BROWNSVILLE, Fla. – We first met Helen Jenkins, pastor of Saint City Church of God on Northwest 22nd Avenue in Miami's Brownsville, in June.
She reached out to the Leave it to Layron team after Miami-Dade code enforcement officers issued a $200 citation for garbage illegally dumped on the sidewalk outside the church.
"It's wrong,” Jenkins said. “My brain just [doesn't] get it."
That’s because the pile of construction debris was dumped next to the sidewalk, on the other side of the church’s fence, off the church’s property.
"I even took one of the inspectors inside the church to let them see that none of the stuff that was on the pile came out of our church," said Ulysses Richardson, a member of Saint City Church who tends to the grounds.
Richardson rented a truck, cleaned up the garbage and hauled it away at his own expense after the citation was issued just in time for another illegal dumper to drop a deuce (pun intended) in the same spot. A toilet showed up just hours later.
The LITL team learned Miami-Dade county ordinance (https://library.municode.com/fl/miami_-_dade_county/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIIICOOR_CH15SOWAMA) puts the onus on property owners. Michael Fernandez, deputy director of solid waste operations with Miami-Dade County told us the ordinance helps ensure the county's right-of-ways don't become "unsightly."
We asked if innocent property owners being forced to pay to clean up trash left behind by illegal dumpers warranted a policy change. Fernandez, who also chairs an illegal dumping task force, said that's something the task force is looking into.
Jenkins said previous issues with illegal dumpers and citations prompted her to request a “no dumping” sign be installed outside the church.
"Two times, and it didn't happen," she said. "If they had put the no dumping sign there when I asked, we probably wouldn't be here today."
Jenkins and the church were encouraged to appeal the citation, and a hearing was scheduled in August. But when the hearing officer gave her and code enforcement staff an opportunity to reach an agreement, she opted to pay the fine.
"So they can't come after her, any more," said Richardson, who was also at the hearing.
They say the bigger objective is to change the policy.
"That ordinance needs to be overturned," Jenkins said.
But, they told the LITL team they felt victorious. Three days after our original story aired, the county installed a “no dumping” sign in the same spot where the trash was dumped—interestingly enough, the sign was placed next to the toilet that remained on the side of the curb when the LITL team returned to the property.
"If you hadn't gone on TV and exposed them, we wouldn't have gotten the sign," said Richardson. He added that so far, it appears to be working; no one else has dumped any trash.
"I'm happy now," Jenkins said.