Too Much Is Never Enough

Crab Island, it seems, is now in the sights of the Destin City Council.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said that the island-that-is-not-an-island is “…dirty.  There’s feces in the water.  There’s lewdness.”  She’s on record for greater regulation of the water recreation spot, and the Destin City Council is thinking about making it part of the city to supposedly combat the bad behavior. Representative Matt Gaetz is also involved and will hold a “brainstorming session” town meeting on 16 January.  True to form with just about every aspect of life in the USA today, the shadow of government intervention is creeping its way across the Destin inlet.

That’s a pity.  It seems to me the desire to “regulate” Crab Island clearly threatens something that is unique to Destin.  Crab Island is a testament to what used to be the normal way of life in America.  Years (decades?) ago a bunch of boaters found a pleasant sand bar, and through word-of-mouth, white sand, emerald water, and a common desire for fun, this place became a popular summer rendezvous. No government was required.  On its own, it became famous, and it is actually listed as a vacation attraction in tourist guides even though it is nothing more than a spot in the water.  To top it off, all those people spend money. Crab Island helped make the Destin of today.

But to some, especially those in government, Crab Island has to be targeted because it is a raucous party haven.  The personal freedom it offers threatens the sense of security of many folks.  These people would rather that a government entity, by force, impose new controls on people in a place that lives in the spirit of volunteer, non-violent cooperation.   Dirty water and lewd behavior are valid concerns, but ultimately are red herrings.  The law already prosecutes violent behavior between people even if they are on the water.  If people are dumping sewage or behaving in a publicly lewd fashion, the law covers these crimes too.  To me, simple police law enforcement is a better option than the bigger government caused by annexing the area to the city.

It also seems to me this action stems more from a knee-jerk desire by some government officials for control than it does from a respect for people and their rights.  Sometimes that means leaving them alone even when they do non-violent things you do not approve of, which may include partying on the water.   One of the hardest things for government officials to do is just mind their business.  Government is here to protect your rights, not to assume more powers for itself.    Government mission creep is scary.

Still, like a vengeful parent, Ms. Ramswell is leading the charge to make that sand bar a part of Destin and bring its denizens to heel.  I speculate, if the idea passes, that before you know it, there will be additional special city permits for businesses to service the Crab Islanders (all at a city fee of course), special requirements over and above normal boating regulations to those who visit the Island (no on-board toilet, no anchoring, for example), calls for new taxation to cover the costs of services, and Crab Island will be made, in general, more the way Ms. Ramswell thinks outdoor events should be like.  How special.   This will be at the expense of the vast majority who do not soil the water or exceed the limits of propriety, but still like to live the way they want to.  You can also bet that Crab Island will be less popular with the public.  This will have predictably bad follow on effects for the Destin business community as a whole.

Milton Friedman once said “If you put government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand.”

Anyone care to guess what Destin is going to get when the City Council is in charge of Crab Island?

Pete Blome is a retired military officer and Chairman of the Northwest Florida Libertarian Party

So Which Way Is It Sheriff?

It’s becoming clear that Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley is becoming a master of doublespeak.

After I attended the county commission meeting on July 19, there are more questions than answers about why the Sheriff’s Office costs so much.

When questioned by the commission he seemed very defensive and deflecting rather than answering clearly and directly.

In one breath he runs the most transparent office in the state, in the next, however, he can’t understand what an itemized list of expenditures is and why anyone could possibly want such a thing. He even questions whether it’s required of him by statute to provide an itemized list (of course it does).

Even if his expenditures were not required, after all that has happened with disgraced former Sheriff Charlie Morris, you’d think Ashley would provide them anyway.

Let’s clear the air real quick and define expenditure. It is payment of cash or cash-equivalent for goods or services, or a charge against available funds in settlement of an obligation as evidenced by an invoice, receipt, voucher, or other such document. It is commonly referred to as an actual.

This is pretty plain stuff, but he still didn’t understand the request from the commissioners. The sheriff’s repeated remark was basically “what are you looking for? Maybe we can help you find it.” The answer is simple; an itemized list of expenditures.

He also said he would provide “any” information that was requested from him.

Then why hasn’t the OCSO provided the LPOC (Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County) with requested information for the development of a Destin Police Department?

For weeks information has not been forthcoming about calls for service, about how many private contracts does the OCSO and/or any of its deputies have inside Destin city limits, and the revenue generated thereby and its distribution.

I haven’t even received an acknowledgement that they are even considering the request. Now that I think about it, I would like to know what these numbers are countywide. And I’ll bet I’m not the only one.

In one breath Sheriff Ashley says his per-capita costs to the citizens of the county are one of the lowest in the state, but in the next breath it’s a real burden and he needs more patrols and the equipment and manpower to go with it.

In one breath, his department is doing great and is on the right track, and yet violent crime has risen more than 20 percent in the county. It has fallen in the rest of the state for the last four years running.

This is the question sheriff, which way is it? Is this a safe and wonderful beach community that is a dream come true to live in? Or, a dangerous and violent place where crime is on the rise and you are powerless to do anything about it without more money and double the manpower?

There is a lot more to this budget review, and thankfully everyone can check it out for themselves at http://okaloosacountyfl.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.

Will the Sheriff’s department provide an itemized list of expenditures? Will it also reveal the private contract information, at least for the east district?

I would also encourage everyone to go to: http://www.libertarianpoc.org/, and checkout the proposal made to the city of Destin for a Destin PD.

 

Sky Monteith is a resident of the City of Destin and Secretary of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County.

Destin Shows America’s Problem

On June 20th I went to the Destin City Council Meeting to help my friend and colleague, Sky Monteith, to create a less expensive police contract than that offered by Sheriff Larry Ashley of Okaloosa County.

