Monday, February 27, 2017
Is City Pricing Citizens Out of Zoning and Demolition Appeals? (SAR column)
Another great column in this morning's St. Augustine Record on roadblocks to reform -- hasty, nasty ordinances passed 3-0 on February 13, 2017, an early Valentine's Day present for the likes of ex-Mayor CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS, Jr., who on September 25, 2014 destroyed 62A Spanish Street, working without permits and was fined only $3600, after which City Attorney ISABELLE CHRISTINE LOPEZ hugged him during a recess of the St. Augustine Code Enforcement Board.
This obnoxious barrier to entry to appeals is unprecedented in any other City, according to the Florida League of CIties, whose counsel knew of no other Florida city with such an onerous, expensive requirement set up as a roadblock and obstacle in the way of citizens opposing development orders.
This odiferous requirement is yet an example of "Jim Crow law" by the embattled Establishment here in our Nation's Oldest City Saint Augustine said "an unjust law is no law at all." Record columnist Stephen Cottrell agrees with me -- the unjust laws passed by St. Augustine City Commissioners on February 13, 2017 are unjust laws. They attempt to chill coerce and punish First and Ninth Amendment protected activity by requiring you to hire a certified court reporter and pay for documents to appeal from unjust zoning and historic preservation decisions, unless you are "indigent." How cruel is that? City Attorney ISABELLE CHRISTINE LOPEZ is a developer shill, as is City Commissioner LEANNA SOPHIA AMARU FREEMAN (R-PROCTORVILLE).
Both are lawyers and should know better.
So should our beloved reform Mayor Nancy Shaver and Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, who voted for the stupid laws. Let's hope someone moves to reconsider before the City gets sued and gets yet another First Amendment judgment against it in federal courts. Venceremos! We SHALL overcome!
Here's Mr. Cottrell's February 27, 2017 column:
Posted February 27, 2017 12:02 am
By STEVE COTTRELL Public Occurrences
Is City pricing us out of appeals? (print headline)
City Commissioners should utilize City’s website (online headline)
(Curmudgeon – noun, someone who gets annoyed easily, especially an old person.(Ital)
Yes, it’s true, I have a tendency to get annoyed easily –– especially when I see government doing the opposite of what I think is fair and reasonable. And as I approach 75, I guess I’m viewed as an old person by most standards.
But considering that yesterday I married the love of my life –– finally, after an engagement that blossomed in the summer of 1967 –– I sure don’t feel like an old person. Not even close.
As I watched the St. Augustine City Commission conduct its Feb. 13 meeting, however, the cantankerous curmudgeon in me soon rose to the surface.
Two votes in particular seemed to me to be financially punitive, aimed at average citizens who might like to appeal a decision made by a city board.
Here’s what the commission is considering:
n If either the Historic Architectural Review Board or Planning & Zoning Board arrive at a decision you feel is inappropriate and you would like to appeal that decision to the city commission, your appeal is welcomed at City Hall.
Well, sort of.
Adoption of Ordinances 2017-01 and 2017-02 will require that a
verbatim transcript of the hearing that led to the appeal be provided
to the city commission, noting, “It is the responsibility of the
appellant to obtain a complete record of the hearing from the city
clerk and to retain a certified court reporter to transcribe the
hearing at appellant’s cost.”
So, assuming for the moment that the item you would like to appeal had three hearings at either HARB or PZB, (which would not be unusual with large projects or complicated historical properties), and the total time spent on the item was, say, five hours, then the required transcript, created by a certified court reporter, will likely cost you several hundred dollars; maybe more.
The commission justifies that kind of expense for average citizens by asserting, “the availability of a transcript for an appeal is commonplace in the judicial system and helpful to the City Commission acting in its appellate capacity.”
Although the city commission hears appeals in its appellate capacity, it’s a bit of a stretch to claim, “the City Commission for the City of St. Augustine finds that it is in the best interest of public health, safety and general welfare that the following amendments be adopted.”
It then describes specific language for the two proposed ordinance amendments.
What I find unfair and unreasonable is the commission’s decision that citizens (except for those declared legally indigent) must hire a certified court reporter to prepare a verbatim transcript of portions of public meetings that every commissioner can watch and listen to on the city website.
That’s right, folks –– the city commission wants citizens desiring to appeal a board decision pay hundreds of dollars to a certified court reporter for a verbatim transcript of a hearing that any commissioner can sit at home and watch online. Plus, pay for copies of related documents that are kept at City Hall.
It seems like an end-run aimed at limiting appeals to those people with a bank account that most of us don’t enjoy, and has nothing whatsoever to do with preserving the public’s health, safety and general welfare.
Should there be an administrative fee for citizens wanting to appeal decisions from HARB or PZB? Sure, but not some nebulous, unknown amount determined by how long the applicants –– along with their attorneys, as well as proponents and opponents –– speak at public meetings, or the time taken by board members asking questions.
I have a suggestion:
Since city commissioners receive $16,708.11 a year and the mayor $22,277.47 for what amounts to supplemental income for most (if not all) of them, I think the commission needs to deep-six the certified transcript idea and start using the city’s own website and files to review –– on their own time –– the public record of HARB and PZB decisions that have been appealed.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Do you?
Steve Cottrell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org