Saturday, April 14, 2012

Local Politics

Our community recently became a Village and in the process suddenly there was such a higher level of scrutiny with 'code enforcement inspectors' that within a month they had issued 1,300 violations in a population of 12,000.

I received a violation and a notice to appear in court that unspecified debris was 'noticed' in our yard. That was confusing enough, debris for one is a rock garden for another. There was nothing out of the ordinary as far as I noticed. What is the problem here?

We did previously have two Triumph sports cars in the side yard, dysfunctional and with a hope to restore them, but no money for that since the recession hit us about the same time we threw a rod. D was called, I won't go into how they got his number, and told the Village wanted the vintage cars removed... Note: I was not contacted but someone that does not even live on the premises was.

We donated the cars at a deep loss to Kids for Cars around Xmas, and thought that was the end of it... keep in mind in winter it is cold even on Long Island and messing in the yard, particularly when the whole world looks like brown crap no matter what is done, is not number one on anyone's pleasure list.

We have lived here 22 years, we own the house in full, we are not non-resident owners... we look after our neighbors to the same degree that we ignore their occasional oddity. We are not under water, despite the hurricane floods that creep into our wetlands, we are not in foreclosure, we pay our taxes, we do not burn down the neighborhood nor do we go around drunk waving pistols in the air while riding on the hood of our friend's car, like some folks here about have done.

In the past, just once, we had a complaint that coincided with one of our neighbors, a friend, the so-called functional schizophrenic, when he got hit up for 4-40 yard dumpsters worth of accumulated junk. It caused him to be one of the celebrity causes to push for the Village formation... "we need to clean up this village so that it will be the wonderful seaside community that it can be." Which is a sentiment essentially opposed to my desire to hide in a working and lower class neighborhood where we are reasonably left alone and free to leave others alone.

Suddenly we are not left alone and we are given a violation without warning. In the one past incident we got a warning from the Town (a larger entity than the Village but now we are the smaller more special Village), and we cleaned up the yard within 15 days, and we went on with our lives in an attempt to avoid any more warnings. All was hunky dory.

Court, the newly instituted Village Court, is in the borrowed hall on second floor of the volunteer fire department. I always wondered why they built that second floor and why all that exposed copper for flashing. We got to find out as K and I went there, it was a mad scene without any explanation, people lined up on the stairs all wondering what they were in trouble for. Metal detector -- now, mind you, for some of these folks the metal detector was either a novelty experience or a very normal one. I had to take belt and work boots off etc. just like in the Federal buildings in Manhattan. K when she walked away to sit down and put her shoes back on was asked to give back the one and only little yellow plastic tray as the presiding officer said, "We are on a budget, you know." The place was packed. People complained that they had been there previously and spent 4 hours only to be told they had to come back again. One woman worried it was the deflated Santa Claus in her yard that was her violation. Working mothers with their young children in tow. One shy little girl thought I was Santa Claus.

Then we found out we could get an adjournment, and we quickly took it.

D and I then over the next month went about to clean up the yard, in particular the really big dead oak tree that the electric company came around and dropped into your yard. They did not cut it in to convenient pieces, they dropped it in logs and left the scene, years back, and it had been a pain for me to deal with since then. Either my chain saw [Pull-on, yeah, right. You pull on the damned thing!] is a piece of shit or I am a mechanical moron. Cleaned up the fallen limb brush pile and spent another month just moving things around and visiting the Town dump, one of my favorite Saturday morning hobbies. I moved everything in the side and front yard that I thought could look like "construction project" into the rear yard behind the fence where the chickens could see it better.

In the mean time Village politics got roused up over a plan to Re-Zone all of the waterfront areas as commercial for restaurant and hotel development. I noticed the purplish-blue demarcation on the map did not include our house. I was quietly disappointed that I would not sooner get a lucrative offer from a casino developer to sell out so we could move to a more insignificant hole on the planet than this one.

That re-zone stuff got a whole lot of folk upset and there were a few public hearings.

The one I went to we sat around for an hour before I overhead that someone had said something unpleasant about the Mayor's wife and he had gone home, instead of presiding at the public hearing. We were sitting there for quite a while because nobody knew what to do next. Then a whole lot of people got up and each one of them said three minutes of stuff into a microphone. I felt cheated when I realized there had actually been some sort of brawl at the last open hearing that I had missed.

One lady went twice and then asked if anyone else wanted to use three minutes to read the rest of the stuff she had not gotten to tell us all about. Something about frogs eating invasive plants and how the Village should look into it. Look very deeply into it. A whole bunch of folk said how wonderful the Village is. Another bunch said it sucks.

