Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Question of Priorities.

I have an op-ed in the GSO that came out today. Since it's out already and they don't update the website regularly, I can reprint the whole thing.

When I was a little kid, I was told by the big kids in my neighborhood that "snipes" were small creatures living in the woods which could be caught with plastic grocery bags. I begged them to let me come along when they set out "snipe hunting" one night, and stood bravely with my "snipe trap" (plastic bag), ready to catch one of the furry critters. I finally realized that snipes didn't exist after I was left alone in the dark woods for half an hour, the big kids safe inside their warm houses a block away. I had been the victim of a dirty trick.

The Charleston city council defines "snipe" a bit differently. According to the "Snipe Sign Ordinance" passed by the council, snipes are "leaflets, handbills, posters, flyers, announcements or any other advertising and informational materials that are tacked, nailed, posted, pasted, glued or otherwise attached to trees, poles, stakes, fences, buildings, or other objects" Snipes are illegal, and the fine assessed for each flyer is $1087.00 -- or up to 30 (THIRTY!) days in jail.

I am quite positive that there are criminals in our city more deserving of jail time than the mediocre band posting flyers about their weekend gig at the Music Farm.

Violent crime in Charleston is soaring. In the first half of 2006 there were 13 homicides -- more than any other full year in the past decade. When was the last time you went a week without finding a Community Watch Alert in your Edisto email account detailing the robbery or assault of a fellow student? The city council must be partaking in the crack that is abundant in Charleston ghettos for them to conclude that colored pieces of paper deserve their attention now, when the murder rate is on track to double 2005's.

In a warning letter to the community, Sgt. Dan Riccio ominously declared that the city will "...increase our enforcement of the laws applicable to this type of illegal activity and will prosecute violators of these laws." Police officers will enforce the ordinance, handing out tickets for those sinister enough to engage in the "illegal activity" If you hadn't read the first part of this article, you might have thought this paragraph was about drug dealers or, say, car thieves.

So the city council has given officers, whose plates are already full from dealing with real crimes, the extra duty of saving our city from the "visual blight" of illegal flyers? They have to be kidding.

Even at the local level, public policy is a game of allocating resources. Time and attention spent enforcing laws in one area diverts it from another. By passing this ordinance, the City Council has failed miserably at their primary job: appropriately prioritizing the needs of Charleston citizens.

Is keeping Charleston litter-free a good thing? Sure. Should it be a current priority? Absolutely not. There are much more pressing concerns in Charleston right now for the city council to be snipe hunting.

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