October 14, 2020 539 PM
The Alpine City Council held a lengthy meeting on October 6, 2020, which carried over to the following day, and at which a number of somewhat controversial matters were presented and discussed. The quiet we have had on city matters since Mr. Zimmer’s return and the great progress made on the street problems which have been number one on nearly everyone’s complaint list for years, has been broken. I apologize in advance for being long-winded but please continue to read.
One of those topics was the subject of the enforcement, or lack thereof, of local ordinances and codes. Presentations were made by the heads of three city departments having responsibility for applying those codes which have been enacted by the present and former city councils under the authority granted to home rule cities to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the community.
To make it plain at the outset: if parents have house rules for their children but do not enforce them does anyone not know what happens? If teachers and coaches set out expectations and standards for students which are ignored by students without consequence, what happens? If a city enacts ordinances on speeding, stop signs, maintenance of private property (dead vehicles –– or tall weeds –– in the front yard, unsafe structures) or threatening dogs running unleashed in public, or animals are subjected to horrible treatment and conditions without action being taken, what do you expect will happen?
At all levels of our government we like to think we have representation. We, the people, do not make the laws ourselves, which take the form of ordinances at the local level, but we elect others to do so for us. The vast majority of elected officeholders, I believe at least at the level of our Alpine City Council, attempt to do so following what they perceive to be the wishes of those they represent; I hope supplemented by their own judgment. I would include appointed city managers and department heads in carrying out policy set by the elected officials within that expectation.
Step one is the process of enacting ordinances and adopting codes by the council, with such input from citizens as they can obtain. Such required public hearings are nearly always very poorly attended. Step two is the application, the enforcement of those ordinances, the law, by those employed by the city to perform that duty, necessarily involving a certain amount of discretion. That includes the issuance of citations as necessary for violations of those provisions enacted for the benefit of the citizenry. Step three is the enforcement of those citations with full provision for due process of law in and by the municipal court, at which point there may be a variety of possible outcomes.
Where, in any of this, do the problems lie? 1. Do we have stupid ordinances? You can find humorous listings of such ordinances in jurisdictions across the country which warrant a good laugh. If so, citizens should encourage the council to rework them. 2. Are those responsible for enforcement not doing the job reasonably, being either overly harsh and extremely picky about details (“yes, you were 2 mph over the speed limit for a moment”; “your weeds today are a half inch taller than allowed”) or negligently allowing huge violations to be repeated over and over again as in “the radical speeding down my street continues, endangering cats, dogs and children,” or “my dog hasn’t bitten anyone recently.” Or 3. Are cases where citations have been issued not being handled appropriately by the municipal court? Too leniently, too harshly or not with consideration of accommodations?
To return to the start of these comments: if parents have reasonable rules for the house and they are violated without consequence, what happens? If teachers and coaches lay out reasonable assignments, tests and standards and they are not met and no consequences follow, what happens? And if city employees are charged with enforcing ordinances enacted by the city council but citizens commit egregious and perhaps repeated violations without consequence, what happens?
We expect –– and take for granted when all is going well –– that our city government will provide us with safe water, safe streets, effective law enforcement, sewer and solid waste disposal and so much else that is essential to having a community in which we can live happily. This is done through ordinances and resolutions and the daily work of many city employees.
Citizens have a role to play in all this, not only as beneficiaries of these services but, in a republican (note small “r”), representative form of government. Meetings and hearings are open to the public, ZOOM participation is convenient and council members listen to public input at formal meetings and elsewhere. As with so many things in life, there is too much, too little and just right. Your input might help move us toward the “just right” point on policy, which is what we all want, though may view differently. If you don’t know who your council member representing your ward is, please find out and feel free to approach them. Politely. They want to represent you and are not paid much of anything for their service. I promise that such effort will be much more satisfying for you than just complaining with your friends.
The coronavirus is a hoax, right? That’s what our president said and some 25 to 30 percent of Americans believed him. But then he contracts the virus, so it’s not a hoax, because both cannot be true. But will those millions of people see the light and put on a mask, practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly? I doubt it, not unless they have to. But some of them might wonder why there are 12 states with over 3,000 infections per 100,000 people and all of them voted for Trump in 2016. Those numbers indicate the majority of people in those states probably still believe the virus is a hoax.
Here is why it matters: Last week I saw a report that said the treatment Trump got at Walter Reed hospital would cost you or me $60,000-$100,000. Let’s say that in West Texas the cost would be half that amount and everyone who gets hospitalized from the virus has insurance, but with a 20% copay. We can all do the math: $6,000 to $10,000 in out-of-pocket cost. Anyone have an extra six grand laying around? Any of the newly unemployed who have lost their insurance have thirty to one hundred grand laying around? Best case: one or two trips to a doctor, some tests and a bill for several hundred dollars.
By the time this is printed, over 800,000 Texans will have been infected with this virus, nearly 17,000 will have died, and as of last Sunday, Texas is leading the country with 3,622 currently hospitalized. Yes, more people hospitalized than California or Florida, and way more than New York (820, and they’re having a spike). It’s also notable that Texas had the most new infections the past seven days (as of Sunday) with 26,584.
Anyone think we drastically need a change in the so-called leaders of Texas and the nation? A great start would be to dump every Republican on the ballot regardless of position.