Chuck Williams

Tree police in the Columbus Historic District? Are you kidding?

The squirrel feeder in the 600 block of Broadway was one of the items that drew the attention of a city tree ordinance inspector.
The squirrel feeder in the 600 block of Broadway was one of the items that drew the attention of a city tree ordinance inspector.

Don’t you just love it when city government “swings” into action?

Meet Eric Gansauer, the city of Columbus’ forestry administrator. He has been a busy man in recent weeks working the lower end of Broadway in the Historic District.

Using the city’s Tree Preservation and Protection Ordinance as his sword, Mr. Gansauer has been a diligent public servant. His job is to enforce the tree ordinance.

And he takes his job seriously. Kind of the way Barney Fife took his job seriously in the fictional town of Mayberry.

“The tree ordinance does not allow you to attach or hang anything on a city tree,” Mr. Gansauer said on Tuesday.

No, it doesn’t, sir.

Seems like about a half a dozen folks in the Historic District are treating city trees in the right of way and the median as if they own them. Big mistake.

One couple hung a baby’s seat swing — you know, the cute hard plastic pink ones — from a tree limb. Somebody else has erected two well-crafted rope swings in the 500 block median.

Others, flaunting the city law and sticking it to the man, have put up squirrel feeders and bird houses. Things are going to hell fast down here, I’m here to tell you.

But it will be OK. We promise. Mr. Gansauer is in charge.

Seems like the week before the Fourth of July, he took it upon himself with the power vested in him and threatened to cite and take people to court if they did not remove the objects in 15 days.

He actually sent the adjoining property owners certified letters.

I can hear those folks now: “Martha, we got to cancel that Fourth of July vacation so we can take down the bird house.”

OK, maybe that was a bit melodramatic.

There was a real reason for the tree ordinance: to stop developers from doing what was done with the Lowe’s parking lot on Veterans Parkway.

Mr. Gansauer’s boss, city arborist Scott Jones, said he was unaware that certified letters were sent to residents.

“I probably would not have handled it that way,” Jones said. “We missed an opportunity to educate people.”

Yes, they did.

My question is what is Mr. Gansauer going to do next, cite the downtown property owners who regularly cut the grass in the right of way in front of their houses because the city crews have such a heavy workload? Technically, Mr. Gansauer, we are in violation of city code for harming that grass.

To question bird houses and hummingbird feeders attached to trees is a monumental government overreach.

I will give Mr. Gansauer this: he is right to take a look at the swings. Maybe there are liability issues. The two swings in the 500 block are often in use by kids and adults. I guess they could constitute a pocket park.

But sturdy rope and solid wood were used on each of them. A neighbor put them up and came forward Wednesday after the column published online. The biggest issue is that the single-rope swing was secured by a bolt that went through the limb. OK, that might be a problem — 10 years from now.

Until then, we have Mr. Gansauer and the tree code to protect us.