Category Archives: transparency

Civil Asset Forfeiture Model Language

Model language for a municipal charter amendment to address civil asset forfeiture. This language has been tailored to Michigan cities.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city. A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense. All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement. At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property. No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city. If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees. Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

Let’s break it down:

 

The language is a proposed charter amendment. The first line identifies this as a new law, gives the section of the charter, and the city name. If the language is approved this will not appear in the charter.

New Section ____ of the Charter of the City of ­­____, Michigan

 

Section title. This will appear in the charter. Not everyone is familiar with the phrase “civil asset forfeiture.” In this model “Property Seizure” was used to clarify the issue.

Section ____. Property Seizure and Forfeiture.

 

It is common to provide definitions for terms in the amendment.

                As used in this section, “property” shall be liberally construed to include assets and possessions; “employee” includes anyone acting under the authority of the city.

 

This is the meat and potatoes. Don’t take property unless a law has been broken, and then only take the property involved in the crime or gained because of the crime.

A conviction of a criminal offense is a prerequisite to forfeiture and the transfer to the City of _____ of title to property directly used in or derived from that offense.

 

This line is for cases of forfeiture with a conviction and to address revenue sharing with a state or federal agencies. Law enforcement should not be policing for profit. Proceeds from the sale of property should not go to those taking the property. In this model, the money is used for street repair. Check state statutes, forfeiture proceeds may be required to go into a specific fund. This model attempts to address the problem of local law enforcement teaming up with federal or state agencies to avoid state or local prohibitions on civil asset forfeiture.

All revenues from forfeited property, including revenue derived from sharing proceeds of forfeited property from cooperation with other federal, state, or local agencies, shall be placed in a separate fund, used only to pay costs directly related to local street repair, and shall not be earmarked or allocated to law enforcement or code enforcement.

 

Property owners should not be deprived of their assets indefinitely.

At any time, a property owner may ask the City or a court to return property that was wrongly seized or because there is no reason for the City to continue to hold the property.

 

Many states require a property owner to pay a bond before they are allowed to challenge a seizure.

No bond shall be required on any property seized under authority of the city.

 

If the items seized are perishable or have been damaged, the government should replace or fix the property. It’s important innocent owners not be penalized.

If property is wrongfully seized, the City has no reason to continue to hold the property, or the property owner is not convicted of a criminal offense that has a forfeiture provision, the city shall return, replace, or provide full compensation for any property damaged, defaced, or devalued as a result of seizure by city employees.

 

Transparency is needed to ensure the city complies with the law. This model includes the statutes dealing with government transparency in Michigan.

Records of all property seizures shall be indexed by date, department, name of owner, property type, and seizure value, and include details of the conviction. These records shall be published monthly on the city’s publicly-accessible website consistent with Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act 442 of 1976.

 

 

Civil Asset Forfeiture

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Filed under asset forfeiture, Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Criminal Justice Reform, Initiative, Model Langauge, transparency

Choosing Priorities in Government Spending

my-favorite

Cleveland Heights, OH

The city council wants more money. They decided to pay a research group to do a survey. You can see the survey at the end of the article in this link.

The survey provides some great insights into how voters perceive city spending. One section in particular where respondents gave their opinion of what cuts they would be more willing to see.

If the tax increase fails, the City will have to cut its budget by about another two and a half million dollars or six percent. Please tell me if you would favor or oppose a six percent cut in each of the following city services. The first one is … Do you favor or oppose a six percent cut in that?

  • Fire protection and EMS service  Favor 10%/82% Oppose
  • Police protection Favor 15%/77% Oppose
  • Trash collection and recycling  Favor 15%/77% Oppose
  • Street repair  Favor 16%/76% Oppose
  •  Snow Plowing  Favor 17%/75% Oppose
  •  Parks and recreation  Favor 25%/64% Oppose

I took the liberty of placing these in the order of importance to the respondents. It may be that voters in Cleveland Heights have have great roads and their EMS service is lacking, but I think it’s more likely these are typical priorities for residents. Voters see some government spending as more important than other government spending. Police and Firefighters showing up when you need help is more important than a city park you may or may not use.

