Fine and probation levied against downtown owner

by Bill Bush

SEDGWICK—The journey to downtown improvement took a major step forward recently when a judge ordered Ted Brunner, owner of 519 N. Commercial, to comply with a February agreement or face a $100/day fine.

According to City Administrator Joe Turner, the City of Sedgwick has been trying to get Brunner to fix and clean up his property since around 2015. One of the early items that Turner and the city council chose for him to focus on after he started in July 2019 was to strengthen the city’s enforcement of its codes.

Turner said he sent a letter to Brunner in September asking for a pre-fire planning inspection but it was ignored. He sent another letter in November and then a notice of abatement in January without receiving a response from Brunner.

Finally, the city summonsed him to court on February 12.

“I could have gone after fines for not following the notice of abatement and it (the building) just being in structurally deficient condition, but I didn’t want to be punitive,” Turner said. “That’s not my goal. My goal was just to try to get some sort of compliance with the property.”

Turner said that instead of fines he asked for a sign of good faith. First, he wanted Brunner to stop living in the building because that was a violation of code.

Second, He told Brunner to take immediate steps to close off the building from the elements to prevent further deterioration. Turner said there were a couple of broken windows and a garage door that hadn’t been closed in years.

Third, since Brunner said he didn’t want to spend money making repairs but had someone who wanted to buy it, Turner said to sell the building by the end of May and the new owner could make renovations.

A few weeks passed and still Brunner hadn’t made progress so he had to appear in court again on Mar. 11. This time the judge fined him $100 (the maximum, according to Turner) plus $85 court costs, and sentenced Brunner to probation with potential fines and jail time.

Brunner had until Mar. 16 to comply with the February orders or face $100 a day penalties. Turner said that on Mar. 16 the windows had been repaired, the garage door was shut, and as far as he knew, Brunner was no longer living there.

The court document states that if the building is sold then the probation ends.

“That’s the first time in the history of that building that he’s been fined after all these years and years of violations,” Turner said. “I hope it sent a message that hey, this is different. I’m not just talking; I mean it.”

Turner is also working with the owner of 513 and 515 N. Commercial. He said the city is in the process of getting an inspection warrant so that the fire department can inspect the properties.