Friday, July 20, 2012

More Public Officials Behaving Badly (but not in Amherst)

Once one gets involved in local government, one tries to put (and keep) things in perspective by following what goes on elsewhere, especially in the Commonwealth. Just last month, as if in answer to my prayers, The Atlantic introduced a new column: "Officials Gone Wild: A Blotter of Local Leaders Behaving Badly." Even just restricting ourselves to the silly, the inappropriate, and the mundanely criminal (that is, leaving out the truly vile and horrific), we here in Amherst come out looking pretty good.

Of course, there are the ordinary but painful screw-ups, as when a fatigued South Carolina legislator accidentally cast the wrong vote in an electronic system, thereby overriding a veto of a bill banning the environmentally controversial "fracking" procedure. To add surreal insult to injury, under the rules, one is allowed to change one's vote only when it does not affect the outcome of the overall outcome.

However, we're more interested here in dumb or bizarre-sounding things done on purpose.

As we saw in the last post, trying to ban everything that the authorities (or discontented individuals) do not like often turns out badly or at any rate focuses critical coverage on the enforcers rather than the targets of their restrictions.

For two weeks running now, our area has the dubious distinction of having made the national news in the form of The Atlantic's always amusing "This Week in Bans." In last week's top story, a Massachusetts tenant complained about a neighbor's American flag—over the Fourth of July holiday, no less—and somehow managed to get Old Glory banned from the entire public housing complex. Embarrassed state officials hurriedly acted to undo the damage. (Amherst, of course, has had its own share of controversies involving the American flag.)

This week, the Pioneer Valley was only in third place: The Northampton city council banned and imposed fines for the feeding of bears and other wild animals. The controversy arose when one neighbor accused another of endangering her by leaving bird feeders out and thereby attracting bears. He (surprise) protested that he was innocent because no one could prove the bears were on his property, and he moreover charged that the new measure was a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure. (Fun facts to know and tell: the complainant was Janel Jorda, who used to work in our IT department here at Hampshire College.) Personally, I think the editors included the story just so that they could cite another incident, in which someone was not fined for feeding a bear. A paramedic suddenly felt something licking her arm at the recent fireworks display:
Reports MassLive: "'Apparently the paramedic wears a cocoa butter moisturizer with coconut oil in it,' [Environmental Police Officer John] Pajak wrote. 'After she screamed, the bear must have figured out that she was not ‘food’ because it ran off.'"
Of course, there are sins of commission, and sins of emission. The bear story certainly paled beside this week's lead topic, a ban on sex in a British cemetery. No way that could have been anything but number one. Of course, both measures, when examined closely, are just about common sense. The latter one, for example, was part of a larger crackdown on antisocial public behavior, but you knew that reporters could not resist taking the story and running with it.

And, in the "what-were-they-thinking?" department:

Earlier this month, Holyoke Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Moran was forced to resign after word got out that he had, as the reports put it, allowed "scantily clad models" to pose in front of city fire trucks wearing (some parts of) firefighter's equipment.

 (photos from The Republican) (video from WSHM-3 here)

As my tweep Patrick Johnson (@paddyJ1325) tells the story, photographer, Amanda Jastrzebski (like the Northampton DPW worker who borrowed the city lawnmower for two years) said she had permission:
Jastrzebski said she was taking photos of a group of fitness models at different locations in the city when they bumped into Moran.
“He came up to me and was like, ’do you want to come shoot at the fire station?’ And we said OK, that’s fine,“ Jastrzebski told CBS 3 Springfield.
Queried in his involuntary retirement by a reporter, Moran's only comment was: “Get away from me and stay away from me.” (If only he had thought to say that to the models, he might still be gainfully employed at public expense.)

There's something to be said for boring, smoothly-running, honest old Amherst. The value of a nice quiet rural town is sometimes underrated.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

He he he. I think that first of all cocoa butter moisturizer should be banned as well a potential bear food. And of course, attractive models in various states of undress should be classified that way too.

Molly Edwards said...

Now what about banning pretending to be blotto when one is merely tipsy? I don't get that and it incredibly annoying.