Government Transparency: Opaque?

3/29/09

Last Wednesday, during the operations administration meeting, I brought up a potential ordinance that I wrote about, several weeks ago, on this blog.

The idea was that “ALL” ordinances and resolutions must be made available to the media and city council a minimum of one news cycle (defined as the Wednesday or Saturday edition of the Missourian) before it can be considered in a public session of the city council.

Initially I wanted to see the entire ordinance posted in the paper so the citizens could see exactly what is going on. But after looking at the printing cost, I determined that agenda items with plain language descriptions of ordinances/resolutions would be much more economical.

If an interested party wanted more detail, they could go the City of Washington website and read the full ordinance. The printings cost would be about $40 per week to have the information published in the Missourian.

Now, let me digress: Sometimes city councilmen can get City Council packages the Friday before a Monday City Council meeting. Not only does this make it difficult for the council to properly research agenda items but can make it equally or more difficult for citizens to know what government is up to.

For example: On Wednesday, 13th, 2006, the City Council voted unanimously amending Title V of the city code relating to certificates of occupancy and inspections of existing homes and buildings. (See story in Missourian.)

Here is where it gets interesting: Quoting from the Missourian, ”
No one expressed opposition to the code amendment Wednesday night. ” This is really rich considering no one in the community knew about the upcoming vote. Maybe that is because the story came out in the Missourian on the same day and hour as the votes was being cast – possibly giving some hint as to why “No one expressed opposition to the code amendment Wednesday night.”

Since 2002, the city had tried to pass this change to the code and every time was met with stiff resistance from the community. And only with a “no notice” vote, was it ever passed – all but annihilating  public opposition.  As if this wasn’t enough, the city went on to authorize buying private information from Ameren UE, so as to more effectively manage this new “safety” program of occupancy inspections. Some have gone so far as to suggest this entire ordinance was nothing more than an attempt at the gentrification of Washington.

Thomas Paine, in ‘Common Sense’ wrote: “Time makes more converts than reason.” I will let Paine’s words and ideas speak eloquently in ways I can not.

Bringing us back to the present, I was shocked (and somewhat appalled) when some on the city council actually felt the citizens have enough transparency in the way government works. Some actually, and with a straight face, suggesting $40 per week was a waste of tax payer money.

Councilman Dill asked me how many people would actually read the agendas. My response was that if only one read it, it would be worth the expense. The Mayor, along with Councilman Mohesky, opined that sources currently in place are more than adequate for an informed community to be in the know.

Current sources would be the broadcast video/audio of each city council meeting (even though this system is currently being upgraded and still has unacceptably poor quality issues). The Mayor intoned that people could go up to city hall and read the public postings or view the channel 10 bulletin board and that the staff does a more than adequate job getting information out to the public.

So there you have it; go to city hall each week, and read the public postings or watch the channel 10 bulletin board – never mind that most of us don’t even get channel 10. Or you could just view the agenda on the city website – after the vote has taken place.

Transparency is vitally important because it shines an uncomfortably bright light on some things that government would prefer kept in the dark. Apathy empowers government and if a mathematical equation should be derived expressing this relationship, it could be shown graphically that the less people know about their government, the more apathetic they become. Transparency is one of the few disinfectants that can keep and purify government and give citizens an active voice in how their money is spent.

Ironically,  shortly following this discussion on how $40 was too great an expense for a cash strapped city budget, what did we discuss? Kicking in between $12,000 and $23,000 dollars to help pave a joint use parking lot, that we don’t own, but us.

Sometimes being a councilman can be a real head scratcher.

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Doggy Mine Fields in the Park!

Dear Councilman Midkiff,

I use Washington’s Park system to walk each day and take different walking trails each day. There are some people who also walk their pets but do not pick up the waste of these pets. In some of our Parks are bag stations for those who forget to bring something to clean up after their pets.

What I have noticed is there are a lot of people who do not pick up the waste, and then some little children just happen to step in this stuff. What I would like to know if the Police have given out any tickets to those unthoughtful people who leave this stuff in our Parks? If so how many tickets or warnings have been enforced by the Police. I know the Police have more important things to do then just look at these pets and owners but I have taken Pictures at the river front of the Pet station and within 3 feet there were 4 piles of dog waste.

I have also reminded people who leave this waste that it is against the City to do that and could result in a fine up to $500. A few do clean up the waste after I offer them a bag but most just give me a dirty look and even a few say so thing I will not repeat.

Please let me know about the results of your findings.

