Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why I don't live in Kenneth City, FL (and you shouldn't either!)

"Kenneth City delays decision on neatness ordinance"

That's the headline from the St. Petersburg Times online. Faced with falling property values in recent years, the Kenneth City city council has proposed a 26 page ordinance aimed at cleaning up the town. The ordinance addresses both exteriors and interiors, going far beyond simple prohibitions of rusting cars on blocks in front yards. The residents of Kenneth City aren't entirely clear on the full ramifications of the ordinance because the public "workshop" wasn't well described or promoted, so was not well attended.

The most jarring part of the proposed ordinance is the provision that would allow city officials to "inspect" the interior or any home or business. Umm, what? A city council member or police officer or city clerk can come into my house and do a white glove test? The first article I read about this made it sound like city council members were irritated with city residents who were so offended by this proposal. What on earth did they expect?

I understand that some houses can reach public nuisance levels and pose risks to the public health. I once lived near one of those houses that had the 70 animals and was therefore filled with the resulting animal waste. The house was filled with trash and disease-carrying bugs and it smelled bad. I don't object to city ordinances that allow cities to deal with those exceptional cases, assuming the city can go through the proper channels of presenting probable cause to a judge and acquiring a search warrant authorizing entry into the home.

But to write into an ordinance that city officials can enter any private home or business at any time?? That's insane. It's blatantly unconstitutional for a city to grant itself the authority to enter any and all homes in the city at will. It's shocking that a city council, and that council's attorney who drafted the ordinance, fail to comprehend the obvious constitutional violation. Surely this ordinance, or at least the inspection portion of it, could never pass muster in any court.

Just imagine how ripe such a provision would be for abuse. A city official with a grudge could wreak havoc on an enemy's life by inspecting day after day. (And let's not any of us pretend that we don't know people like that who would misuse this kind of authority. There are a lot of petty tyrants running amok in municipal bureaucracies.) But my main concern is what cops could do with this provision. Suspect someone's making meth but don't have sufficient probable cause to get a search warrant? Hey, inspect the house! You'll probably get lucky and find lots of incriminating evidence in plain view! Cops could so easily use this provision to get inside the home or business of any suspect. What an end-run around the 4th Amendment the Kenneth City Police would have.

I do not understand why the Kenneth City city council thinks writing it into law that they can go into any house they want when they want is a good idea. Do they really want to be subjected to intrusive inspections of their own homes? Well, whether they really do or not, I am glad to see that the residents of that small city have stood up en masse to say, "No, no, and hell no!"

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