Ranking services and prioritizing spending is not something we hear about when cities want to increase taxes. Instead we hear about cutting schools, roads, or police and fire. This poll shows voters have priorities, city councils should also.

Instead of asking for a tax increase to fund roads or schools elected officials should increase transparency and ask voters for tax increases to fund the city services that are the least important to taxpayers.

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Michigan Forfeiture Reporting 2015

From Michigan Capitol Confidential:

A package of bills designed to give the public access to information on property seized by, or forfeited to, government entities is under consideration by a state House committee. The legislation would require government entities across the state to submit annual reports to the Michigan State Police (MSP) on property they’ve seized or received through forfeiture. The information would be compiled, issued in an annual report to the Legislature and posted on the MSP website.

AssetForfeitureBillsSummary

HB 4500 Introduced by Representative Jim Runestad

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 79D. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS ACT TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING  ACT.

HB 4503 Introduced by Representative Triston Cole

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 4710. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS CHAPTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.

HB 4504 Introduced by Representative Klint Kesto

A bill to create the uniform forfeiture reporting act; to require certain reports by reporting agencies regarding seized and forfeited property; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain local and state officials; to provide for certain fees and the expenditure of those fees; to require certain audits; to require certain reports by the department of state police; to provide for the withholding of law enforcement funds under certain circumstances; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
Sec. 1. This act shall be known and may be cited as the “uniform forfeiture reporting act”.
Sec. 2. (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), before February 1 of each year, each reporting agency shall submit a report to the department of state police summarizing the reporting agency’s activities for the preceding calendar year regarding the forfeiture of property under sections 7521 to 7533 of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7521 to 333.7533, chapter 38 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.3801 to 600.3840, and chapter 47 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.4701 to 600.4709. The annual report shall contain the following information, as applicable:
(a) The number of forfeiture proceedings that were instituted in the circuit court by the reporting agency.
(b) The number of forfeiture proceedings instituted by the reporting agency that were concluded in the circuit court.
(c) The number of all forfeiture proceedings instituted by the reporting agency that were pending in the circuit court at the end of the year.
(d) The number of forfeitures effectuated by the reporting agency without a forfeiture proceeding in the circuit court.
(e) The number of forfeiture proceedings subject to a plea or any other similar agreement involving the property owner and reporting agency.
(f) An inventory of property received by the reporting agency. Property shall be reported in accordance with each of the following categories:
(i) Residential real property.
(ii) Industrial or commercial real property.
(iii) Agricultural real property.
(iv) Money, negotiable instruments, and securities.
(v) Weapons.
(vi) Motor vehicles and other conveyances.
(vii) Other personal property of value.
(g) Each property inventoried under subdivision (f) shall include a description that contains the following information, as applicable:
(i) The date the property was seized.
(ii) The final disposition of the property, including the date the property was ordered forfeited or disposed of.
(iii) The estimated value of the property.
(iv) The violation or nuisance alleged to have been committed for which forfeiture is authorized.
(v) Whether any person was charged with the violation for which forfeiture is authorized and whether that person was ultimately convicted of that violation.
(vi) The number of claimants to the property.
(vii) Whether the forfeiture resulted from an adoptive seizure. As used in this subdivision, “adoptive seizure” means that all of the following apply:
(A) The seizure resulted from a violation of state law and there is a federal basis for the forfeiture action.
(B) All of the preseizure activity and related investigations were performed by this state or the local reporting agency before a request was made to the federal government for adoption.
(C) The seizure did not result from a joint investigation or task force case.
(h) The net total proceeds of all property forfeited through actions instituted by the reporting agency that the reporting agency is required to account for and report to the state treasurer under either of the following, as applicable:
(i) 1919 PA 71, MCL 21.41 to 21.55.
(ii) The uniform budgeting and accounting act, 1968 PA 2, MCL  141.421 to 141.440a.
(i) For forfeiture proceedings instituted under the public
health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.1101 to 333.25211:
(i) A statement explaining how any money received by the reporting agency under section 7524(1)(b)(ii) of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7524, has been used or is being used for law enforcement purposes.
(ii) A statement of the number of lights for plant growth or scales donated under section 7524(2) of the public health code, 1978 PA 368, MCL 333.7524, the total value of those lights or scales, and the elementary or secondary schools or institutions of higher education to which they were donated.
(j) For nuisance proceedings instituted under chapter 38 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.3801 to 600.3840, a statement explaining how net proceeds were directed under section 3835 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.3835.
(k) For forfeiture proceedings instituted under chapter 47 of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 236, MCL 600.4701 to 600.4709, the amount of money received under section 4708(1)(f) of the revised judicature act of 1961, 1961 PA 235, MCL 600.4708, that was used to enhance enforcement of criminal laws and the amount of money that was used to implement the William Van Regenmorter crime victim’s rights act, 1985 PA 87, MCL 780.751 to 780.834.
(2) Subsection (1) applies only to proceedings commenced on or after the effective date of this act.
(3) Subsection (1)(g) through (k) applies only to proceedings that have been finalized for purposes of appeal.
Sec. 3. A null report shall be filed under this act by a reporting agency that did not engage in any forfeitures during the reporting period.
Sec. 4. A reporting agency may use forfeiture proceeds to pay the reasonable costs associated with compiling, analyzing, and reporting data under this act.
Sec. 5. (1) The records of a reporting agency regarding the forfeiture of any property that is required to be reported under this act shall be audited in accordance with 1 of the following, as applicable:
(a) 1919 PA 71, MCL 21.41 to 21.55.
(b) The uniform budgeting and accounting act, 1968 PA 2, MCL 141.421 to 141.440a.
(2) The records of a reporting agency regarding the forfeiture of any property required to be reported under this act may be audited by an auditor of the local unit of government.
Sec. 6. The department of state police shall compile the information reported to the department under sections 2 and 3. Beginning January 1, 2016, the department shall file an annual report of its findings under this section with the secretary of the senate and with the clerk of the house of representatives and shall place a copy of the report on its departmental website. The report shall be filed not later than July 1 of each year. The report shall identify any state departments or agencies or local units of government that have failed to properly report the information required under sections 2 and 3 with the department of state police.
Sec. 7. As used in this act:
(a) “Local unit of government” means a village, city, township, or county.
(b) “Reporting agency” means 1 of the following:
(i) If property is seized by or forfeited to a local unit of government, that local unit of government.
(ii) If property is seized by or forfeited to this state, the state department or agency effectuating the seizure or forfeiture.