Thanks,
(Name withheld by request)
Washington Resident

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ordinances & Resolutions: Print Summary in Missourian

3/12/09

Wished I could take credit for some of these ideas, but… I can’t. It was suggested to me that we have a brief summary printed in the Missourian under the legal notices. ALL Ordinances and Resolutions, the suggestion goes, would have to be printed in the Missourian at a minimum of 7 days or two newspaper cycles before they could be considered for vote.

I checked with the Missourian and it would cost the city about $35 to print the ordinances.

I intend to bring this up in council session this Monday. Let me know what you think.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 9:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Twit, Tweet, Twitter, Tweetie……

3/12/09

Just about enough to drive you crazy – all these Twit variants. Well, chances are real good that your kids know what it is and if you haven’t heard of twittering, here is a definition:

Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates, tweets, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can send and receive updates via the Twitter website, SMS, RSS (receive only), or through applications such as Tweetie, Twitterrific, Twitterfon and Feedalizr. The service is free to use over the web, but using SMS may incur phone services provider fees.

How to Twitter:



WSJ – How to Twitter

Yes, I am trying this Twitter thing. My ID is guymidkiff. If that doesn’t work, look up “midkiff” and select Guy Midkiff

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  

POLL – Time To Open Walmart Gate?

TABLED MARCH 25, 2009

3/12/09


During the recent request for Stimulus Funding for the Camp Street Bridge, many senior citizens in Ward III made it clear that more than anything, they wanted to be able to get to Walmart and avoid HW 100 in the process.

It may be time to consider opening this gate and I will begin discussion on this subject at the next regularly scheduled City Council Meeting, on March 16th.

Please participate in the Walmart Gate Poll and let me know how you feel. Remember, no records are kept of voters. You can also leave a comment.

March 17th Entry: It has been suggested that to properly gauge public sentiment for opening or not opening the 0Walmart Gate, a petition be circulated. I think before public debate goes forward on this suggestion, the people in Ward III start a petition and give some indication of exactly how popular the idea is.

Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 9:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Video – STL Police Assoc. 13-3 AGAINST Red Light Cameras

Cops Against Red Light Cameras?

A Surprising Group Comes Out Against Camera Enforcement

http://www.fox2now.com/ktvi-red-light-cameras-031109,0,3346729.story

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI-FOX2now.com) – There are new developments in the fight over red light cameras in Missouri. The St. Louis Police Officers Association has come out against the cameras! They are listing several reasons for opposing the cameras. Among them- the association’s president, Gary Wiegert, argues the cameras don’t increase safety but rather just act as a revenue source.

“We would like to see the red light cameras eliminated,” said Wiegert. Wiegert says one of the main reasons his association is against the cameras is because he believes they limit the role of officers in traffic stops.

“We want to be able to have policemen out there to pull over people for these violations. There’s more that goes into a ticket than just running a red light. It goes into your driver’s license, do you have a driver’s license, do you have insurance, do you have contraband in the car; there’s a whole bunch of things. We want that interaction from police with the public,” explained Wiegert

Jesse Irwin applauds the move. He helped form the group Missourians Against Red Light Cameras.

Irwin said, “We need real police officers. We don’t need a phony camera, we need a real cop at the intersection that can pull people over and that can check to make sure the car isn’t stolen, make sure those plates are theirs, and take people to jail and take them off the road for real.” But others aren’t so dead set against the cameras.

Some like Troy Springer from South City think they serve a purpose in keeping the streets safer.

“It makes you stop and think as a driver to be safe and to be cautious. I mean to sit there and have to, I’ve ran a red light a time or two but now that makes me stop and think,” said Springer.

Wiegert says he also has questions about where the money goes that is collected from the fines when drivers run red lights. And he also points to questions about city aldermen either not paying red light fines or having the tickets dismissed. The association’s executive board passed the policy position on Monday by a vote of 13 to 3 with one person abstaining. Two people were not at the meeting.

Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Red Flags Rule

3/12/2009

Red Flags Rule is an Identity Theft program that the council passed last week. Frankly, I did not put nearly enough thought into this ordinance as I should have. The program was described as being required for Federal Trade Commission compliance of Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003, resulting in myself taking for granted the language of the ordinance.

