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Who can we boss around today?

For all the benefits of local government — and who among us is ungrateful for fire trucks? — the citizens are never in greater danger from their City Hall than when budgets are tight.

This is because all government is based on two principles: the principle of spending money and the principle of making trouble for the people. When the first is limited, the second naturally expands.

Last week, for example, in the Pinellas County burg of Kenneth City, it took a near-revolt by the people to delay what might well be called the Mother of All Code Enforcement Ordinances.

The MOACEO required anybody to repaint when more than 1 square foot of an exterior wall had peeling or flaking paint. Not just to repaint the 1 square foot — the entire wall. The ordinance also said that the interiors of buildings must be free from "the accumulation of garbage, rubbish and/or waste at all times." (I fear for my desk.)

But the highlight of the Kenneth City proposal was that the city would have the power to enter private homes to see that all was neat and tidy. If the homeowner refused entry, then the city could go to court and obtain something called an "administrative search warrant."

After a stormy series of meetings, including one in which a citizen was dragged out by the police, the city decided to go back to the drawing board.

At least Kenneth City didn't seek to outlaw throwing Frisbees. You have to go to Clearwater for that. As my colleague Diane Steinle noted recently, Clearwater outlaws:

football, baseball, softball, horseshoes, tennis, volleyball, badminton, or any other organized activity involving thrown or otherwise propelled objects such as balls, stones, arrows, javelins, shuttlecocks, Frisbees, model aircraft or roller skates on any public bathing beach or park property except in areas set aside for that purpose.

Badminton!

I am okay with javelins, stones and arrows. But as written, the ordinance forbids a kid from throwing a Frisbee or a rubber ball in a park. The city has resisted all proposals to change it.

St. Petersburg, for its part, made news by deciding to shut down a location where citizens paid their utility bills, and to turn over those collections to a private company — for a small extra fee imposed on the public, of course.

The private company, by the way, was Amscot, the company that lends people money against their paychecks. This was too much even for the normally milquetoast City Council to bear, and the city will keep the old office going.

At least in Kenneth City, Clearwater or St. Petersburg, there have been no recent episodes involving the actual use of Tasers against citizens in code-related matters. Sadly, Tampa cannot say the same.

On Nov. 26, a Tampa resident was Tasered when he too vigorously reacted to the city's decision not to let him use aluminum windows, instead of more expensive wooden ones, in his "historic" home. Rules are rules, after all.

And yet, a few days later, Tampa made an exception for … City Hall, the same building where the unfortunate citizen got bug-zapped! City officials complained that wooden windows would be too expensive, and the members of some outfit called the Architectural Review Commission decided that would be fine.

I say we Taser them.

Who can we boss around today? 12/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 1:53pm]
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