HB 4506 Introduced by Representative Jason Sheppard

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 7524B. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS ARTICLE TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT OR REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.

HB 4507 Introduced by Representative Brandt Iden 

 THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
SEC. 3841. (1) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY SHALL REPORT ALL SEIZURE AND FORFEITURE ACTIVITIES UNDER THIS CHAPTER TO THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE POLICE AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(2) BEGINNING FEBRUARY 1, 2016, EACH REPORTING AGENCY IS SUBJECT TO AUDIT AS REQUIRED UNDER THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.
(3) AS USED IN THIS SECTION, “REPORTING AGENCY” MEANS THAT TERM AS DEFINED IN SECTION 7 OF THE UNIFORM FORFEITURE REPORTING ACT.

 

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Reform Or Restriction

Disclosure of funding, should petitions require a higher standard than candidates? One San Diego city council member thinks they should.

At a special session of the City Council, meeting as a “committee of the whole,” Gloria will propose a package of regulations that require that petition advertisements identify the top two donors contributing to the drive; impose tighter deadlines for publicly reporting petition campaign contributions and expenses; and revamp the rules on how petitions are formatted

It’s easy for legislators to propose new regulations like these for petitions, they don’t bear the costs. New formatting rules will mean paying attorneys more to draft petitions. These types of regulations are always added to protect us from big money special interests, but they result in making the process more difficult and sometimes impossible for volunteers and small money drives. Big money special interests can pay for lobbyists, they can pay for attorneys to wade through the regulations. Volunteers and grassroots will be the ones tripped up by this law, they don’t have funding to pay CPAs and attorneys to prepare campaign finance reports or spend hours designing new petition templates.

