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Nanny State of the Week: City fines residents for chipped paint, mismatched curtains

By   /   December 21, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 65 of 98 in the series Nanny State of the Week

If we were inclined to give out such an award, Pagedale, Missouri, would be a leading contender for Nanny State of the Year.

In this suburb of St. Louis, residents have been ticketed and fined by the town’s police force for violations that don’t even begin to make rational sense.

Photo courtesy Institute for Justice

FINED: Valerie Whitner has been fined for having chipped paint on the outside of her home and for not having a screen door attached to her back door, among other things. She owes the city more than $2,400.

 

One resident, Valerie Whitner, has been fined for having chipped paint on the outside of her home and for not attaching a screen door to her back door. She’s been told by city officials she must replace her rain gutters, her siding and put up storm windows. They also told her to mend her fence, cut her lawn and seal up cracks in her home’s foundation.

Whitner’s plight — she owes the city more than $2,400 in violations — made it into the New York Times in November and now she’s one of a handful of city residents who are part of a lawsuit that challenges the nannies in Pagedale.

Every morning I wake up worried that I’ll get another ticket,” Whitner said in a statement provided by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm helping with the lawsuit.

Another plaintiff in the class action suit is Mildred Bryant, an 84-year-old grandmother who has received citations from the city for having mismatched curtains and failing to have blinds in every window. She’s been told to repaint her porch too, according to the lawsuit filed last month.

All towns have some silly rules on the books, but Pagedale sets the bar at a new level. It’s against the law for residents to have a basketball hoop, plastic pool or doghouse in their front yards. Satellite dishes are illegal. So are barbeque grills (though the town does graciously make an exception to that ban on “national holidays”).

Uncut grass, overgrown gardens and fallen tree limbs are likely to result in a ticket.

It’s even illegal for children to play in the street.

Photo courtesy Institute for Justice

TARGETED: Mildred Bryant, an 84-year old grandmother, has received citations from the city for having mismatched curtains and failing to have blinds in every window.

In other words, city officials in Pagedale see themselves as the nation’s most ridiculous homeowners’ association.

Except a homeowners’ association can’t punish you the same way Pagedale can. Get caught violating the rules three times and you could end up in jail for three months.

Vincent Blount, a retired Marine and another plaintiff in the lawsuit, was once thrown in jail because he did not have enough money to pay the fines Pagedale officials were levying against him. How, exactly, was he supposed to make that money while sitting in jail?

Even if you want to pay the city, it can be difficult. The Pagedale Municipal Court is in session just twice per month. The town does not let residents plead “not guilty” or otherwise contest violations unless they go to court — though you can plead guilty and pay the fine via mail.

Not surprisingly, Pagedale, which has about 3,300 residents, makes a lot of money off all those fines. In 2014, the city issued 2,255 non-traffic related tickets. Revenue from non-traffic tickets made up more than 17 percent of the city’s budget that year.

The Institute for Justice contends that Pagedale is running a “policing for profit” scheme and is asking the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to rule the practice unconstitutional.

“This case demonstrates that property rights are fundamentally civil rights,” said Institute for Justice senior attorney William Mauer, who is lead counsel in the lawsuit. “Pagedale treats its residents like walking, talking ATMs, making withdrawals by issuing tickets for ridiculous things that no city has a right to dictate.”

An attorney for the city says officials aren’t trying to make money off the housing code violations.

“It’s got nothing to do with driving up revenue, and it’s got everything to do with making the properties code compliant and safe,” attorney Sam Alton told the New York Times.

Believe him if you will, but Pagedale doesn’t seem to be a completely isolated case. A study conducted by Better Together St. Louis, a regional nonprofit working to improve civic governments, found that towns in St. Louis County (excluding the city of St. Louis itself) collected more than $45 million in fines from residents during 2013.

That’s more than one-third of all the fines collected by all municipalities in the entire state that year. Those municipalities account for about 10 percent of the state’s total population.

“This is life in Pagedale,” says Whitner.

Correction. This is life in our Nanny State of the Year.

