Smokescreen and the bandit
The increasingly (in)famous Sculley streamlining profit-making machine that’s rolled through our municipal golf courses and Park Police has yet to hit the City’s Code Compliance division, which can’t even remember to fine the citizens whose political placards it seizes and destroys without notice. Beacon Hill resident and Obama supporter Shelley Blagg returned home from work last Tuesday to find her Republican neighbor equally incensed that a Code Compliance officer had summarily nabbed her — and several other neighbors’ — Obama signs. (Sigh. Now that’s a Republican even the Queque can love.) A game of phone tag with the City and the office of District 1 Councilwoman Mary Alice Cisneros yielded a return call Friday from Code Compliance, which, Blagg says, basically defended its position, in part by arguing that political signs are free. Couldn’t she just go get another one? (That depends. Read on.) Blagg is upset and finds the timing suspicious: so close to the election, and her sign’s been up since May.
Meanwhile, back at the Development and Housing/Neighborhood Services departments, retrenchment was under way. On Monday, Chief Sign Inspector David Simpson called to finger a “newer Code-Compliance officer,” and to read from an email exchange between him and Code Compliance Assistant Director Liz Garcia clarifying a policy change in the wake of the flap. Officers will not proactively address political signs, he said she said. If the department receives a complaint, it will give the property owner formal notice — via a door hanger if no one’s home. Queque thought Simpson agreed to fax over the new policy, but another thing entirely arrived via the mojo wire, titled “Citizens reminded to display political signs in designated areas,” and dated October 16, 2008.
“Political signs that are placed in the City’s public right-of-way often qualify as Bandit Signs, which may be removed,” it reminds rogue politicos. (If you can disarm the masked varmints.) “Often” seems mushy to us, but Simpson skirted clarification. “Education is key,” agreed our Confucian inspector, “but it could be easy to confuse” people, too. Best bet: Keep those signs 2 feet inside your property line, and refresh at 90-day intervals.
Garcia called just past deadline to say the leniency lasts only till election day.
Demonstrating a remarkable inability to avoid potential plaintiffs, the City — which currently has a petition before Judge Xavier Rodriguez to lift the injunction on its unconstitutional parade ordinance — picked on the wrong sign-planter. In her quest to get to the bottom of Signgate, Blagg came into contact with civil/criminal attorney David Attwood, who finds the entire City sign ordinance troubling. Bottom line, after much cross-referencing? Attwood doesn’t think the City had the right to take Blagg’s sign without notice, destroy it immediately, and not compensate her. “What I was hoping to see was the City Council get involved,” said Attwood. (Shoot. Queque would settle for a plain-old reply from the twice-called Cisneros camp.) “They’re the ones to rein it in and ask what’s going on.” And if they don’t? “It’s something worth challenging.” (That’s lawyer speak for “Get your suit on.”)
Those Obama signs, by the way, aren’t free, and Eastside activist T.C. Calvert isn’t happy about it. He and fellow voting-rights agitator Barbara Renaud Gonzalez spent a recent afternoon visiting Obama field offices, discovering for themselves info volunteered by Blagg: They cost $5-7, depending where you shop, and the locations the pair visited weren’t keen on handing them over gratis, no matter the community-organizing pedigree of the supplicants.
“Poor people can’t afford that,” said Calvert. “It’s asinine; it’s stupid; it’s a terrible, terrible mistake.” He wants to see Obama signs blanketing the city, and ringing the early-voting locations.
Gonzalez says she was told at one office that “It’s not like Obama’s going to get Texas’s electoral votes” — a sentiment she rails against passionately, promising 80 percent of the Latino vote if only the campaign would connect with the community. “I think it really goes against what Obama is trying to do,” she said. “To dismiss people because they don’t have $5, $7, is a huge mistake.”
Down at AlamObama headquarters, Judy Hall notes that $5 covers the cost of procuring the signs, and the $2 surcharge is added by PACs to raise money. She adds that if the Obama campaign makes free signs available in the final days before the election, they’ll do their best to get them distributed. “I hate to turn people away,” said Hall. “People don’t vote in response to `signs`, but they make people feel good.”
According to Garcia in Code Compliance, the Council — intentionally or not — lumped political signs under the “trash sign” category, and any citizen can open a can of vigilante whoop ass on sign trash (although when Queque questioned her with legal terminology fresh off Attwood’s silver tongue — the public right-of-way merely creates a rebuttable presumption, as in the landowner should get an opportunity to object, because the yard still technically belongs to the property owner/sign flaunter, after all — she quickly demurred that she isn’t a lawyer).
But the Queque hardly thinks that sort of behavior needs encouraging because street intelligence suggest the problem is less bandit signs than sign bandits, who’ve been snagging Obama placards from yards in Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills (aka folks who can afford $7 signs) and dumping them in a mass political graveyard. A good citizen retrieved them (59 and counting) and turned them over to the Olmos Park police, which in turn restored the signs to the campaign. Missing yours? Come and get it, says Executive Director Thomas Rockeymoore. 108 King William. Or donate it to T.C. and Barbara, who will spread the love around.
Hangin’ on the line
Former City Telecom Manager John Foddrill showed up at court Monday with his attorney and former City Auditor Pete Gonzales — he of the playground scandal that toppled former Parks & Rec Director Malcolm Matthews, but not before the City canned Gonzales. Foddrill and Gonzales were ready to testify in Foddrill’s suit against that very same City, which Foddrill alleges fired him after he worked to expose ongoing fraud in the COSA Communications Department. `See “Off the hook,” August 8-14, 2008.` The court, however, is short judges, maybe all the way till winter ’09. As a good attorney friend likes to remind the Queque, justice delayed is usually justice denied.
The Council unveiled its 2009 State Legislative Plan last week, and while the document cites the need for local officials to press the lege on military-installation protection, a sports-event trust fund, transportation, economic development, and a bunch of other stuff, all anyone wanted to talk about on the dais was the great municipal menace which threatens our personal safety, ravages our education system, impedes our ability to get quality health care, and slowly destroys our environment. That’s right: We’re talking about graffiti art.
“It sounds like it’s Graffiti Wipeout day,” John Clamp jokingly announced at the Council’s October 16 meeting, and he wasn’t far off. Delicia Herrera noted that graffiti is the “most contentious issue of our town-hall meetings,” and discussed the possibility of police officers identifying and pursuing perpetrators by their tag names, given the difficulty of catching graffiti artists while they’re in the act.
Lourdes Galvan and Philip Cortez repeatedly spoke of the need to “put some teeth” in graffiti-clampdown efforts with new legislation at the state level. While City officials don’t know what they want that legislation to look like, they bandied about these punitive measures for graffiti artists: short jail sentences, suspension of driver’s licenses, maintaining a list of offenders and an offenders reward program, and identifying (and possibly punishing) those who sell spray paints used for graffiti. Queque plans to stock up on High-Gloss Black and All That Glitters Is Gold before we have to sign a spray-paint purchase log at Home Depot. •