Friday, September 17, 2021

St. Paul considers new fines and civil penalties for breaking St. Paul’s ordinances

Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspection, together with the city attorney’s office, issue about 120 criminal citations per year to animal control officers, most of them misdemeanors. He wants the option of imposing an administrative fine instead. He says they’ll be fast, hopefully they’ll be just as persuasive, and they won’t show up on a person’s criminal record.

“It will allow us to hold everyone to the standards set by the city council or the mayor,” Cervantes said during a recent public hearing at City Hall.

Former St. Paul City Council member Debbie Montgomery is skeptical, if not outright opposed. She wonders whether amending the city charter to allow for more civil penalties isn’t the same as opening Pandora’s box. From illegal use of fire hydrants to city restrictions on anti-gay conversion therapy to zoning violations, city officials are already talking about a dozen areas where new civil penalties help enforce city ordinances. can do. More may follow.

After a recent public hearing on the matter, Montgomery, a member of the city’s charter commission, said, “I’m not there yet.” “Is there a better way to solve this than to replace the charter?”

As St Paul’s officials consider whether to allow the city council to impose new fines and civil penalties for breaking St Paul’s ordinances, labor and social justice advocates appear to be torn.

On the one hand, the fines could dent the city’s new $15 minimum wage ladder, paid sick leave and tenant housing security they need to attract the full attention of misguided employers and landlords. But, those same fines can be used to hurt those they intend to help by creating a new rift between taxpayers and city halls, along with a flood of new financial burdens for the poor.

second hearing monday

The St. Paul Charter Commission will host its second public hearing on the proposal at 3 p.m. Monday at the Frogtown Community Center at 230 Como Avenue.

The Charter Commission will likely make a recommendation on a charter amendment to the St. Paul City Council in October. To amend the charter, the seven-member council must be unanimous in its support. From there, the council will consider the type of citations and the fine cost to get started. For example, an animal violation may cost $100. A construction violation can cost up to $250, according to materials submitted by the Department of Safety and Inspection and the city attorney’s office.

Cervantes said that before receiving a citation, rule breakers would receive written notice as to what was needed to fix the problem and avoid any penalties. An appeal will be heard by a hearing officer, and further appeals may be made to the city council, which may adjust the fine or exclude the citation. The mayor’s budget proposal for 2022 already calls for the addition of two new lawyers, a paralegal and a hearing officer, to coordinate the work.

Minneapolis, Duluth and Bloomington are already applying administrative citations. But when the issue of administrative citations arose in St Paul in 2019, the Charter Commission appeared narrowly divided on the subject, and the city council deferred the issue after council member Jane Prince raised concerns.

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Without him, they were at least one vote short of consensus. The Prince has since informed that his concerns about public outreach are being duly addressed.

Boost to $15 minimum wage, and burden the poor?

The prospect of finding new ways to enforce city rules without involving the police or criminal courts has garnered the support of most of the city council, including the mayor’s office and the city attorney’s office, as well as council member Nelsey Yang, who He is a former union steward. TechAction Minnesota.

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During an August 2 public hearing, several individuals who spoke in favor of administrative citations referred to the needs of vulnerable workers who should qualify for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage under the city’s wage ladder.

Speakers at that camp included a representative from CTUL, which organizes watchmen, fast food workers and workers from other immigrant-heavy industries.

“There are a lot of under-enforced city ordinances” where we just need a better tool, said deputy city attorney Rachel Tierney, from unlicensed plumbers to zoning violations. “It seems to me that a criminal court is a bad place for all that has to be settled.”

Concerns about some over-proposals

Other community organizers and social justice advocates have expressed concern about the burden of the new fines on taxpayers – especially the poor.

There is some concern that future city councils or individual city departments may try to make up for the budget shortfall through financial penalties, and that the people most able to get out of fines are the ones with the knowledge and resources to help themselves. There will be city hall to make a case for. Critics have also questioned whether there is a $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave and no more targeted way of maintaining tenants’ rights.

Jens Werner, executive director of the Summit-University Planning Council, worries whether a new administrative citation process will be navigable and fair.

Werner told the commission during their August 2 meeting, “People fined for things like (overgrown) weed come to visit (at City Hall) a legislative hearing officer, who performs the same function as a judge.” does.” . “It’s just one person handling all these matters and deciding whether to pay them, if they have to come back, any of that. That’s a huge red flag right there.”

“Wrong properties “need to be brought into code,” said Gary Unger, a member of the Charter Commission. “But right now, from what I’m hearing, I don’t know if this will make it any better. Financing… is usually paid by people who live in rental accommodation. The landlords only increase the rent. “

If approved by the city council, the first administrative citation could be imposed by mid-2022.

St. Paul considers new fines and civil penalties for breaking St. Paul's ordinances
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