Monday, November 10, 2008

180 Days in the Hole

The Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri recently filed a law suit against the City to, long story short, make sure he can have his wife with him at all times of the day without interference from those who worry about effective governance, professionalism, or limiting liability from law suits resulting from his vulgar ass wife relentlessy insulting and pissing off an employee she claims was also a family friend. The Mayor's suit seeks to block enforcement of a city ordinance that prevents elected officials from having family members (ahem... Gloria) serve as full time volunteers in their offices.

In listing the Mayor's grievances, his lawyer deploys scare italics in numerous places. Just when I thought the reference to the "non-corporeal" sense of the word "office" couldn't be topped on the giggle scale, the petition alerts me to this frightening fact:
Noncompliance with the Ordinance (negligently or otherwise) thus carries a penalty of up to six months imprisonment, plus a $500 fine.
For some perspective, let's look at municipal ordinance violations that carry a penalty of up to six months imprisonment (!).

Sec. 50-13. Unauthorized distribution of trash tags or recycling bins.

In beautiful KCMO, you get two trash bags and one recycle bin per pick up. If you want more, you need to pay an additional fee for trash tags and extra bins. This ordinance presumably exists to discourage those individuals who are too lazy to strip buildings of copper and too bored with stealing stickers off of license plates from starting a black market in trash tags. Which is for the best, because a black market in trash tags is so... Soviet occupied Kafka.

Sec. 50-45. Unlawful removal of official documents or papers.

Before Tony gets excited, this ordinance applies to people removing official documents or papers without authorization from one's superior, so, no, the Mayor's home office does not apply. This ordinance is obviously designed to prevent negligent or intentional loss of official documents. It probably gets broken every time a employee takes some work home. Don't laugh! It could and probably does happen that city employees take some work home. The way this ordinance is drafted, some enterprising young city attorney who decides to take home some legal documents to review while doing laundry could be subjected to a penalty of up to six months imprisonment(!).

Sec. 50-202. Prohibition on swimming and wading in fountains and in Brush Creek.

This is probably the closest to the Mayor's situation with the volunteer ordinance. You're not supposed to wade or swim in Brush Creek or any city fountain unless the Parks Board has marked it as safe for wading or swimming. You'd like to think that basic survival instincts would warn you against jumping into the Creek lovingly known as Flush. But the fountains are more understandably tempting. Say you're a teenager or a bridesmaid looking to do something wacky and take a great photo. Or maybe you just need a refresher after standing in the sun reminding passersby to buy local produce and to demand that Bush be turned over to a war crimes tribunal. Getting into the fountain seems like a nice and harmless thing to do. But it's not. You can harm the fountain, causing the city to pay for expensive repairs. Or you could harm yourself by improper interaction with electrical lines running through water.

Jumping in the fountain looks like fun, but all things considered it's a bad idea. You may say - my taxes paid for that fountain! Or - it's my first amendment right to express my love of Kansas City by frolicking in that fountain! And if you jump in that fountain right now, your fountain story will probably end up happily, without damage to you or the fountain.

But reasonable people aren't going to want to jump into the fountain on a regular basis. And reasonable people aren't going to be surprised when habitual fountain frolicking results in them being ticketed.

They may be surprised to discover that the ordinance specifically provides for up to six months imprisonment(!). But here's the deal - pretty much every municipal ordinance provides for up to six months imprisonment(!), either specifically (as in the ones cited above) or through Sec. 1-17, which provides the default penalty for ordinances that don't specify a maximum punishment (public urinators, think twice). The courts want to have maximum flexibility to determine appropriate punishment and that's how it's done.

But nobody wants to pay to actually house ordinance violators in jail for 180 days unless it's an extreme case. You'd need to be a first class asshat to end up in jail for fountain frolicking.


Stacy said...

So I will not my blvd wheat 12 pack in my neighbors recycle bin (w/out them knowing)

Is that against the law?

Stacy said...

ok I will not put my blvd wheat packaging without my neighbors knwledge. that is what I meant. i think.