Rupa vs. City of Lebanon

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Lebanon woman is appealing nuisance citations for murals painted on her

By Emily LaForme

 Deanna Rupa of Lebanon is fighting city government to allow murals she’s commissioned on her rental home to remain where they are, which according to zoning officials, is against city ordinances.


Rupa’s home is located on Woodlawn Avenue, and the murals are painted by Melvin James, local legally-blind artist. The murals celebrate African American visionaries and leaders, as well as other current events, such as the current scandal surrounding Papa John’s founder and chairman, John Schnatter, over alleged racially charged comments. 

On July 3, The Enterprise reached out to City of Lebanon Building Inspector and Zoning Official John Thompson to question him about the dispute. 

“We had sent her a nuisance notice for the painting, and mainly the vehicle that had been sitting on blocks out in the front of the house,” said Thompson. “She had appealed. It’s a nuisance complaint. In the eyes of some, it could reduce the property values in the neighborhood and we have had some complaints.”

According to Thompson, the city could have technically cited Rupa on violating sign ordinances for residential zones, but they were only citing her on nuisance complaints. Thompson also said the murals commissioned by the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission in the downtown area were exempt from the sign ordinances because the tourism commission is a government entity.

“The murals on the buildings downtown are in a business zone,” Thompson said. “I suppose we could consider it a government entity that is commissioning the signs, and government entities are exempt from ordinances.”

It should also be noted Rupa is currently renting her home, but The Enterprise was unable to reach her landlord for a statement.

On Monday, Aug. 6, the hearing between Rupa and the Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Board was scheduled for 6 p.m. at Lebanon City Hall. Rupa asked the board to reschedule the hearing. She claimed she and her representation had not been given proper notice beforehand.

“I have Jesse Jackson and Reverend Elliot coming,” said Rupa at the hearing. “Why don’t you guys just go ahead and violate me now because my representation has really tried hard to be here today and you guys only gave me four days notice.”

(It is unclear if Rupa is referring to Jesse Jackson, American civil rights activist, Baptist minister and politician.)

According to Rupa, she had given the city plenty of time to arrange a hearing after she appealed, but they had not given her the same courtesy. 

“I wrote my appeal within 24 hours, you had five weeks… six weeks to give me a date, and you give me four days?” said Rupa at the hearing. “I asked you guys three days after I filed my appeal to make a convenient date for everyone who wanted to come, and I didn’t hear anything.”

John Thomas, city administrator, reminded Rupa that it was not a requirement for her to have representation during the public hearing. But, Rupa said she would not proceed with the hearing without them, and left the building. 

The board then proceeded to question John Thompson, who was responsible for sending out the hearing notice. City of Lebanon Attorney Kandice Engle-Gray explained the legal requirements for scheduling a hearing for an appeal.

“Under our property maintenance code ordinance, with respect to hearings and appeals, no less than 10 days before a hearing shall the board notify the appellant of the day, time, and place of the hearing,” said Engle-Gray. 

According to Engle-Gray, official notice must be given by certified mail, with a return receipt requested, to the person’s last known address or by personal delivery. 

“So the issue is, did we send the first notice by certified mail to her last known address within the time frame?” said Engle-Gray. 

Engle-Gray then advised board members that if they were going to question Thompson further, they needed to swear him in so he was under oath, which they proceeded to do.

“The notice was sent out by certified mail on July 24,” said Thompson. “We did not receive a card back within three days, so I started trying to catch her at home, and it took me until August 1, when I hand delivered the notice.”

Thompson said they had also sent the notice through the regular mailing system while he was trying to catch her at home to hand deliver the notice. 

“We tried to get it to her before the ten days, but it didn’t happen because of the mail,” said Thompson. “I don’t know if she gets regular mail or how she gets it, and to this day, we haven’t received the return card.”

The Property Maintenance Code Enforcement Board then discussed how they wanted to proceed. The board elected to postpone the hearing until Aug. 21, which would give Rupa 15 days notice.

The board is comprised of Bob Tatum, Bob O’Daniel, Gerry Rogers and Edna Seabrooks.

More will be reported on this in future editions.