JOHNSON CITY — Johnson City provided little new information Monday about why it attempted to shut off power at the Haven of Mercy homeless shelter last Friday.
The city did provide a copy of an order issued by Chief Building Official Jeff Canon, which repeats a section of city code that states the chief building official has the authority to disconnect power and other utilities if they pose a danger to inhabitants.
The order asks that service be disconnected from the property, located at 123 W. Millard St., until it’s cleared by a city inspector.
Reached Monday afternoon, Canon directed a Johnson City Press reporter to the city’s media relations department.
The Press requested an interview with a city official on Monday morning and asked for more information about a fire code enforcement inspection that the Haven of Mercy passed on Tuesday, July 13 — days before the city attempted to shut off the shelter’s power.
An attorney representing the homeless shelter, Devon Muse, provided the Press with a copy of the inspection report on Friday.
The city did not provide any context Monday about the inspection report, and no one at the city was made available Monday for an interview. City spokesperson Ann Marie French said Development Services Director Preston Mitchell would, however, be free to speak on Tuesday.
The city has a policy in place, which wasn’t strictly enforced until at least several months ago, that requires media outlets to coordinate interview requests through the city’s communications department. The Press has previously been able to reach out to city staff directly without coordinating through a city spokesperson.
On Friday, the city asked BrightRidge to shut off power to the Haven of Mercy’s main building, but BrightRidge said employees were denied access. A BrightRidge truck did appear at the property on Friday around 5 p.m., but the vehicle eventually drove away without disconnecting power.
Muse said power remains on at the Haven’s main building as of Monday. He and Haven of Mercy owner Grant Rockley said no one denied staff access to the building on Friday.
In a statement last Friday, the city said it had received an anonymous complaint that the Haven’s owner had disconnected power to the building’s annex weeks ago and that there had been at least one fire in an electrical panel. Rockley said there has not been a fire in the panel.
Muse and Rockley said three members of city staff — Canon, Assistant Fire Marshal Lori Ratliff and Development Services Manager Dave McClelland — did stop by the homeless shelter on Monday to inspect the panel.
The property appears on the agenda for the Johnson City Board of Dwelling Standards meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday.
A notice sent to the shelter says the board will consider a petition declaring the property unfit for human occupation. The board will hear evidence to that point, and if it’s worthy of followup, then schedule a public hearing for a later date.
Haven of Mercy has been in an ongoing dispute with the city over building code violations, which the city has said increase the risk of injury and fire at the homeless shelter.
In January, the Board of Dwelling Standards initially voted to temporarily close the building while the owners made repairs. Among other violations, a closure order issued by the city said permits were needed for a kitchen hood, an electrical sub-panel behind the kitchen and interior electrical issues in the basement and throughout the building.
After a legal tug-of-war with the property owner, the board ultimately opted to rescind its order to vacate in February and heard testimony from shelter residents during a called meeting on March 11. The board continued the issue to a meeting on March 25, during which they set capacity limits on the building. Since then, the board has been receiving regular progress updates.
Occupancy at the homeless shelter has been cut in half while repairs are completed, and there are now about 35 residents living there.