City official suggested neighbors watch cars

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February 6, 2009

1:44 AM

The city’s lawsuit against the residents of 711 Richmond Rd. has developed into a flash point for local politics at the College of William and Mary, and it now appears a city official suggested that neighbors monitor student vehicles to determine whether the students were violating the three-person rule, which bars more than three unrelated people from living together in a Williamsburg home.

In a letter addressed to city Zoning Administrator Rodney Rhodes from the complainants, whose names were redacted in documents obtained by The Flat Hat, it is apparent that the complainants acted upon the suggestion of Rhodes — and used methods based upon his recommendation — to determine the number of students residing in the homes at 711 Richmond Rd. and 206 Nelson Ave.

“It seems like he told her to do this,” Student Assembly Sen. Matt Beato said. “Had no one from the city been involved, it probably would have had no effects on the discussion. However, the fact that an official is involved … will affect discussions.”

Rhodes could not be reached for comment last night.

The letter explains how the residents kept track of the cars and includes a detailed log of the cars’ makes, models, and license plates, as well as the dates and times at which the cars were parked in and around the Richmond Rd. residence.

It is clear that the complainant was monitoring the students’ cars daily.

The letter also names SA President Valerie Hopkins ’09 as a resident of 206 Nelson Ave., and says that the complainant believes that the residents noticed the methods of investigation and changed their parking habits to avoid being caught in violation of the law.

Hopkins declined to comment for this story.

Several SA members are gathering evidence to pursue a possible criminal case against music professor Ruth Griffioen, who they allege made the complaint against the residents at 711 Richmond Rd. They also allege
Griffioen pursued a similar case against the residents of 206 Nelson Ave.

The Flat Hat could not confirm whether Griffioen was one of the complainants, and she has not returned repeated requests for comment over the past week.

All complaints to the city are made anonymously and the identity of the complainant is legally protected, Rhodes said.

The charges being pursued by the SA members include breaking and entering, stalking and the possible misuse or misappropriation of records from the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to SA Sen. Matt Pinsker ’09 and another SA member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“We have credible evidence to believe that Ruth Griffioen … is responsible for the eviction of the tenants at 711 Richmond Road, and also tried to evict the residents of 206 Nelson Avenue,” Pinsker said in a written statement to The Flat Hat. “We also have reason to believe that she broke multiple laws in gathering information for her anonymous reports to the city, including but not limited to stalking and breaking-and-entering.

“We are currently consulting with legal professionals to explore our options; this may result in a civil suit, as well as criminal charges being filed against Ruth Griffioen.”

Recently, flyers have been posted anonymously on campus with the inscription: “Ruth Griffioen is Watching YOU.”

According to Nick Skantz ’09, one of the 711 Richmond Rd. residents, neither he nor his roommates received any complaints from neighbors, with the exception of Griffioen — who made several complaints to the tenants, filed noise complaints to the police, and indicated to Skantz and others that she believed that there were more than three residents at the house, Skantz said.

“She also rattled off the states of the license plates of our cars,” he said.

The city has expanded its case against the students, subpoenaing the College for records in relation to parking permits and directory information.

The directory information requested by the city is all public information, according to Dean of Students Patricia Volp.

“We wouldn’t need a subpoena for that,” she said.

College Registrar Sallie Marchello, whose office keeps the information requested by the city, said that the school has complied with the subpoena regarding directory information.

“We were asked for the information, and we provided it,” Marchello said. “With regard to the local address, no, that was not private information.”

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