It’s also a bit hypocritical, does councilman Todd Gloria put the names of his two biggest campaign donor on each piece of legislation he proposes? That’s a reform people might want to see.

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, politicians, referendum, transparency

Requiring A Streetcar Vote

San Antonio, Texas will be voting on a city charter amendment on 5/9/2014 to decide if any future streetcar or lightrail projects constructed with tax dollars must be approved by voters.

Sample Ballot: SanAntonio5_9_15citysample

Ballot Title:

CHARTER AMENDMENT NO. 1
SHALL THE CITY CHARTER BE AMENDED TO PROVIDE THAT NO GRANT OF PERMISSION TO ALTER OR DAMAGE ANY PUBLIC WAY OF THE CITY FOR THE LAYING OF STREETCAR OR LIGHT RAIL TRACKS SHALL EVER BE VALID,AND NO FUNDS SHALL BE APPROPRIATED AND NO BONDS OR NOTES SHALL BE ISSUED OR SOLD FOR THE PURPOSE OF STREETCAR OR LIGHT RAIL SYSTEMS, UNLESS FIRST APPROVED BY A MAJORITY OF THE QUALIFIED ELECTORS OF THE CITY VOTING AT AN ELECTION CONTAINING A PROPOSITION SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIED FOR AND LIMITED TO SUCH PURPOSE?

From www.mysanantonio.com:

In the upcoming San Antonio city elections, voters should give themselves the right to vote on any future light rail project by voting “yes” on the city charter amendment.

When Mayor Ivy Taylor pulled the city’s funding for the streetcar last summer, County Judge Nelson Wolff said at the time, “VIA has done a horrible job of articulating why they’re doing streetcar. It’s been a tremendous failure on their part to explain it.” But without a vote before rail is built, there is little incentive for any public agency to provide adequate public information.

Indeed, VIA has gone to great lengths to avoid a public vote on rail. VIA obviously had the streetcar in mind when in 2011 its cadre of paid lobbyists asked the Texas Legislature to pass a bill allowing VIA to issue bonds without going to the voters, as the law would otherwise have required. The charter amendment will simply reverse this ill-advised legislation.

City Published Voter Guide:

SanantonioVoterGuide_5_9_15

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, crony capitalism, Initiative, Our million dollar vote, Petition Drive, transparency, Uncategorized

Ethics Amendment, Tallahassee, Florida

An interesting ethics amendment passed in Tallahasse, Florida 11/04/2014

CFR_Tallahassee_FL_14

Text of the amendment:

AMENDMENT TO CHARTER OF CITY OF TALLAHASSEE
Section 1. Charter Amendment.
The “Existing Municipality” provisions of Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Charter of the City of Tallahassee, having been previously deleted as being obsolete, are hereby reestablished as an Ethics, Anti-corruption, Campaign Financing subpart with new sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 to read as follows:
ETHICS, ANTI-CORRUPTION, CAMPAIGN FINANCING
Section  1.  Statement  of  Ethics  and  Anti-corruption Policy.  The  proper  operation  of  responsible  government  requires  that  public  officials  and  employees  be  independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; that government decisions and policy be made in the best interests of the community and the government; that public office not be used for personal gain; that officials and employees not be unduly or inappropriately influenced by those they regulate or by those who seek special benefits from the City; and that the public have confidence in the integrity and transparency of its government.

Section 2. Ethics Code and Ethics Board to be established.

a. Ethics Code. The City Commission shall, within six (6) months of the enactment of this charter provision, enact an ethics, or conflicts of interest, code with jurisdiction over the officers and employees of the City of Tallahassee, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, and over the members, officers and employees of any boards, commissions, or committees thereof. The ethics code may, as allowed by law, supplement state ethics laws.

b. Ethics Board. There is hereby created an independent, appointed, ongoing citizens Ethics Board of seven members, whose membership shall consist of registered City of Tallahassee electors who have appropriate subject matter expertise none of whom may be an officer or employee of local government. Each of the following persons or entities shall make an appointment of one of five Board members to wit: the City Commission, the Chief Judge for the Second Judicial Circuit, the State Attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit, the President of Florida State University and the President of  Florida A&M University. Two Board members shall be appointed by the Ethics Board. Initial appointments shall be  made  within 90 days  of the approval of this Charter provision and all subsequent appointments shall be  made  within 60 days of a vacancy occurring. The City Commission shall provide by ordinance for the length and staggering of the terms of Ethics Board members.

