Thursday, June 14, 2012

Goldilocks and Local Politics: Why Can't Things Be Just Right?

[rescued from the drafts folder]

June 14
Yesterday, I noted that Middleborough, Massachusetts had brought ridicule down upon its own head and the Commonwealth as a whole for deciding to fine residents for public swearing. (That the new measure replaces and softens an unenforceable old bylaw arguably makes it more rather than less preposterous.)

When I told comedian Kelly Carlin—daughter of the late great George Carlin, him of "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television"—about it, she was both amused and outraged:  "What ridiculousness," she said, vowing to share the news story with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Freedom of Expression.

It was pretty bad. Still, what a difference a day makes.  There's always a new low.

Today we learned that the Long Island town of Massapequa Park (or Matzah-Pizza, as local wags call it, in an hommage to its ethnic profile) has gone Middleborough one better (or worse):
Thinking about making cuts to your landscaping budget this summer? You might want to think again, at least if you're a resident of Massapequa, a New York City suburb.

On Monday, the village board of Massapequa Park, on Long Island, voted to pass a law that will charge steep fines for messy yards, WCBS 880 reports. This "failure to mow" fee could cost homeowners up to $1,000. Repeat incidents could mean a $10,000 fine, according to WCBS.

The law was enacted to keep home prices up and residents healthy, town officials told WCBS.

Fines for unkempt properties and behavior aren't new. One Massachusetts town is considering the adoption of a law that would make swearing a civil offense, punishable by a $20 fine.

Homeowners associations also often pass regulations to keep neighborhoods looking clean. In Nevada, a state senator was fined for a stain on her driveway that was left by spilt hot chocolate, according to Fox News. 
Admittedly, the ban on swearing cuts to the heart of our civil liberties, whereas the positive commandment to cut our lawns is merely stupid.

Then again, if excessive intrusion in the private affairs of citizens is bad, laxity in local governance is not a good thing either. Our friends across the river in Northampton recently discovered that when they got into hot water over illicit loans of public property.

As the Gazette tells it, public works employee Charles Tenanes ended up in court accused of stealing "a large rotary mower" some two years ago. He denies the charge, saying "You don't steal something like that." Rather, he insists, he borrowed it with permission—but just didn't have time to return it. Either way, according to the paper, Mayor David Narkewicz is "not pleased." "I can't think of a reason why that equipment would go out for personal use, on a number of different levels. It's taxpayer-funded equipment ... to do public work." Meanwhile, there's also something fishy at the Water Division. According to the Gazette:
The probe into a missing John Deere MX7 rotary mower, or brush hog, also revealed that scrap metal has been stolen from the Water Division's headquarters off Prospect Street - and allegations also surfaced that some employees in the water division were falsifying time cards.

To mow or not to mow? Depending on where you live, it seems that either choice could land you in trouble.

I happen to have let the grass on my lawn extend to luxurious and even ludicrous length, so as to protect it against the heat and lack of rain (at first), but cut it I eventually did, as always with my own trusty Toro (the factory was down the street from where I grew up) from Boyden and Perron.

Good thing I did not ask our Public Works Director Guilford Mooring to lend me even the aged mower from the nearby Cherry Hill Golf Course. Things run pretty smoothly here—except for a few items such as that fairway mower: it was 24 years old and had over 10,000 hours of service on it, so we had to replace it last year. Even then, though, we on the Joint Capital Planning Committee tried to maximize purchasing power and savings: rather than buying the mower outright, we secured a deal that allows us to spread the payments over three years by leasing at $ 14,154.13 per annum and then purchasing it for one dollar when the term is up. Everyone comes out ahead, and no one has to borrow money—or mowers (we hope).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

@#$%**!!!! Town Meeting!

Among the critics of Amherst Town Meeting, there are many who accuse it of occupying itself too much with national and global affairs (yes, we are one of those American towns and cities with a foreign policy). Few, by contrast, accuse it of meddling too much in the affairs of its citizens. If anything, we lean in the direction of protecting civil liberties, as when we passed a resolution directing town government not to cooperate in a Homeland Security program (SCOMM) that may threaten immigrant rights.

Things could be a lot worse.

Even as your Select Board was tonight conducting its regular postmortem of our recent and relatively drama-free Town Meeting, Middleborough, near Boston, took bolder action. As USA Today reports:
At a town meeting, residents voted 183-50 to approve a proposal from the police chief to impose a $20 fine on public profanity. Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks. . . . .

The ordinance gives police discretion over whether to ticket someone if they believe the cursing ban has been violated.

Middleborough, a town of about 20,000 residents perhaps best known for its rich cranberry bogs, has had a bylaw against public profanity since 1968. But because that bylaw essentially makes cursing a crime, it has rarely if ever been enforced, officials said, because it simply would not merit the time and expense to pursue a case through the courts.

The ordinance would decriminalize public profanity, allowing police to write tickets as they would for a traffic violation. It would also decriminalize certain types of disorderly conduct, public drinking and marijuana use, and dumping snow on a roadway. 
 WTF?! Screw that bullshit.

The ACLU, predictably, came down hard on the town.

At least this sort of nonsense would never pass in Amherst. See? It could always be worse.