Blind Justice or Blind Man's Bluff
06/13/15 - Editorial by Renee Wilkins
This week’s Governing Body meeting included approval of the Administrative Hearing Rules of Procedure for the new Civil Asset Forfeiture program, but mysteriously absent were the amounts of the fines and fees to citizens. After voting in conflict with state law, which requires a conviction before forfeiting a citizen’s property, the Governing Body has now given city staff and the police department carte blanche regarding the associated fines and fees.
In addition to possibly losing your vehicle without being convicted of a crime, it appears city staff will be making up the fees as they go along. While the hearing fee itself will be capped at $50, no specific amounts were approved for innocent owner fees or booting fees. Instead, the fees will be determined by the Police Department (whose budget is bolstered by these fines and forfeitures) and may change based on income generated. If the program is not meeting financial expectations, the fines can be increased without Governing Body approval, which is out of the ordinary.
From their initial blind-side push to rush this ordinance through, to thumbing their noses at the new state law requiring conviction before forfeiture, and finally to a snubbed second chance to set things right, this Governing Body and its City Attorney’s Office have mishandled a potentially harmful law from the get-go.
The hypocrisy revealed during the civil asset forfeiture votes has provided clarity and comedy in tandem. Councilor Robinson ( a former Tea Party President and Constitution Teacher) gave Academy Award worthy performances by oh-so-sadly stating how much she really wanted to vote yes for amendments to protect innocent owners … then voting no without so much as an amendment breaking wind from her. If she truly wanted to protect innocent owners, she could have brought forward her own amendments and still can. Councilor Everett continues to contradict herself by walking on our civil liberties while repeatedly boasting that she is a card-carrying ACLU member. Both of these councilors continue to vote in favor of the government taking property from citizens who have not been convicted of a crime. Priceless.