By council passing this ordinance, the city now requires for new home owners and renters to present:

  • A driver’s license of other picture ID of all authorized parties.
  • Lease/Rent Contract, Utility Bill, or closing statement showing new service address.
  • For a business; “no sales tax due’ statement.
  • Completed Identity Theft prevention form for all listed on account:
    • Name
    • Social Security Number
    • Drivers License number
    • service address
    • mailing address
    • day phone
    • evening phone
    • employer
    • employer’s phone
    • do you own or rent
    • landlord and his phone
    • signature and date
  • Occupancy Permit Number
  • $50 deposit for new renters

For existing customers:

  • Drivers license or other picture ID of all authorized parties.
  • completed identity theft prevention form – see above.

I have asked staff, with consent of the city council,  to re-evaluate the need for so much private personal information. The FTC does leave considerable discretion as to how this program is complied with and that the program should be tailored to the size of the municipality.

I have asked that the bare minimum personal information be required – exclusive of full social security numbers and copies of leases. I also want to make sure the city has proper security in place to make absolutely sure that this private data will not be compromised.

At a minimum, I have asked for the following assurances:

1. Ensure that its website is secure or provide clear notice that the website is not secure.
2. Where and when allowed, ensure complete and secure destruction of paper documents and computer files containing customer information.
3. Ensure that office computers are password protected and that computer screens lock after a set period of time.
4. Change passwords on office computers on a regular basis.
5. Ensure all computers are backed up properly and any backup information is secured.
6. Keep offices clear of papers containing customer information.
7. Request only the last 4 digits of social security numbers (if any).
8. Ensure computer virus protection is up to date.
9. Require and keep only the kinds of customer information that are necessary for utility purposes.

Also, I enquired from the police and utility departments if they were aware of any recent Identity Theft occurrences and both departments said they were not aware of any.

The following is a copy of correspondence I recently received from the Federal Trade Commission, Red Flags Division:

Thank you for your inquiry regarding the Red Flags Rules.  Attached to this email is an article for utilities that provides general information regarding the scope of the Rules.

On October 22, 2008, the Commission issued an Enforcement Policy statement that delays enforcement of the Red Flags rule until May 1, 2009

The following link will take you to a news release about the Rules and there is a link to the text of the final Rules on the right-hand side of that page (http://ftc.gov/opa/2007/10/redflag.shtm).  The preamble to the Rules (pages 63718-63752) provides guidance regarding the rationale behind the Rules and the scope of coverage.  The text of the FTC rules can be found at pages 63771-63773.  The Guidelines (pages 63773-63774) provide compliance guidance and address a series of issues that covered entities must consider in developing their Identity Theft Prevention Program.  The Supplement to the Guidelines (page 63774) provides a non-exhaustive list of 26 red flags that covered entities may wish to consider incorporating into their programs.  Additionally, on the FTC website, you can find a news release (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2008/07/redflagsfyi.shtm) and Business Alert (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/alerts/alt050.shtm) that provides general information regarding the scope of the Rules.

Please check our website (www.ftc.gov) periodically for new guidance.

Sincerely,

FTC Staff (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2008/10/redflags.shtm).  This does not affect enforcement of the address discrepancy and card issuer rules.   Nor does it affect compliance for entities not under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission.

If you have gotten this far, give yourself a gold star. If anyone wonders why I get so aggravated with big government, read the above.

Guy Midkiff

STL Police Officers Votes Against Red Light Cameras

stlpoa.jpg

Board members with the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association approved a motion Monday night opposing the use of red-light cameras.

Association president Gary Wiegert tells RFT that the motion passed overwhelmingly with just a few of the board’s nineteen members voting against the measure. The motion states:

SLPOA is in opposition to the red light cameras because they limit interactions of police officers with the public. Additionally, revenue collected from this technology is not earmarked for law enforcement or any other public safety project.

Wiegert says that the police officers’ association issued the motion in support of attorney Chet Pleban — who last year filed suit against the City of Arnold over its use of red-light cameras — and state Sen. Jim Lembke, who proposed a bill earlier this year that would ban the cameras in Missouri.

“What really ticked off members of the board was the report that aldermen weren’t paying these citations and even going to the police department to have these tickets fixed,” says Wiegert, whose organization represents 1,100 of the police department’s 1,400 officers. “We hope that legislators or attorneys can use our motion to help make their case against these cameras.”

St. Louis began using the controversial cameras in 2007 following a year long delay prompted — in part — by an RFT investigation into how the city bid for the cameras. Wiegert says that the association currently has no plans to take its motion to the mayor’s office or to police chief Dan Isom.