Part of 98 in the series Nanny State of the Week
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  2. Nanny-state city of the week: Minneapolis wants to ban take-out trays
  3. Skim is in: CT lawmakers want to ban whole milk in day cares
  4. Nanny state of the week: Fairfax, VA, wants to limit the right to assemble
  5. Nanny state of the week: SC — and Schumer — for duplicative efforts to ban powdered alcohol
  6. Nanny of the Week: Virginia hoses down car wash fundraisers
  7. Nanny of the Week: Even a summertime trip to the beach can’t be nanny-free
  8. Nanny of the week: Federal authorities think feral cats can read signs
  9. Nanny of the week: Cambridge wants to ban ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft
  10. Nanny-stater of the week: NY lawmaker wants to ban photos with tigers
  11. Nanny-stater of the Week: Who needs cupcakes and candy? Here, have a pencil
  12. Nanny-stater of the week: Fargo limits kids to less than four shots of juice per day
  13. Nanny-stater of the week: Wisconsin towns fight repeal of bow ban
  14. Nanny of the week: No fun in the sun, thanks to Congress and FDA
  15. Nanny-stater of the week: DOT to ban cell phone use on planes
  16. Nanny of the week: The out-of-control trend of arresting non-helicopter moms
  17. Nanny of the Week: Vermont city could ban ‘human activity’
  18. Nanny of the Week: Mississippi makes bird feeders illegal – by accident
  19. Nanny of the week: MO town bans breastfeeding near pools
  20. Nanny of the Week: School bans lip balm, 11 year-old girl fights back
  21. Watchdog.org blows lid off Vermont’s bake sale brownie ban
  22. Nanny of the Week: Seattle imposes fine on residents who throw away food
  23. Nanny of the Week: California bans plastic bags
  24. Nanny of the week: Maybe this time it will be different for Chicago
  25. Nanny of the Week: Florida growls at craft breweries’ growlers
  26. Nanny of the Week: Massachusetts town seeking to ban tobacco faces uprising from residents
  27. Nanny of the Week: Proposed bans on Thanksgiving Day shopping
  28. Nanny of the week: U.S. government bans ‘Comfyballs’ underwear
  29. Nanny of the Week: Better take down those holiday decorations
  30. Nanny of the week: Towns ban sledding
  31. Nanny of the Week: New York City plans to ban out-of-state cars
  32. Nanny of the Week: Snow-shoveling teens get in trouble with the law
  33. Nanny of the Week: Get caught wearing yoga pants three times, go to jail for life
  34. Nanny of the Week: Georgia lawmaker wants to ban mermaids, werewolves, other fictional creatures from real life
  35. Nanny State of the Week: Endangering manatees in Florida
  36. Nanny of the Week: Christie caves to protectionist gravestone proposal in N.J.
  37. Nanny of the Week: Don’t mix beer and ice cream – because of the children
  38. Nanny of the Week: Is the minimum wage a nanny state policy?
  39. Nanny of the Week: Republican in NY backs cat declawing ban
  40. Nanny of the Week: NJ continues ban on self-serve gasoline, because sometimes it snows
  41. Nanny of the Week: Bernie Sanders is coming for your deodorant
  42. Nanny of the Week: Will babies confuse beer for their binkies?
  43. Nanny of the Week: Weeds will prevail in Maryland lawn care ban
  44. Nanny State of the Week: FDA bans trans-fats
  45. Nanny State of the Week: L.A. plans to jail unlicensed street vendors
  46. Nanny ST8 of the Week: Anti-government messages not allowed on license plates
  47. Nanny State of the Week: Helicopters, horses and New York City
  48. Nanny State of the Week: Lawsuit challenges Seattle trash snooping
  49. Nanny State of the Week: Town officials mandate mowing
  50. Nanny State of the Week: Florida county sends environmental specialist to investigate BBQ
  51. Nanny State: Despite menu nannies, Americans still fat!
  52. Nanny State of the Week: New York City’s ban on Styrofoam hurts businesses, consumers
  53. Nanny State of the Week: Colorado Springs may ban sitting in public places
  54. Nanny State of the Week: New York’s soda ban could be back — but for kids only
  55. Nanny State of the Week: D.C. flexing licensing muscles at personal trainers
  56. Nanny State of the Week: Hammock bans mean no hanging out on college campuses
  57. Nanny State of the Week: County can use same lawn treatments it banned residents from using
  58. Nanny State of the Week: Pols want to ban daily fantasy sports
  59. Nanny State of the Week: Bay Area bureaucrats ban fireplaces, wood stoves
  60. Nanny State of the Week: Halloween for the politically correct only
  61. Nanny State of the Week: Governments lag behind the public on orca captivity ban
  62. Nanny State of the Week: New York might accidentally ban makeup
  63. Nanny State of the Week: California could be first state to apply no-fly list to guns
  64. Nanny State of the Week: University may block social media app in futile effort to combat racism
  65. Nanny State of the Week: City fines residents for chipped paint, mismatched curtains
  66. Nanny State of the Week: No Christmas in Bethlehem this year
  67. Nanny State of the Week: Connecticut may outlaw smoking in many cars
  68. Nanny State of the Week: Town inspection checks whether you cleaned your toilet
  69. Nanny State of the Week: Minnesota men facing felony charges for selling beer
  70. Nanny State of the Week: City rewrites law to block theater from getting liquor license
  71. Nanny State of the Week: FDA goes beyond the pale, prepares to ban teen tanning
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  73. Nanny State of the Week: Feds marketing food stamps with bingo games, TV ads
  74. Nanny State of the Week: No sipping and selling for Alabama winemakers
  75. Nanny State of the Week: Jail time for texting while walking in New Jersey
  76. Nanny State of the Week: In time for Opening Day, cities ban chewing tobacco at ballparks
  77. Nanny State of the Week: Feds send LSD Ale on a long, strange trip
  78. Nanny State of the Week: Happy Tax Day! Now get ready to pay more to file
  79. Nanny State of the Week: A state license for breast-feeding advice?
  80. Nanny State of the Week: School officials bully kids with ban on skinny jeans
  81. Nanny State of the Week: FDA fries family’s potato chip business with new cooking oil mandates
  82. Nanny State of the Week: CFPB knows what is best for your personal finances
  83. Nanny State of the Week: City cracks down on crawfish boils after mayor’s aide complains
  84. Nanny State of the Week: Florida couple still fighting for their vegetable garden
  85. Nanny State of the Week: State lawmakers to decide where you can get an Uber in Boston
  86. Nanny State of the Week: Businesses can’t sell parking spaces to Braves fans
  87. Nanny State of the Week: OK, everybody’s foam toys, out of the pool
  88. Nanny State of the Week: Get out of the pool!
  89. Nanny State of the Week: Common sense goes to the dogs in Phoenix
  90. Nanny State Of The Week: It’s nanny-on-nanny in Portland pot dispute
  91. Nanny State of the Week: Your pool isn’t cool
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  93. Nanny State of the Week: Protecting pub crawlers from themselves
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Eric Boehm is the national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and Fox News. He was once featured in a BuzzFeed listicle. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87 and reach him at [email protected]