Thursday, August 27, 2009

Debate Challenge for Racine Aldermen

I happen to know that several Racine aldermen read Free Racine. Alderman Helding and Alderman Maack have even commented on the site. So I know they are out there.

What perplexes me is a reluctance on the part of Racine aldermen to publicly defend policies that they voted for and presumably support. For example, I have criticized the city council for a liquor licensing policy that discriminates against black drinkers. Also, I have stated that the city's UNIT (Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team) practice of relabling a fine as a fee deprives citizens of a constitutional right to defend themselves in court.

These are serious charges. If I were on the city council, I would take any such charges seriously - as I would have taken an oath to defend the constitution. If the charges were meritless, I would provide my reasons for concluding so. If the charges had merit, I would introduce legislation to correct the problem. Ignoring the charges alltogether demonstrates a lack of seriousness and or a lack of political courage.

I hereby challenge any and all Racine Alderman to an online debate about either or both of the concerns that I have brought forward.


PeoplePerson said...

I agree dennis, the Unit is unconstitutional. Last month I recieved a letter telling of a bag of garbage on a rental pproperty, the date to clean it up was the same as the letter, which arrived 5 days later, impossible to take care of but and I called the head of the UNIT and he thougt that maybe the inspector put the wrong date for compliance and not to worry about it. well one month later I was billed for an "emergency clean up" by DPW and an inspection fee. The clean up was the same day the letter was drafted. I was not even givin a chance to take care of the problem with out being charged.
The UNIT may have gotton started on good pretence, however it has morphed in to property police. I am sick and tired of being resposible for tenants gabage, but the UNIT should at least give enough notice and time to fix a problem BEFORE the emergency clean ups ande charges.
The UNIT as it stands must go!!!
Power to the People

Anonymous said...

D - what makes you think that anyone has a responsibility to address any issue some blogger posts?

Anonymous said...

Public officials are employed by the taxpayers to serve the taxpayers. It might be nice if these officials engage taxpayers with responses that I can read and evaluate next time I go to the voting booth.

Greg Helding said...

I'll bite.

You start. Pick one of the issues, present your position, and offer some facts supporting it. I will then respond.

Downtown Brown said...

I'm gonna order some popcorn and some Junior mints..I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for biting Greg! Does the surround sound system work? Check, Check,, testing 123.....

BTW Anon..It was an Invitation..not an order!!

Wade said...

if helding wins can the prize be free trinkets from your store? that would be awesome.

Wade said...

and if denis wins he gets to be an alderman for a night

Denis Navratil said...

Excellent, thank you Alderman Helding. And by all means invite your fellow aldermen to join in.

I will pick the UNIT issue. To the best of my knowledge, within the last few years, the city council approved a change involving UNIT. Previously, UNIT had sent out notices of violations regarding the upkeep of property. If violators fixed the problem, the issue went away. If not, violators were assessed a fine that they could contest in court. The recent council approved changes did away with fines and relabeled them "inspection fees." This change deprives citizens of the constitutional right to defend themselves in court and with a different branch of government and is therefore unconstitutional.

That ought to be a good starting point for debate. Thanks Greg and I will await your response. Thanks, Denis.

Greg Helding said...

I'm not dodging you Denis. I have been researching and doing things that in the physical world for a few days. When you work in the Internet industry, you relish opportunities to NOT be online.

Denis Navratil said...

Good to know Greg. When you have the time, post your response to my points and I will move them to a new thread. Thanks.

Greg Helding said...

When this system was instituted, our attorneys told us this was legal. I ask more questions than most, but in the end, I am not a lawyer and I have to trust that our legal counsel is giving sound advice. When the recent complaints about constitutionality arose, I asked about this and was told that Milwaukee has a similar "fee vs. fine" system in place and it withstood a court challenge in 2007. That was good enough for me. Since you posed this challenge, I took the time to find and read the case for myself.

In a published opinion (Case # 2005AP2630), the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling that "held that the City has the legal authority to enact the ordinance and that the unpaid re-inspection fees could be assessed against the inspected properties as special charges under WIS. STAT. § 66.0627” and "that because the primary purpose of the ordinance was regulatory, the re-inspection fees do not constitute an unlawful tax".

The appellate court also said "The ordinance creates an economic incentive to induce compliance with the law, which is a proper ordinance creates an economic incentive to induce compliance with the law, which is a proper exercise of police power. The escalating fees bear a reasonable relationship to the purpose of the ordinance, which is encouraging compliance."

You claim that it is unconstitutional because it “deprives citizens of the constitutional right to defend themselves in court”. The fact that the Milwaukee ordinance was challenged is proof enough that this is not true. No ordinance could ever relieve you of our access to the courts. Citizens have the right to take the city to court and challenge the fee – either on the basis that it should not have been charge or on the larger issue that the ordinance is illegal or unconstitutional.

Regardless, the nature of this ordinance is regulatory and not punitive. The court held that these fees are legal and that “There is ample evidence to find that there is a reasonable relationship between the re-inspection fee and the service provided”. Since these are fees, not fines, one does not have the option to either pay or go to trial. This is similar to any other fee charged by the City.

Both the trial court and the appellate court found that the City of Milwaukee inspection and re-inspection fee system is lawful and a proper exercise of a city’s police powers. Until a court tells us otherwise, I believe that, in instituting a similar system here, the City of Racine is operating within the bounds of the US and Wisconsin Constitutions as well as Wisconsin Law. I am confident that our ordinance is similar enough to the Milwaukee ordinance that it would withstand a similar court challenge.