Material breach of the public trust
November 23, 2007
It started with a fledging City Council passing an ordinance, to address an “emergency” ” the alleged impending destruction of irreplaceable historic city treasures, buildings erected circa 1970-75. However, the problems were two-fold:
First, the council action could not satisfy the statutory definition of emergency as a predicate for the legislation; and, second, factually there was no rush to destruction of these supposed architectural wonders, many younger in age than the youngest member of the council.
When the action saw daylight, the citizen outcry was sustained and unanimous; Ordinance 30 was deemed unfathomable, materially affecting property rights and contrary to sound historic preservation. Material changes, if not out right repeal, were called for and the council over several meetings went on record with votes, i.e., super-majority required for designation, to rectify, in part, their prior injudicious action. The council appropriated funds for commissions and study groups. Indeed, for a moment, it appeared that the light of reason flickered, when a motion made and seconded to repeal the ordinance seemed certain for passage. But alas, the motion failed in moment of psychiatric frenzy and council then proceeded to rewrite, as least several times its own flawed law, now named Ordinance 48.
Remember, months later, we still are acting under the guise of an emergency (or is it marshall law).
The latest rewrite eliminates protections previously available and is procedurally a nightmare. Who would ever incur the legal costs, suffer the morass of administrative scrutiny and produce the mass of financial data, including tax returns, just to remove from a list of endangered properties a nondescript structure of a certain age? How about replacing leaking windows or gutters, or changing a shorted out exterior fixture? Now, city approval, apparently, is needed if the house is on the endangered list.
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Simply put, the City Council charted the wrong course with Ordinance 30, is stranded on the shoals of indecision with its moral compass skewed by a succession of broken promises. It is going it alone, hopelessly adrift without citizen support. Never mind that the Historic Preservation Commission was also left in the dust in this process (or lack thereof), this council has demonstrated that is all about knee-jerk reflexes with no idea of what governance is all about.
But here is the clincher ” our mayor now contends on the eve of the next reading that he “does not know what the citizens want for historic preservation.” Of course he does, he just disagrees and wants to plot his own course. So be it. Lead your constituency, however small, in the direction of your choice, but at least be intellectually honest and admit that you understand the public’s view ” reasoned and fair historic preservation for those few properties deserving such treatment. Do not demean yourself and the office with feigned denial of the obvious ” that is the material breach of public trust.