Sunday, December 05, 2004

Bicycle licenses only fifty cents, and other highlights of city ordinance non-enforcement

A notice from the East Spring Street Neighborhood Association reminds us that Monday’s New Albany City Council meeting will be the occasion of the first reading of an ordinance to establish an ordinance enforcement department.

Bizarrely, there isn’t a system in place here to ensure that citizens comply with the many ordinances governing city life – matters like the removal of junk cars and adequate property maintenance.

Libertarian readers surely must be cringing at the intrusions embodied by New Albany’s voluminous ordinances, which include this personal favorite:

Drive-In Restaurants
(A) No person shall race the motor of any vehicle, start or stop any vehicle suddenly without cause, squeal the tires, blow the horn or make or cause to be made any other loud or unseemly noise by any means whatsoever, while on or adjacent to the premises of a drive-in restaurant, so as to cause a nuisance. ('71 Code, §110.02)

The Frisch’s Big Boy on Spring Street has been gone a good two decades, but this ordinance remains on the books. Obviously, it is not something requiring immediate attention.

At the same time, and as most readers are familiar, the “broken window theory” astutely holds that if a window is left unrepaired, people will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge, with anarchic implications for the neighborhood.

Although there are exceptions, most people who own the houses they occupy don’t allow windows to remain broken. The phenomenon of absentee property ownership in general, and absentee ownership of rental property in particular, lends itself to neglect and dereliction of the sort that ordinance enforcement is best placed to redress.

This is not to impugn those who rent, as most of us have done at one time or another. It is to suggest that "slumlords" rank high on the causal chain of community problems.

Predictably, already there is controversy over the proposed position of ordinance enforcement officer in New Albany. At least some members of the City Council advocate that control of the job be placed in the Council’s hands, while Mayor Garner – who as mayor, sewer board chairman and de facto building inspector is a business card printer’s dream client – insists that the ordinance enforcement buck stop with him.

NA Confidential remains ignorant of governmental protocol, but would like to suggest that to further the helpful practice of checks and balances (this in spite of the GOP’s current national strategy to castrate them), it might be a good idea to keep the ordinance enforcement officer somewhat autonomous, perhaps answerable to the Prosecutor's office, not the Mayor or the Council.

Why? Apart from public utterances and attendant pieties, it is likely that too many conflicts of interest exist among Council members and even the Mayor himself, with possibilities for “ticket fixing” too numerous and time consuming.

Almost inevitably, and by the very nature of the problem, much of the work of ordinance enforcement will have to do with owners of rental property.

My guess is that more than one member of the current city council owns such property. For the record, it would be helpful to know how many.

New Albany ordinances can be found here:


edward parish said...

When I first moved to this area in '79, I remember seeing a sign on the west side of the Silver Creek bridge stating New Albany had a noise ordinance of a certain decible, which I cannot remember the numbers.

Brandon W. Smith said...

Reading through the ordinances, I noticed a description of what the New Albany flag is supposed to symbolize (is it telling that the only place I've ever seen it flying is at Wal Mart?). I've got a vacant flagholder....where does one get a New Albany flag?

The New Albanian said...

Hmm, well, there was a flag shop downtown for a while, but only long enough to be profiled by the "Bune, then it was gone.

Flags might be found at the same place as the application forms for permits to have race cars in the driveway, as was brought up at tonight's meeting, which is to say that there are no applications, and consequently no permits issued.

Thus, not only is the ordinance with respect to race cars not being enforced, it's impossible to be in compliance owing to the absence of application forms for the permits.

All this was presented by a man in such a position, having had his racing car tagged for towing by a policeman with no authority to actually have the car towed, and being unable to find anyone at the City-County building who knew how to issue the permit he needed.

Invoke the Marx Brothers's "sanity clause" any time you wish.

At any rate, I want a flag, too! If we can get the design together, perhaps my t-shirt guy can print some up for us.

All4Word said...

That's certainly a subversive idea. Mayhaps the appearance of the New Albany flag could identify homes and businesses subscribing to a "Preservation is Progress" credo. Count me in.