Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ignorance and local politicians

Ok, so lately I've been in a bit of a mood...

It's a mood that can best be described as the "I'm tired of the ignorance of others shoved down my throat, and effecting every aspect of my life, bombarding me with completely idiotic and assinine restrictions and regulations, because someone else is brain-dead to any human level of common sense" mood.

It's a great mood, you should try it sometime.

And it was while in this lovely, patient and understanding mood that I recently received a letter from my local Board of Township Trustees telling us all that the basketball goals in our driveways and at our curbs were now "illegal" and needed to go - or they'd remove them for us.

To that end, and attached for your reading pleasure, is my diatribe fired off to my local public servants - idiots all...

Re: Letter from Township Roads Foreman, dated March 8, 2006

I write to you today as a citizen, a taxpayer, and a resident of the Township angry over the completely insensible mandate of removal of basketball goals from the imaginary easement (i.e. right-of-way) running eleven feet inward from the curb along our residential street.

I know you have sent out many of these letters to other residents, and I know my arguments speak for many of them in my own neighborhood, but this letter specifically deals with the basketball goal on my street. The goal, which is a shared community item and has stood in its current location without complaint for five years, was the subject of one of your letters dated March 8, 2006.

Reviewing your letter

I find both the subject and the tone of the letter problematic - especially considering the duration this goal has stood in its current location without so much as a hint of problem.

Beginning your letter with a statement that the Township is pro-recreation does have its humorous element considering the nature of the letter's content, but in a much more serious way it is a short-sighted statement at best. At its worst it is a mandate that directly impacts the safety of our children in an irresponsibly negative way.

First I'd like to discuss a few of your background points. Your letter refers to a 1992 Ohio Supreme Court ruling as justification for this action, and yet the specific case is not cited, nor are any corroborating details of the case provided. Next, the letter jumps right into supposed facts regarding the Ohio Revised Code, making it appear as if the Township's hands are tied by the ORC.

Your letter incorrectly states:
"...the second of which specifically classifies athletic or recreational apparatus as an obstruction".
In fact ORC Section 5571.14(B)(3) itself does no such thing. It states:
"Objects that may be declared to be a public nuisance under this section include a fence, post, pole, athletic or recreational apparatus, rock, or berm, any vegetation, or any other object identified by the board or superintendent as interfering with or obstructing the township road under division (A) of this section."
So while any of those objects "may be declared" to be a public nuisance, they are not defined as such by default. The ORC clearly states, by its choice of the word "may", the item in question must also be identified as "interfering with or obstructing the township road..." which none of the items in question do (more on that in a moment). Just because something "can" be classified as an obstruction at times, under certain circumstances, does not mean it is an obstruction simply by existing in any situation.

A basketball goal that is truly blocking a thru-way is significantly different than a basketball goal at the end of a driveway or at the curb in the widened section of a cul-de-sac. We've had police cars, ambulances and even the Township Fire Department's Hook & Ladder on the street - with the basketball goal there - without impediment.

Your assertion to the public that you are requiring this action in order to comply with Ohio law is simply misrepresentative of the facts.

Obstructions and right of ways

Your letter goes on to state that political subdivisions are "liable for injury or property loss caused by failure to keep public roads open, in repair, and free from nuisance."

But let's be clear here. There is no road maintenance, no road traffic, impeded here, and there are no trees or overhead power lines to be maintained. This is a cul-de-sac with no thru-way. The community basketball goal is in a position located where the circle flare begins and the street is wider than a typical residential road. The road is very much open and in repair - the only other thing ever to have been in the vicinity of the basketball goal was a parked car.

And speaking of parked cars... on any given day, and at any given time, our streets - like the streets of any neighborhood - contain a number of parked vehicles along the curbs. Parked cars, that are perfectly legal and not considered an obstruction to the right of way, that extend more than five feet into the roadway – and yet a basketball hoop at the end of a driveway which either does not extend at all into the roadway, or at most a few feet, is considered to be an obstruction to the thru-way.

It's interesting to note that you consider parked vehicles which constrict traffic flow, are more easily backed into by service vehicles, and are not easily movable in an emergency situation, to be less of an obstruction and nuisance than a portable basketball goal. In reality this point is simply ridiculous and cannot be justified.

