A Final Answer on Fire Hydrants
Some residents, especially small business owners like that of the Frozen Monkey, have been waiting for an answer from the city council on whether or not they’d have to foot the cost of additional fire hydrants to remain in compliance with the international fire safety code. As I mentioned in a previous article, that cost has been prohibitive for many in Lawton wanting to open up shop, or simply stay open after a move landed them in the middle of a regulatory mire. Installing a new fire hydrant can cost anywhere from $25-75k, and most small businesses can’t handle that price tag and stay open.
Well, good news! The council came through this time, likely to the dismay of the fire chief. The code now provides less stringent requirements for remaining in compliance with municipal fire safety concerns. Additionally, the council better defined the ‘change of use’ function that triggers when businesses freshly occupy a new location. The ‘change of use’ function when triggered would sometimes produce a landslide of regulatory costs. Worse, this would happen after the business owners had moved into the new location, making it very difficult to escape without putting their business in peril. Now that function is better defined and more narrowly triggered. Least that’s how it sounded.
Another False Alarm
Another issue the council settled with less spite than many expected was the recently introduced alarm system regulation. When they first began discussing this item a few weeks back, they were thinking of forcing people to get permits (for a fee, of course) for owning an alarm system capable of alerting emergency personnel in town. As well, they wanted to reduce the incentive to allow false alarms to take up the time of those personnel, understandably. Also understandably, there were some residents upset over the prospect of these new regulations taken as a whole.
In the end they removed the permit portion of the language and made the penalties for false alarms less toothy…and more enforceable of course. Prior to this adoption, the LPD were apparently being instructed not to enforce the false alarm penalties because they were too harsh. Now they hurt much less and can be enforced without stirring the pot too much.
The new ordinance provides two freebies to residents and businesses. The first two false alarms LPD responds to will incur no penalty. The third and fourth within a consecutive 12 month period will incur a $50 fine. The fifth and beyond incurs a $75 fine. All in all not too bad, right? Until we have a large enough police force to tackle the call volume and still make time for community involvement, regulations like this might help reduce the call burden by wasting less of their time. Our police need a better mode of operation than to have to respond to successive calls for an entire shift when many of the calls are trivial. How many more B&Es and larceny cases (most common crimes in Lawton) could they investigate if they weren’t required to respond to calls about barking dogs? If you follow the link, it’s on page 95.
One last thing, and this is important. So long as you have your alarm company call the LPD and inform them that everything is okay, the false alarm won’t count against your path to fines! Even if the LPD have already responded, if they then get the call from the alarm company, it still doesn’t count against you because they know the alarm companies won’t always reach them with a call before they have been dispatched and possibly arrive at the scene.
Parking and Recreation
Saved the best two for last. This new business item would have established more control over when and where residents can ‘park’ and ‘store’ their larger recreational and commercial vehicles and trailers. About eight residents brought their concerns up to the city council in opposition to the regulation. Some were going to be negatively affected by the ordinance while others had worked for the city and asserted that the issue did not warrant new laws. One fellow who had worked for the city said they’d get at max a single call per month over this issue, which is less than the number of calls they got about feral cats. There were several different points made in opposition. If you want more details on that follow me on Twitter and scroll down. Some interesting points were made.
In favor of the item was Josh Leach, the head of Neighborhood Services, a single resident who was sitting adjacent to me in the back (a real loudmouth), and councilmen Morford, Jackson, and Wells. So basically the government represented those in favor while the people represented those against. In this case Tanner and Phillips voiced concerns over the item. They wanted to alter some of the details to make it more palatable to the public. Morford’s motion to vote on it was replaced by Cherry Phillips motion to table, and it was tabled. Then Morford and Wells relieved themselves of the committee that had been working on this. Rather dramatic, right? But that put it in the hands of Tanner, Phillips, and McGahee. Now they have the power to alter or even abolish this item. If you don’t like this regulation, contact them and let them know.
The bigger picture here, I believe, is that the additional regulation is not needed. When someone is obstructing traffic we could already call the LDP without this regulation. If it’s just an aesthetic issue, then no crime is being committed, and the kind of person that wants the option to use government force against their neighbor is a greater threat to the peace than the vehicle owners themselves. We have to decide what sort of town we want here. Do we want real communities to develop, or do we want government to grow at the expense of our earnings and freedoms? One or the other will happen, and it will greatly depend upon how often we ask government to solve a problem we could solve ourselves by simply talking to our neighbors.
They’re Trying to Build a Prison
This last item is subtle. The council is looking into establishing a Municipal Court of Record, which we apparently could have built at any time prior to 2004, but after that time it had to be proven necessary. It seems to have taken them more than ten years to build a case for this type of court. The description was so interesting I think I’ll let it speak for itself:
BACKGROUND: Title II, Section 28-101 of the Oklahoma Statutes provides “In cities having a population of more than sixty-five thousand (65,000) inhabitants, as determined by the latest federal census, there is hereby created a Municipal Criminal Court of Record…, subject to the restrictions of subsection B of this section,” Subsection B provides “before a municipal criminal court of record not in existence before November 1, 2004, may be created, the municipal governing body shall determine by resolution that the efficient disposition of cases involving the violation of municipal ordinances necessitates creating a court of record.”
Due to limited jail space, a lack of funds to convene juries, etc., the City of Lawton has not prosecuted offenders before a jury for many years. When an offender requests a trial by jury, but the City does not convene one, the offender cannot receive any jail time and can receive only a limited fine regardless of the seriousness of the offense. In other words, the punishment does not fit the crime. Cases brought before a municipal criminal court of record can result in fines up to $1,250, while the maximum fine that can be imposed by a municipal court not of record is $750. The increased revenue generated by higher fines in a court of record will provide funding to pay for the higher costs of trials by juries where punishment to fit the seriousness of the crime can be imposed.
I looked into this, and the municipal court we currently have is one not of record. The difference between an ‘of record’ and a ‘not of record’ municipal court is primarily one of allowable fines and other punishments. It’s really important that we all understand what’s going on here, so I’m going to do my best to communicate it more clearly than the above legal jargon does. Here goes!
Right now our city court can’t fine us more than $750 for a violation of city code. The council is also saying that they lack the funds to convene juries, so – and this needs to be tested – if you are arrested for a violation related to city code and ask for a jury, they are saying they will release you and give you a fairly small fine! Has anyone tried this, and if so what happened?!
A Municipal Court of Record on the other hand can fine us up to $1250 and, with those additional revenues, convene juries and produce more severe sentences.
So consider this in context. Between Burk, Wells, Jackson, and Morford, regulations are increasing, a new larger jail is being built, and now a court capable of taking more of our money and imprisoning us for longer over petty city code violations is going to be built if they have their way. Specifically, Wells and Jackson are behind the new, more severe court being established, and Burk was instrumental in the Safety Tax that is being used to build a new, expanded jail. Morford usually slides by without notice, but tonight he showed an inclination to reduce our freedoms through additional regulation via the parking/storage restrictions.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying they are all working together. I’m saying they all belong to a school of thought that does not produce positive results for residents in the long run. This court needs to be stopped. If we really needed it, how in the world have we made it this far without one? We don’t want the courts bankrupting an increasing number of residents as the council expands the city code unnecessarily. That’s called a conflict of interest.
I’d better stop there. It’s 4am and I have to work in the morning. There’s so much more to learn about on the local level. But in the meantime can we agree that we need fresh, responsive replacements for many of our sitting council members? In a time when the national government has gone completely bonkers, I think it’s worth putting a little work into making our local government serve us rather than itself or a higher level of government.
Til next we speak!