Sunday’s May 5, 2019, Pioneer Press offers a thoughtful opinion on the city’s proposed “penalty power” charter amendment. This piece comes from the steering committee of the civic group known as St. Paul Strong. St. Paul Strong is dedicated to the purpose of bringing greater transparency to the function of our city government.
The authors point out that the breadth of this proposed charter amendment goes far beyond the Department of Safety and Inspection’s need to “decriminalize” minor violations or increase fines for repeat violators. They criticize the lack of transparency presented by this proposed charter change, stating:
“The current broad language as proposed gives the city a blank check, which, respectfully, cannot be endorsed without thorough public input and an analysis of unintended consequences.”
The article notes that this year the city projects it will generate $250,000 from its civil penalties– more than it costs the city to administer its safety and inspection programs. By opening the door to the potential of ever greater revenue streams, this proposed amendment brings with it potential abuses such as selective enforcement.
Far too little is known about how the city would or could use such a broad penalty power. As St. Paul Strong cautions:
“Let’s get the details published and out in the open before the charter is amended.
Let’s all have a deeper understanding of how this would really work. Let’s go slow. This is big.”
Our city council will vote on this charter amendment, on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. We can only hope that one of its members will heed this advice.