Saturday, April 2, 2011

The dangers of selective enforcement...

It hasn't been two weeks yet that the City Commission met about cutting staff and reducing levels of service relating to basic quality of life factors in the city due to the city's declared "financial urgency."  We are also waiting for a study which will try to answer the question: "How best can Lake Worth meet its law enforcement needs and at what cost? "

Imagine if the city had its own police force, as referenced in previously posted e-mails from City Manager Stanton, whose priorities might be tilted towards enforcement of the noise ordinance rather than responding to a property crime call in another area of the city. Members of the Commission were rightly concerned on the way the community will react to what is perceived by most as a low level of service now without the planned cuts.

Many people already think that code enforcement  is completely ineffective given its current level of allocated resources.  The city policy is that code enforcement only responds to complaints - there are no anonymous complaints and code enforcement cannot proactively take on an issue that does not spring from a complaint.  This creates a system where the squeaky wheels get all the grease.

In the case of the Cottage, it seems that the same wheels are squeaking after a lot of grease has been applied.  Let's ignore the fact that the Cottage is usually the host of unsuccessful commission candidate parties and supports candidates that have not won the past few elections.  Let's ignore the fact the Cottage hosts a gay "Tea Dance" and is a gay-friendly business in the downtown.

Read this e-mail exchange between Mr. Waters, Planning and Preservation Administrator, Ms. Stanton, City Manager and Commissioner Mulvehill.  Mr. Waters discusses how seemingly different standards for different businesses in similar situations seem to have no rhyme or reason.

Instead, let's ask the question: "Is enforcing a noise ordinance the best use of extremely limited resources in a city with an unlimited set of needs?"  And, if we decide as a community that enforcement of a noise ordinance is important enough so that other services are not rendered to the public, then we need to make sure that noise ordinance and other code enforcement activity is done uniformly and equitably throughout the entire city.

You need to read the back-up for the additions to the agenda for the April 5th City Commission meeting.  Reading the item on the noise ordinance issue, you get the sense that this is suddenly all about Susan.  It is not.  First of all, I don't know how anyone can claim that one has kept their personal life personal if they have had a three hour CNN documentary on a very personal part of their life.  But our City Manager makes that claim in the back-up material.  And her reaction is one where she offers "reaffirmation" of the city's anti-discrimination ordinances in defense of the Cottage claims of discrimination.

Actions do speak louder than words and the proper thing for the city to do is what is suggested by Commissioner Maxwell (also part of the same back-up material linked above) - undertake a thorough examination of how code enforcement has responded to noise complaints throughout the city and look at how the city has enforced other code provisions on the business community over the past few years.  If a disproportionate amount of time, effort and resources have been applied to businesses that cater to the gay, lesbian and transgender community, then we have objective data that indicates that some sort of selective enforcement has been employed by the city.  Until we can objectively look at the record, we only have smoke - which there seems to be a lot of - and not fire.

Going back to the City Manager's response, I can think of  some other regulations and situations that need reaffirming, while we are at it.  Here is a short list:
  • Let's reaffirm the ethics ordinance passed last year that requires members of the Commission to declare campaign contributors that benefit from their actions on the dais.
  • Let's reaffirm how any agency that rents a city building must have a current lease and pay for their own utilities.
  • Let's reaffirm that boarding houses are not allowed in single family zoning districts, even if they are run by a certain former City Commissioner.
  • Let's reaffirm that the city is actually demolishing the casino building instead of saving it from demolition.
  • Let's reaffirm that how this city is run is not all about Susan, but that it is all about how our city manager does her job in that capacity.  
  • Let's reaffirm that the Charter requires an Internal Auditor hired by the City Commission!
  • Let's reaffirm that Lake Worth is not an island in the middle of Palm Beach County and must behave as a responsible municipality amongst other local governments.
Our City Manager's evaluation is coming up later this month