SRB illo

Illustration by Alex Fine

The Sun did a great service today in highlighting Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's first veto of her Mayorality-ship, but it failed to explain just what the veto was about.

It's about the private use of public property, and fair compensation to be paid for that.

The bill, 14-0382, was meant to amend the city's "minor privilege" ordinances, and First District Councilman James Kraft did his usual yeoman's work in getting it drafted-up and passed through the council. He's justifiably pissed off.

But the Sun piece leaves the impression that the bill was about fees the city charges to business owners who improve their property. Quote after quote describes small business owners fixing things up, only to be charged $70 a year (or whatever) for their good deeds. An outrage! 

But bogus.

A look at the bill tells you the "minor privilege," by definition, applies only to those improvements made beyond the private property line, in the public right-of-way. From the bill:

"MINOR PRIVILEGE" MEANS A PRIVATE RIGHT IN OR RELATING TO THE USE OF ANYPUBLIC PROPERTlES

You propose the project, then ask the city for an ordinance granting permission. It's kind of a hassle. But then too: you are taking over public property for your own private use.

Now, the city charges store owners for installing handicap access ramps that the federal government mandates; an exception probably makes sense. Hell, a new system might make sense.

You could also argue that awnings are no impediment to sidewalk traffic and maybe exempt them. But examples like a life-sized Elvis statue erected on a public square? Nothing against Elvis, but that's the sort of thing minor privilege was meant to address.

And the mayor's veto may be stupid, or it may be good policy. She very probably does have her own reforms in mind, as described. These reforms may be an improvement on council bill 14-0382, or they might be an abortion of poorly-thought-out policies dictated by her shadowy corporate handlers. We'll see soon enough.

But it would not have taken the Sun's people much time to actually look at the law and the bill and tell its readers what a minor privilege actually is.