Democrats, reign in city bureaucrats

July 9, 2008

The following opinion piece from today's Georgetown Times takes on the Democrat Party controlled Georgetown City Council and Mayor for their role in allowing small business owner Jeanette Ard to be fined nearly $400,000 to date for not installing a public restroom in an addition to her Front Street business, even though the city approved her building permit without the restroom, and regulations do not require one.

Democrats, reign in city bureaucrats

By Tom Swatzel

You're a small business owner in a small city and you decide to invest significant money in an addition to your building that will hopefully increase your business and add some additional employees.

You submit your plans to the city building department, they are approved, and you hire a licensed contractor to build the addition. The city inspects the construction as work progresses and all work is found to be within the specifications of the submitted plans.

Your contractor finally completes all of the work specified within the city-issued building permit and it's now time to get a Certificate of Occupancy from the city so you can actually start using the addition for business.

But there is a problem. City inspectors appear and tell you out of the blue that before you can actually use the addition, a public restroom must be installed at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, even though your city-approved plans don't contain a restroom, no prior inspections had ever mentioned the need for one, and there is no regulation requiring a restroom.

And, by the way, until you install a restroom the city is going to fine you almost $1,100 a day.

How would you feel?

You would feel the outrage and extreme sense of injustice that Colonial Floral Fascinations owner Jeanette Ard has been feeling for the last year, since City of Georgetown building department officials arbitrarily and capriciously decided she had to install a public restroom in an ice cream shop she had added to the rear of her building on Front Street, and fined her nearly $400,000 to date.

And, to add insult to injury, Ard has been forced to hire expensive attorneys to file a lawsuit against the city for gross negligence to protect her interests.

What's really at issue here is not Ard's compliance with all applicable laws; she's clearly done that. It's unelected city building officials attempting to make law and a Democrat Party-controlled city council and mayor that, as far as taking responsibility for the city's actions in this ridiculous and outrageous case, apparently exist in name only.

The city council and mayor have refused to exhibit any decency or fairness in helping Ard by simply reining in the city bureaucrats and telling them to issue her a Certificate of Occupancy and to drop the outrageous fines.

The actions of the city have harmed Ard, but they also send a very strong antibusiness message to businesses that may locate or want to expand in Georgetown. This will harm the city's ability to attract businesses and jobs.

Because five of the six city council members and the mayor are members of the county Democrat Party, I asked my counterpart, Democrat Party Chairman Jamie Sanderson, to use his influence with council and the mayor to resolve this issue in favor of Ard, under the assumption that the county Democrat Party would stand with the Republican Party in bipartisan support of economic development and job creation, and fairness for Ard, herself a past Democratic city council candidate.

To my disappointment, Sanderson and his party refused to help Ard and job creation, stating that Ard's problem "is not a political issue, but rather a legal matter," and that she needed to let the courts decide the issue -- a response I'm sure lawyers will love.

If you're a property owner in the City of Georgetown, you should be very concerned about Ard's plight because until the city bureaucracy is reined in by a politically elected council and mayor, you'll be at risk, the next time you build a home, shop or office, to be subjected to a completely arbitrary city requirement and the threat of fines so outrageous that they make Georgetown city government look absolutely foolish.

At this point, I suggest the Democrat city council and mayor simply resign because it appears they have, for all practical purposes, delegated all of their policy making authority to the city's bureaucrats.

I don't even think city residents would know they are gone.

Mr. Swatzel is chairman of the Georgetown County Republican Party