the city could do for the Ishams. He said the DPW is not in a position to offer financial compensation for cutting something out of the right of way.
“These things happen. They are unfortunate,” said Abbey. “When you’ve got 360 lane miles of road, you’re going to have mistakes, you’re going to impede on somebody. You’re going to occasionally have one of these incidents.
“I don’t know how to fix this other than to say I’m sorry,” said Abbey. “The guy made an honest mistake. He acknowledged it, he said he went a little too far – a foot and a half over. He didn’t deny it.”
Isham said this experience has been “disruptive, disrespectful and hurtful.”
“The economic impact is not short-termed. I have faith that the council will do the right thing,” said Isham. “Pam and I look forward to resolving this misunderstanding without prejudice.”
He further eluded to taking the matter to the local media, including the television stations, if the city could not come up with some way to resolve the matter.
Council President Steve Heffner suggested Abbey and Isham meet with Mayor Duane Haskins to work something out.
City Attorney Amanda Doyle said compensation would be up to the administration, after determining if they were outside the right of way
She added, however, there shouldn’t be anything in the city’s right of way and the city doesn’t have to give notice when they are going to mow or cut something out of the right of way.
“You need to be careful what you are compensating for,” said Doyle. “If it was in the right of way, you can’t compensate them. How do you even make right a whole a foot or two of berries that may have been cut on the wrong side of the line?”
Both Isham and Abbey indicated they would speak to the mayor and try to work something out before the next council meeting.