The Ethics Board shall: (i) assist the City Commission in the development of the ethics code; (ii) adopt bylaws and due process procedures for the administration of the Ethics Board; (iii) manage a citywide ethics hotline for receipt of allegations of local corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, campaign finance  and ethics violations; (iv) manage and coordinate the mandatory training of local officials, officers, employees, and board members in state and local ethics; (v) have the authority to refer ethics and corruption matters to appropriate enforcement agencies; (vi) recommend proposed ordinances, resolutions, or charter amendments to the City Commission in all areas of ethics and corruption, including but  not  limited  to:  conflicts  of  interests,  financial  disclosure,  voting  conflicts,  hotline  policies, ethics  education,  ethics  in  procurement,  campaign  ethics  and  financing,  and lobbying; such legislative proposals shall be filed with and considered by the City Commission; (vii) have the authority to investigate complaints and to levy those civil penalties as may be authorized by the City Commission for violations of the City’s ethics code; and  (viii) employ staff serving in the ethics office. A structure shall be established for the Ethics Board that ensures independence and impartiality, and provides for the maximum practicable input from citizens and community organizations.  The Ethics Board shall be funded by the City Commission within its discretionary budgetary authority at a level sufficient to discharge the Board’s responsibilities.

Section 3. Ethics Office Established.
The  ethics  code  established  pursuant  to  Section  2  shall  provide  for  the  establishment  of  a  citywide  Ethics  Office  under  the  exclusive  jurisdiction  of,  and  reporting  to  the independent Ethics Board, to discharge the duties and responsibilities of the Ethics Board as provided herein. The ethics office shall include an Ethics Officer/Director who may be a full time or part time city employee or independent contractor. The Ethics Office shall be funded by the City Commission within its discretionary budgetary authority at a level sufficient to discharge the Office’s responsibilities.

Section 4. Contribution Limitations; Citizen Campaign Financing, Refund of contributions to candidates.
a. No candidate for the Tallahassee City Commission shall accept any election campaign contribution from any contributor, including a political committee as defined by state law, in cash or in kind, in an amount in excess of $250 per election.
b. A registered elector of the City of Tallahassee may claim a refund equal to the amount of the elector’s monetary contributions made in the calendar year to candidates for Mayor and City Commission of the City of Tallahassee. The maximum refund for an individual is $25. A refund is allowed only if the elector files a form, signed under penalty of perjury, with the Ethics Board  and attaches to the form a copy of an official refund receipt form(s) issued by the candidate’s principal campaign committee after each contribution was received.  A claim form must be filed within time limits and procedures set by the Ethics Board.  No individual may file more than one claim per election cycle.  No receipt can be issued by a Candidate who has not met all legal requirements of the Tallahassee City Code of General Ordinances. The Ethics Board shall file a summary report to the Mayor and City Commission showing the total number and aggregate amount of political contribution refunds made on behalf of each candidate.
c. The City Commission shall establish procedures consistent with this section for the implementation of the refund policy. The amount the Ethics Board states is necessary to pay refunds as provided for in this section shall be appropriated in amounts from the general fund or any other fund as determined by the City Commission within their sole budgetary discretion and powers.
d. The filing  of  a  contribution  refund  form  containing  materially  false  information  or  the  willful  issuance  of  an  official  refund  receipt  form  or  a  facsimile  of  one  by  a candidate  or  agent  of  a  candidate  to  a  person  who  did  not  make  a  contribution  to  such  candidate  is  an ethics  offense  with  penalties  to  be  established  by the  City Commission.  The Ethics Board may hear complaints or initiate proceedings, and levy civil penalties, relating to alleged violations of this section.
Section 2.  Severability.  If any section, subsection or provision of this charter amendment is determined by a court to be invalid, the remainder of this charter amendment shall not be affected by such invalidity.
Pd. Pol. Adv. Paid for by Citizens for Ethics Reform, 1400 Village Square Blvd. #3-153, Tallahassee, FL 32312

From the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper:

Voters overwhelmingly approved sweeping new ethics and campaign-finance measures for the city of Tallahassee — an outcome that was no surprise to many political observers.