He adds that the motion has nothing to do with job security. “Believe me, we have plenty other things we could be doing besides issuing traffic tickets,” says Wiegert. “But the important thing to understand is that there is a lot more to a traffic stop than just issuing a ticket — there’s also checking to make sure the driver has insurance and seeing if their license is up to date. The way it is now, someone could steal your car and run a red-light and you’d get the ticket. We believe that traffic tickets should be made against individuals, not their vehicles.”

And this from thenewspaper.com

Missouri Cops Oppose Red Light Cameras
Police in St. Louis, Missouri oppose red light camera program that legal advisors to camera firm operates illegally.

St Louis PoliceThe St. Louis, Missouri Police Officers’ Association on Monday spoke out against the use of red light cameras as a revenue raising tool. The police union adopted a resolution opposing automated ticketing as state lawmakers consider measures that would authorize use of the devices statewide. The group representing rank-and-file police officers stands in opposition to the high-ranking officials represented by the Missouri Police Chiefs’ Association.

“Police chiefs serve at the pleasure of the mayor — they’re political jobs,” said Jesse Irwin, co-founder of Missourians against Red Light Cameras. “I’m not surprised that the Missouri Police Chiefs’ organization would be for the cameras. I’m also not surprised that the men and women out on the street enforcing the law would be against them — they don’t work.”

Irwin’s organization claims to have 500 members willing to circulate a petition that will force a referendum on the red light camera issue in St. Louis. The group is joined by Don’t Tread on Me, another band of photo enforcement opponents in the city of Arnold who yesterday circulated documents showing that American Traffic Solutions (ATS) knew from the start that its ticketing program rested on a weak legal foundation. A May 2005 letter from ATS’ law firm, Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP, explained that Missouri law does not allow red light cameras to issue tickets that carry only a monetary penalty. Six months later, Arnold became the first city in the state issuing automated fines with ATS in charge of the program.

“We do not believe, however, that the municipalities possess the authority to adopt an ordinance that would permit the municipality to circumvent the Missouri Director of Revenue’s point system for the suspension and revocation motor vehicle licenses,” Stinson Morrison Hecker attorney Stephen P. Chinn wrote. “Under current Missouri law, every court with jurisdiction over any state laws or county or municipal ordinances regulating the operation of vehicles on highways must report, to the Missouri Highway Patrol, a record of any plea or finding of guilty of any person convicted of any moving violation under the state, county or municipal regulations within ten days after the record is made… The mandatory language used in the text of the statute supports a conclusion that an ordinance of this nature would conflict with state law.”

The legal opinion noted that a number of Jackson County judges also spoke out publicly against a 1992 photo radar proposal on the grounds that ignoring license points violated state law. Despite the clarity of the statutes involved, nearly two dozen Missouri cities have established automated ticketing programs that do not issue license points.

“It is appalling to think that the city council at that time had legal advice from ATS’ own legal counsel stating what they were intending to do was illegal, and yet they disregarded it at the thought of how much cash these cameras could bring in to city coffers,” Arnold City Councilman Matthew Hay said in a statement.

Although red light camera tickets in Missouri are vulnerable to court challenge, legislation including Senate Bill 58 and House Bill 241 would authorize their use.

An ATS spokesman said there was “nothing new” in the charges brought by the St. Louis and Arnold activists.

A copy of the legal opinion is available in a 500k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Municipal authority to adopt automated traffic enforcement measures in Missouri (Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP, 3/11/2009)

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 11:40 pm  Comments (2)  

Join BackStoppers!

Hi Folks,

This is another plea to ask for people in Washington to join Backstoppers. I attended the fund raiser last night, at the Elks Hall, and came away being very touched by this charity. Backstoppers provides financial assistance for the families of fallen police, firemen, and ems.

“Guy,  It was a pleasure to meet you and the show of support from your community was outstanding.  The best we’ve ever had.” Chief Ron Battelle, Chief of Police, STL County (Ret.), Executive Directory, BackStoppers, Inc.

I know this is tough times, but if you can make a donation, I can assure you it is for a very worthy cause!

Here is the link.

Published in: on March 8, 2009 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Occupancy Inspections

3/7/09
Occupancy inspections have been a pet peeve of mine since I first heard city council was considering their passage.

I objected to them because they struck me as just another growth in government and invasion of peoples privacy. There was an ordinance passed that also allowed for the city to contract with Ameren UE to purchase private customer data in order for the city to determine more efficiently who is moving in and out of property. I think this is a miserable trend, and can only see such programs getting larger – not smaller.