A week later the Mayor resigned. I never got to know him. The Deputy Mayor was not so much in public favor to replace him as he owns a significant chunk of the waterfront property with a lot of boats on it. Another person was chosen. In the mean time there was an election for trustees. One person we voted for reportedly lost by 6 votes.

I went to the Village Hall, if it can be called that, and asked if I could see the section of Code that I had violated. I met the code enforcement inspector that had written the violation and he was nice enough to make a copy of the entire code for me, all thirty-six pages. I told him we were the yard that had the two 'historic' cars in it, he said he remembered us. I told him we had cleaned up the yard but wanted to make sure we understood and were in compliance. I don't like being noticed and will do what is needed to be left alone. But I want to know for sure that we will be not noticed and that we will be left alone... other than for the no-fracking sign, the colored lights for the night walkway and the highly territorial dog, I guess. It was a pleasant enough exchange and he said he would stop around and take a look and enter something in the file. I just love it when folks bring my attention to their having a file on me.

So I go back to court the other night. First thing I enter a volunteer fireman guy at the bottom of the stairs says I have to sign in. So I, and everyone else that walks past him signs the sheet. Upstairs the prosecutor is talking and says that if we want a conference with him that we need to sign our name to the sheet at the back of the room. I ask him where is the sign in sheet, he does not know.

I would like to at least know what I am in for because I really have no clue. I can think of all kinds of trouble to get into and it is all the excess speculation and imagination that tends to drive me a little bit nuts. After two decades is it time to move? Bad enough we have hurricanes, now we have a Village to deal with. We sit there doing absolutely nothing for an hour. Having a Village seems to mean we get to go more places in public and do nothing for a while.

The court officer asks in English if anyone needs a Spanish interpreter.

The prosecutor seems upset and runs around with what looks like a long list of names, several sheets worth. At one point asks if everyone present is waiting for a conference. Nobody knows what the hell is going on so we all raise our hands. Sure, why not?

Some folks get up and get an adjournment. One guy is upset because he was given a violation that was not with his name on it.

However it happens at least half the folks are now gone. Then the prosecutor starts to read off the list for people to line up for a conference. He does not seem to understand why nobody lines up as he reads the list off. Eventually someone stands up. By this time more time has gone by and the judge has finally come out to preside but the prosecutor does not move people up to talk with her quickly enough. I begin to wonder if the judge is paid on piece-work, so many supplicants passed along through the judicial funnel, or by the hour.

One corporate lawyer for a bank goes up with like 10 files (10 properties) or whatever and the judge reads off the violation citation, same number as I have, $250 fine. I think, oh, crap, that is more than the Village property tax [supposedly with the vote for the Village we were not to get any new property tax, yeah, right].

We have a new road crew that goes around and pours hot tar in the cracks in the asphalt road and the flagman holds up the STOP sign to us while he waves us through. I wonder whose idea it was to hire that nimnuts?

Eventually the judge starts to call people to come talk to her directly. She is reasonable with folks, patiently explains to them what they can or cannot do. One fellow wants to go to trial instead of pay a $25 fine. His contention is that he should not have to pay for what he took care of. She talks him through that. One couple has two properties, one outside of the Village, the judge says, "Aren't you glad you have property outside of the Village?" Eventually after two hours there are like four people left in the place. I am called up.

I still have no clue what is going on and I have had no conference with the prosecutor.

The first test is that a court officer points at a bare spot on the floor where I am supposed to stand. I mean, bare spot that looks like anywhere else on the floor and this guy wants me to figure it out, which means you need to look at the angle of his arm and the arrow of his finger to determine just where the hell on the floor he actually means for you to put your feet. Trigonometry after a full day of work and no dinner yet. I go for it and snap my feet together... let him deny this I think, I have my feet on the only right spot, the only only right spot on this whole friggin floor. The judge says hello and asks me to state my name and address.

I look at her and do so.

Then I am handed a piece of paper and offered if I want it to be read aloud in the court. I think that may be of interest as nobody else before me thought to have it done when they were asked. Why not?

But, while I read the paper to figure out, or in this case not quite figure out, what is going on, I hear the prosecutor talk with the code enforcement inspector (I think he got a new car with nifty signs painted on it this week) who tells the prosecutor that I had corrected the problem (this is where being the guy with the scraggy beard comes in handy, nobody can not remember they talked with me). The prosecutor says that they propose a $25 fine. I'm good with that, plead guilty, pay the fine with a crisp fifty and after they fumble around for change I go home.

For entertainment value alone it was money better spent than if I had gone to a movie. In future I may go back to sit in for free. Up to the point that I got to pay for the cost of admission nobody had thought to challenge my business in being there in the first place.

Now I need to deal with my lost truck keys.