New Racine Alderman Eric Marcus is taking a look at UNIT (unified neighborhood inspection team) and their fee and appeal process. The Racine Post has an article on the subject, read it and the comments here. My purpose here is to continue the conversation.
For starters, I give Marcus credit for taking a fresh look at UNIT. In a nutshell, it seems that he is looking for compromise, seeking to give property owners one warning per year. My problem with the UNIT fees is that they aren't fees at all but citations pretending to be fees. The city likes this semantic cleverness because they can generate revenue while bypassing the courts which tend to be costly.
Marcus suggests that we still have the right to appeal to the courts, citing a Milwaukee case. I disagree. We have no recourse to the courts concerning our fees. Our appeals go to the executive branch, and if Marcus' proposal becomes law, to the legislative branch, not to the courts. It is true that one could sue the city if you have a spare 50K. I hope that is not what Marcus means by the right to appeal to the courts.
Marcus also suggests the in-house appeal system he is advocating will be more efficient. I have no doubt he is correct. A summary judgement by city officials with a conflict of interest, coupled with a presumption of guilt by citizens denied the right to appeal to the courts, will no doubt be more efficient. But does it protect the rights of citizens?
Of greatest concern to me is Marcus' citing of the Milwaukee case. This case has been used previously by Alderman Greg Helding to justify the city's actions while ignoring the obvious - that these are not fees but fines. Can we replace speeding citations with vehicle speed "inspection fees?" Citing the Milwaukee case gives alderman at least plausible legal cover. Yes, you can probably get away with this legally. But should you?