(In full disclosure, I own several rental properties.) Last week I met with the city inspector in order to voice some of my concerns, such as:

  • Having the same rental unit inspected multiple times in one year.
  • Having escape path lighting installed on the outside of small buildings.
  • The fact that rental units that have the same occupant in them for 10 years or more, will never be inspected.
  • Several older commercial buildings will possibly never be inspected or have external emergency lights installed, because they 1) Will not change ownership 2) Will not have remodeling work which require permits.

The city does, however, have a very strong case for inspections – at a certain level. The inspector had me look at some field photographs of  properties that, in my opinion, should have been immediately condemned. I saw buildings that had raw sewage stewing on basement floors and running down  plumbing fixtures. In one picture, several washers and dryers were literally standing in water. Others had electric wires, in a tangled mess, running haphazardly from service panels. It was obvious to even a non-electrician, that “double-lugging” had been used.

Admittedly, these properties kick the legs out from under any argument against occupancy inspections. I guess I am naive, but I just could not believe property owners could endanger the lives of others in such a flagrant manner.

There must be a system in place that can identify and remedy these unacceptable situations. Maybe the solution is to handle these violations the way we handle many code violations – as complaint driven occurrences.

We can not hang our hat on the safety hook and then overlook a large percentage of the buildings in Washington. This should either be an absolute ordinance – one without exception, or complaint driven. It is patently unfair to allow some to avoid occupancy inspections and then property owners such as myself, to be inspected multiple times in one year.

If the city wants to continue down the road of absolutism, then we should immediately begin a program that inspects 100% of all structures and then put them on a re-occurring inspection cycle of every 2 or 3 years. Of course, I am against such a proposal because it would broaden the size and power of government even more than it is now.

The common sense approach would have inspections complaint driven with fines and penalties that would be commensurate with the infraction.

Charter Government – Poll

PLEASE VOTE. Your vote is anonymous. No record is kept of the voter. (Also, there are several comments at the bottom of the page. Feel free to add a comment.) See Charter Government Video.

Several residents have asked how I feel about Charter Government. The issue is complex. Ultimately, it comes down to “can an increase in government be justified?”

I think, by and large, it does warrant consideration. I spoke with my friend who is married to a famous political figure in St. Charles, Mo. They have had Charter for about 15 years. This is a person I trust implicitly. He tells me that from his perspective, Home Rule has been worth it.

I think this form of government will be more responsive and sensitive to our specific needs. Representative Scott Dieckhaus has told me he is for it and sufficiently satisfied many of the concerns I have with Home Rule.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on March 7, 2009 at 5:00 pm  Comments (11)  
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False “Profits” of Safety

3/1/09

During my recent testimony in Jefferson City, Missouri, I tried to draw attention to the many resources that proponents of red light cameras often cite. These organizations prefer to use names such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety along with their side kick, ” The Campaign to Stop Read Light Running.”

Take a peek at the so called members of The Insurance Institute. Go to the members link and you will see well over 80 different insurance companies that stand to and do benefit handsomely from red light cameras.

Click on over to the Sponsors page of the so called “stop red light running” website and check out who is behind this charade – no less than 5 red light camera firms: Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. (ACS), Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., GATSO USA, Inc., Lasercraft, Inc., CMA Consulting Services. Once again, all industry insiders that stand to profit from the added tax of red light camera tickets.

And while you are on this last site, take a look at who is the contact point for the “Red Light Running Campaign,” it is none other than Blakey & Agnew – a prestigious Washington, D.C. p.r. firm.

What really bakes my chicken is how they describe themselves as: “independent, nonprofit, scientific, nonpartisan coalition.” Of course they make no mention of how much money they stand to make from red light cameras. What they do do is continually overstate the value of red light cameras and understate the real value of intersection counter measures such as longer yellow lights and intersection markings. These things cost next to nothing. A why do they overlook the obvious? $$$$

(Click here for more data on sham red light camera organizations.)

And now, coming to an intersection near you, Missouri has jumped on the band wagon with our own messianic red light camera site: MOSAFERROADS.COM. And just for kicks, I sent the following emailing to mosaferroads.com and just asked them if any of the red light camera organizations were behind this new website. I am sure the reader will find this shocking, but I have yet to get a response.

Feb 26 (4 days ago)

Reply

Hi,

I am interested in your organization, but when I did a “who is” search, there was no contact data for the site owner.

Can you please let me know if any red light camera company – such as ATS, has had any input or made any contributions to MOSAFERROADS.COM?

Sincerely yours,
Guy Midkiff

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment