Cincinnati pastor is a big step closer to getting building code violations resolved

'I see a lot of good coming out of this'

CINCINNATI -- A local pastor is a big step closer to clearing up his building code problems with the city of Cincinnati.

Pastor Peterson Mingo appeared in Hamilton County Municipal Court Tuesday for the first time since he nearly went to jail in May.

At issue is a retaining wall behind his Evanston home that had fallen into disrepair. During a hearing in May, Hamilton County Municipal Judge Bernie Bouchard sentenced Mingo to jail time because he didn’t think the pastor was taking the situation seriously.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley intervened to stop the jailing of Mingo, who is a pastor at Christ Temple Baptist Church and a well-known activist who works to reduce violence in the city.

RELATED: Cranley stops pastor from going to jail

On Tuesday, a city prosecutor recommended dismissing the case against Mingo because the pastor has made significant progress completing the necessary repairs.

A city building inspector told the judge that the old retaining wall behind Mingo’s home had been demolished, and a contractor was poised to build a new one.

“There has been a delay because of all the rain,” attorney Steve Goodin, who was representing Mingo, told Bouchard. “We anticipate it being up in the next 30 days.”

Bouchard set Mingo’s next court date for July 11 and said the pastor would have to pay a fee of $200. Otherwise, as long as the work it completed, the case will be over, he said.

Mingo said after the hearing that the contractors doing the work are moving as quickly as they can.

“I’m just waiting to see how it turns out,” he said.

Goodin, a partner in the firm Graydon Head & Ritchey, noted that positive changes are coming in the city as a result of Mingo’s unfortunate sentencing in May.

In the wake of Mingo’s brush with jail, Cranley introduced a motion to try to “ensure that property code enforcement be pursued with civil rather than criminal penalties, especially when owner-occupants are the defendants.”

The motion also called for the administration to “develop a proposal to help owner-occupants who are facing economic hardship.” The measure was referred to a council committee and is awaiting approval.

But already the city is working with Rev. Thomas Hargis and The Jubilee Project to help homeowners whose properties need repairs they can’t afford, Goodin said.

It’s uncommon for homeowners to face jail time for building code violations, but it is not unprecedented.

WCPO reported last month on the case of Earl Starr, an Evanston homeowner who faces 180 days in jail if he fails to make city-ordered repairs to his property by later this month.

RELATED: Should the owner of this home be locked up?

After WCPO told Starr’s story -- online and on air -- community members rallied to help him raise the money he needs to make repairs.

Goodin praised city officials for taking a fresh look at how the government prosecutes building code violations in the wake of Mingo’s case.

“The purpose of this court was to go after absentee landlords, and that’s a real concern,” he said. “But then you have an owner-occupant like Pastor Mingo who is semi-retired and doesn’t have the funds to make a $15,000 to $20,000 repair just like that. You end up with folks being prosecuted because they can’t afford the repairs.”

Mingo said he’s relieved that, at the age of 68, he isn’t heading to the Hamilton County Justice Center. But he’s also glad to see broader changes coming as a result of his case.

“I see a lot of good coming out of this,” he said.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty.

To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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