Yes votes for the city charter amendment were leading late Tuesday night. With 76 of 76 precincts reporting, unofficial results were:

Yes: 38,968 votes, 67 percent yes

No: 19,431 votes, 33 percent no

Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida and a driving force behind the charter amendment, applauded its passage.

Citizens for Ethics Reform A Florida group supporting the measure.

There is a national group pushing more of these initiatives. Represent.us

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Council Does What Citizens Ask

It’s not often we hear about a city council approving a petition without sending it to the voters, but that is the case in Port Arthur, Texas this week.

Typically it goes like this;

Activists decide they’d like to see some new legislation enacted. They approach their elected officials and ask (lobby) for approval of the new legislation. If for any number of reasons officials don’t enact the new legislation, they become frustrated at government and pursue a petition drive. If they have the support they need, they eventually turn in the required petition signatures. The legislative body then calls an election and gives voters the opportunity to approve or reject the legislation. In some situations (enacting local ordinances or state statues)  the legislative body can approve the legislation without sending it to voters. However, this rarely occurs. More often petitions are challenged and officials attempt to undermine the process to avoid letting voters decide.

This week in Port Arthur, Texas, officials took the high road, and voted to have complete a forensic audit without sending the issue to voters first. Petitions had been collected to have a forensic audit of the city. The council had previously opposed a forensic audit (even though an employee had been indicted and now convicted of theft) expressing concerns over costs (the cost of a municipal election is $75,000 to $85,000.)  I’m sure many considerations went into the change of heart. Like the recent firing of a court clerk was for theft and tampering.

The Port Arthur city government was held accountable by citizens who knew how to use the initiative process.

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Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, forensic audit, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, transparency

Many Good Ideas

Former libertarian party candidate for governor of Virgina Robert Sarvis suggested a list of citizen friendly solutions to our two party system’s lock on political power.

Instant runoff voting

Easier ballot access and equal treatment in ballot order

Non-partisan redistricting reform

Term limits

Larger representative bodies

Inclusive debates

 

 

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Filed under politicians, Term limits, transparency

Farming The Poor Via Municipal Court

In metro St. Louis many municipalities seem to be farming the public. They issue questionable citations, with large fines and stack on fees. This video gives a great explanation.

What needs to be done to change the practice of farming the public (especially the poor) for fines? What type of initiative would you propose?

 

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Filed under asset forfeiture, Ballot measures, Ballot Question, Initiative, politicians, transparency

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Innocent until proven guilty? Maybe.

However, your property is not innocent until proven guilty.

From Michigan:

Current state law allows the Michigan State Police and other law enforcement agencies to raid a home, confiscate property, sell it, and deposit the money in the department coffers all without a conviction but merely on suspicion that drug violations occurred.

Unfortunately this is not a Michigan issue. It’s become more and more common as a result of the federal government’s war on drugs. There is good news, several states have introduced legislation to restrict government’s ability to grab property without a conviction.

Representative Jeff Irwin in Michigan introduced a bill to prohibit forfeiture of property by law enforcement unless a person is convicted of a crime. HB4361

Also New Mexico HB0560

New Mexico police must now convict you of a crime and prove your property was used in the crime before you forfeit it to the authorities. Also, the money gained from the property will now go to the state’s general fund instead of police budgets, so that police do not have incentives to take from citizens.

Additional bills have been introduced in: Texas, Oklahoma, Maryland, Indiana (transparency only but a step in the right direction), and Florida.

It’s not all good news, bills to reform asset forfeiture have been shut down in: Virgina, Wyoming, and Colorado.

A bill to expand the government’s power to seize your property has been introduced in California.

Several groups are working to stop government from using asset forfeiture to encroach on property rights. For more info I recommend Americans For Forfeiture Reform.

 

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