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This American City Jails Citizens For Having Garden Weeds (Yes, Really)

This American City Jails Citizens For Having Garden Weeds (Yes, Really)Officials in one Missouri city can jail citizens simply because they have not paid fines for such trivial matters as having dead vegetables, hosting a barbecue and even walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk.

The actions by politicians in Pagedale, Missouri, have prompted a federal lawsuit that could shut down what appears to be an unconstitutional code enforcement for profit.

Pagedale treats its residents like walking, talking ATMs, making withdrawals by issuing tickets for ridiculous things that no city has a right to dictate,” said William Mauer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice.

Mauer is lead counsel in a federal civil lawsuit designed to stop the city from using fines on code violations such as having mismatched curtains.

“By targeting a set amount of revenue from fines and fees from its residents, Pagedale turns policing upside-down,” said Josh House, another attorney at the Institute.

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The most outrageous behavior from the government of Pagedale, a suburb of St. Louis near Ferguson, occurred in August. That is when 38 property owners, including Valarie Whitner, received letters from the city threatening to demolish homes unless they paid fines, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Whitner owed the city $800 for a variety of code violations at her home, including having chipped paint on a drain spout and weeds growing in her vegetable garden. The violations only involved the appearance of the home and yard and did not affect health or safety.

What is truly disturbing is the rationale Pagedale Mayor Mary Louis Carver gave for the fines at a city hearing.

“We want to bring our property values up and make our neighborhood look nice,” Carver said.

Of course, she also wants to raise revenue. Failing to pay the fines can land you in jail, as has happened to residents.

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The Institute’s lawsuit alleges that Pagedale officials effectively have turned code enforcement and the municipal courts into a money-raising money machine that violates the US Constitution.

“Rather than protecting and serving the public, Pagedale sets a revenue goal and then uses its code enforcement powers to achieve it,” House said.

Some of the Institute’s specific allegations against Pagedale include:

  • Revenue from non-traffic fines makes up 17.68 percent of the city’s budget.
  • Pagedale actually set a goal for fine revenues in its 2014-2015 city budget: $353,000.
  • In 2013, Pagedale’s municipal court heard 5,781 cases. The city’s population is just 3,304.

The Institute for Justice alleges that Pagedale’s fines violate two clauses in the Constitution, including the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

“A defendant does not receive the process due him when the court system is little more than a means of managing and feeding the city’s budget, not dispensing justice,” the Institute said.

The legal group also said  the fines violate the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment.

“Whether a fine is excessive depends on proportionality; that is, the amount of the penalty must bear some relationship to the gravity of the offense that it is designed to punish,” the Institute said. “Applying that standard here, any fine imposed by Pagedale for something like not having drapes on your windows would be excessive. This is because harmless activities are not offenses.”

Following is a partial list of what can elicit fines:

  • Having a satellite TV dish antenna in the front of the house.
  • Having hedges that are over three feet high.
  • Walking on the wrong side of the crosswalk.
  • Walking on the public streets.
  • Having weeds over seven inches high.
  • Having basketball hoops and wading pools in the front yard.
  • Having a barbecue in the front yard on days that are not national holidays.
  • Having more than two people gathered around a barbecue.
  • Having alcoholic beverages within 150 feet of a grill.
  • Not having a screen on an outside door.
  • Not hanging the curtains neatly on windows facing the street.

The Institute is hoping the suit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri could become a class action lawsuit — meaning a ruling in the matter would affect all people fined by the city.

Do you believe the city’s fines are reasonable or ridiculous? Share your views in the section below:

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5 comments

  1. Does anyone in this town VOTE???

  2. HOA’S are notorious for harassing residents. When I ever sell my house, I will never purchase in an HOA run area again, never. They have fined me for having trash cans on the side of the house, for setting a sofa in the driveway for someone on their way to pickup, and most recently, for my grand children’s sand box…a very small one …3×3. It’s harassment and totalitarian.

  3. Congratulations City of Pagedale! Keep voting Democrat so things like this will continue to get worse.

  4. whoa! lemme guess to try n raise land values..theyre driving people OUT
    and I suspect homes for sale there do NOT f ind new buyers quickly
    on my list of NO WAY! would I go there.

  5. The City of Pagedale Governor has destroyed peoples lives by making them live in fear and being a vicious unrelenting BULLY. There are quite obviously a large key number of city officials involved in such despicable & antisocial behavior. All fines NEED To BE AND MUST BE RESCINDED by a Higher Court and the City Officials be openly sued for severe abuse of its citizens for destroying peoples lives. The Major is a national disgrace and I am surprised that she has not yet being outed on National TV and she be publicly ridiculed. I am personally shocked that White house Officials have not become involved ( but then again they are soooo dishonest anyway in their own ways)The laws of this town are a blight on its citizens and a national disgrace. Jail the officials NOW and see how fast they apologise and cringe before the courts. What is REALLY WRONG is that similar stupid laws exist in many countries by mis-thinking and stupid governments.

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