“I have been a business owner in this town for 24 years.” That’s how Heath Browning began his comments to the Luther Town Board of Trustees toward the end of the December nearly three-hour meeting on Tuesday. The owner of S&H Mercantile on First Street had two minutes to tell the board that he had received a ticket for failure to replace a broken window on his vacant building on Main Street.
Although the ticket was dismissed, Browning says he was singled out for getting one in the first place. He said the police chief indicated the mayor had him write the ticket after other attempts to ask for the window to be fixed were made.
“I overstepped … I was the one who suggested we write a ticket for the window. That was my mistake,” said Mayor Jenni White during the Trustee Comments as part of the LPWA meeting that takes place immediately after the regular Town Board Meeting.
Browning said he wanted people to know about the incident, and he contacted an attorney about it.
“How bad would your feelings get hurt if someone wanted to file a criminal misdemeanor against you? That’s what the ticket was for ‘the building is a public nuisance.’ Out of all of these houses around here,” he told The Luther Register. Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed an abandoned home on Main, and decided to open bids on property where another abandoned house was demolished by the Town earlier this year.
White apologized again after the meeting when the conversation continued with Browning, other trustees and the police chief.
“I meant the apology. I asked Heath to accept my apology,” she said. “I did not intend for it to seem like he (the police chief) was forced to write the ticket. I want to do a good job at communicating, I need to do better. Absolutely I do.” The mayor asked for additional training for the board during the January planning meeting regarding policies and procedures and their roles.
Browning purchased the building from the Town of Luther in 2014 for $48,000, according to records, after the Town had purchased it for $50,000 three years prior. The building has been unoccupied for at least that long. In the last year, the building flooded, the roof has been replaced and the front window shattered and was replaced with plywood. Browning gave permission for the plywood to be painted by volunteers for the Luther Pecan Festival in November.
“I told them I would buy it as an investment and they would have to wait for me to fix it up. When I bought it from the town with a big hole in the roof,” said Browning. “My point is, I tried to help the Town and paid too much for it … I thought it was an investment for down the line, and I’ll make my money back.
“I’m not going to replace the window while I’m remodeling and take the chance of it breaking out again, even if it takes a year. I don’t have the money to go on Main Street and fix that up,” said Browning who also owns several residential properties around Luther.
After receiving the ticket in the mail, Browning said he took about 20 photos of other broken or boarded up windows on buildings on and off of Main Street and asked whether anyone else had received a ticket, and he said he was told no. “I do what is right all of the time. To me getting singled out, it was wrong.”
The building is on the east side of Main Street flanked by two businesses that weren’t open when Browning purchased the building. Both Main, along with Ash, SH 66 and Dogwood have grown with new retailers and businesses.