What I came away with was a picture, in miniature, of why our country is in as bad a situation as it is.

The matter had nothing to do with the police. The issue was trash. That evening there was to be a vote by the Destin City Council to give Waste Management (WM) Corporation an exclusive five year contract. The City of Destin would act as bill collector and put trash payments on the tax bill. It exchange for this “improvement,” the move was expected to save money for citizens.

But the room full of Destin residents realized that not only was the ability to choose trash services being lost, but a person could now lose their home in a tax certificate sale for trash payments in arrears.

Citizen after citizen stood up and objected to this collusion between government and a private corporation. One businessman pointed out how he must now pay advance trash fees for the whole year. Others talked about how there weren’t enough exemptions for undeveloped properties. Some thought that condo owners would not as liable for trash fees as home owners because their associations took care of the trash bill. One asked if the City would be the point of contact to solve trash problems now (it will be).

There were advocates. Councilmember Larry Hines said thousands are not paying their garbage bills now, or are freeloading off of others. It was the “efficient” thing to do. The audience asked, quite rightfully, why should the City Council collect fees for a private corporation?

“What is clear is we’ve done a bad job communicating about this issue,” Councilmember Jim Bagby said, but he threw his support for the contract anyway. It would save money, and besides, the matter had been under consideration for more than a year.

Council members Larry Williges and Dewey Destin objected. To their credit, both thought it wasn’t the role of government to determine peoples trash handlers for them. Councilmember Destin suggested that there would be no way to renegotiate service terms once the contract was signed. Councilman Williges showed that the proposed government intervention would only save about a dollar and change per household per month.

As the swapping of views and explanations between Council Members continued, it was far from clear that the Council itself agreed on what the details of the proposed ordinance were.

Just as in our USA at large, when the time came to vote, the voices for small government did not win.

Instead of free market competition, trash collection in Destin is now mandated and centrally controlled by the government.

If service is poor, you will have to call a government bureaucrat instead of the trash man.

Waste Management gained a virtual monopoly with the help of government.

Concerned citizens advocating the free market were voted down by government.

The government created a system of special privileges based on whether a person is a homeowner, a condo owner, a senior citizen, or an owner of undeveloped property.

The government became the bill collector for a private corporation.

At a stroke government made citizens liable for unpaid taxes instead of unpaid trash bills.

A year’s worth of bureaucratic inertia worked against reconsidering the measure.

And, in the end, the Council was not even in complete agreement among themselves as to the ordinances’ details.

It is for reasons like these that I think it is not the purpose of government to own businesses, or to grant favors, but to protect individual rights.

I am also sure in the next five years Waste Management will seek a rate increase and get it.

The savings will be ephemeral, the loss of choice and economic opportunity will be real, and this government intervention will only lead to more intervention. Just watch.

It is the dysfunctional America we live in today.

Proceed with caution: Destin to weigh costs, benefits of traffic light cameras

DESTIN — After pushing hard a month ago for the city to consider installing cameras at traffic signals, Councilman Larry Hines may be rethinking his request after last week’s City Council meeting.

“In my heart I think that I favor this, but I think we need more information,” Hines said.

The council voted 6-1 to collect data from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on the number of accidents and traffic violations in Destin before deciding on the cameras.

The city’s staff recently met with representatives from American Traffic Solutions and B&W Sensors, both vendors of traffic infraction detection systems, to gather information and present the council with the pros and cons of the systems.

Public Services Director Steven Schmidt told council members that installation costs for a system that would comply with Florida Department of Transportation requirements would range from $75,000 to $110,000 per directional installation. The city also would have to enter into a five-year lease agreement with the vendor at a cost of $4,500 to $4,700 a month.

So, for every east-west traffic signal the city wanted to place a camera, the minimum cost would be $9,000 a month, in addition to the installation costs for each direction.

Councilman Larry Williges said it would take quite a few infractions to break even.

“The city would have to have 60-plus violators just to make back the $4,500 … for the $4,700 you need 62-plus violators to break even,” he said. “This could cost us quite a bit of money for the five-year period, close to $281,000 for the lease agreement.”

Of the $158 fine collected, the city would receive $75, with the remaining funds sent to the state Department of Revenue. The city also would be responsible for hiring or training someone to administer the program, verify the infractions and issue notices of violation to motorists.

“You don’t have to do it with the sheriff’s department or the county,” Schmidt said.

City Manager Greg Kisela said there are two main issues: red light detection and speed detection provisions in state law.

“The courts are continuing to refine these enforcement issues,” he said of the legal battle over the validity and enforcement of traffic cameras. “The courts have just not supported a haphazard application of the law.”

Councilman Jim Bagby, who cast the lone “no” vote, said the cameras could cause more problems than they solve.

“I wouldn’t say that we are ready for this,” he said. “The cost is prohibitive and I don’t think we need them.”

Pete Blome, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County, said his branch of nearly 290 members is aligned with the Libertarian Party of Florida in its opposition to traffic signal cameras.

He said later that the Libertarians would protest their installation. “Absolutely. As best we can.”

“The whole purpose of a red light camera system is not safety,” Blome said. “That could be just as well served by making yellow lights longer. The purpose of a red light system is to make money for the people who have those systems and to try and get fines into a county or a town that is trying to increase its revenue because they are too unwilling to make the hard decisions about cutting their budgets. They want to squeeze the little guy to get the funds.”Kisela said that generating revenue is not necessarily the plan.

“The providers of this equipment predicted it would generate revenue, but we are a little reluctant to commit to that,” he said.

City officials will wait for the traffic data from the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’d rather see the results from the statistics,” Councilman Tom Weidenhamer said. “I want to see whether or not we have a problem.”