I received a bill from the City of Racine the other day. I was being charged $100 for an inspection of my property and $87 or so for labor and administration for the removal of materials from my property. I called up the UNIT (Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team) to find out what this was all about. The gentleman on the phone looked at my file, and then described the materials and their location - on a fresh slab of concrete. I told him that the fresh slab of concrete was not my property and would they please remove the charges against me. He told me that the UNIT inspector would get back to me. A day or so later there was a message for me on my answering machine at work desribing the process for contesting the charges - I needed to write a letter to the head of Public Works to plead my case.
There are a few things wrong with this. First there is the presumption of guilt. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Then of course it is up to me to prove my innocence by appealing to the same branch of government (executive) that is charging me. Whatever happened to separation of powers? What about the right to a fair trial?
UNIT may be very effective in cleaning up neighborhoods, but they still need to be constrained by our constitution. So while I am a bit perturbed by the mistake made by UNIT, I place the blame squarely with our elected alderman and mayor. Why? Because they knowingly put in place a program that violates the constitutional rights of Racine citizens. And they have all sworn to uphold the constitution.