On safety

And as for safety… This mandate misses the mark on many levels. Yes, let's have our 10-13 year olds trying to move a weighted basketball goal into position to use it, instead of leaving it safely and sturdily in its usable location - which again is in a location that is an impediment to nothing (and can be moved by adults when and if needed).

But that's only a side safety issue. The real issue is the Township's presumption that children are not safe playing in the street and that facilities exist that are safely accessible for our neighborhood children - which makes removal of private facilities acceptable. Both these points couldn't be further from the truth.

First, there is nowhere safer for our children than in their own yards and on their own streets – especially these that are not thru-ways – where they are within sight of home as they play together. Do you honestly believe there is danger playing basketball at the curb of a cul-de-sac. Secondly, in light of today's predatory reality, there are no Township facilities that exist in a supervised environment.

Which brings us to the major safety issue which has yet to be addressed by the Township. Any facilities that are within one mile walking or bike riding distance are along major roadways where there exist no sidewalks. Not only do our children have to travel long distances, away from the safety of their own neighborhood, but they are expected to travel along paths that are unsafe because the Township has not provided safe sidewalks to access these locations. For this reason alone, this action is extremely contentious.

On liability

Yes, I know the arguments. You claim "liability" as if this is some new concern that has just surfaced. But the reality is that anyone can sue anyone over anything at anytime. Why not just shut the Township down - I'm sure every aspect of the Township administration has some level of liability. Your job is to know when a potential liability is truly a realistic liability. I would like to know what studies and statistics you reviewed to determine this action was necessary within the Township. How many incidents have been reported nationally? How many in the Township in 2005?

As for property damage, again if parked vehicles, mailboxes and fire hydrants are not a problem, and can be maneuvered around, how is a basketball goal (especially one in a driveway) a significant issue that it is now required to be located past the eleven foot easement line?

Neighbors and community

Our street is a safe gathering place for neighboring children precisely because it is a cul-de-sac and there is no thru traffic. It's where kids come to play and be safe. And on many spring, summer and fall evenings it's where neighbors come to recreate. And in this setting, the basketball goal is no more obtrusive than the plethora of bikes, scooters and toys that litter the curb area of residential streets during daylight hours.

But now you're telling us that after living in our neighborhoods and participating in this age-old tradition with our neighbors over the last 8 years, we should remove these focal points of play and interactivity, and ship our kids out of our neighborhoods, over unsafe roadways, to unsafe locations? And you expect us to accept this?

And let's not forget why many basketball goals are located where they are. Due to other building and zoning regulations imposed by the County and Township the elevation of the majority of homes in our neighborhood is such that yards and drives are at a significant incline and it is completely impractical (not to mention unsafe) to locate a basketball goal anywhere other than the flat of the end of the drive at the curb, or another location within the eleven foot easement.

Township administration as a good neighbor

I do not claim to know the daily responsibilities of the Roads Foreman, but I would sincerely hope they entail more than cruising the residential neighborhoods of the Township looking for inconsequential easement violations of property owners. I would more appreciate the same level of scrutiny over the failed snow removal of my street during the winter months, or the placement of the single plow track either in front of my driveway or, as in 2004, in a four foot pile of ice completely blocking my mailbox and drive earning me a letter of reprimand from the US Post Office for having a barrier in front of my mailbox - which it was impossible for me to move.

I expect the Township administration to be a good neighbor and implement positive and supportive programs to benefit residents of the Township. Yet instead it appears we are using our elected offices to mandate punitive measures against activities that bring residents in our communities together. Why? Your letter states it loud and clear: "...due to the current legal climate." What an irresponsible act to perpetuate on your constituents and neighbors, all in the name of limited liability.

You have the power - and the responsibility as our representatives - to do what is right for the residents, their children, their neighborhoods, and their quality of living by supporting and promoting activities that help bring neighbors out of their houses and build community. Instead you’re actions here indicate a desire to cater only to the administration's irrational list of "what ifs?" and thus make "family neighborhoods" a thing of the past for residents of the Township.

In closing

It is you, the Board of Township Trustees, not the ORC who is declaring that a basketball goal is a public nuisance. It is you who are trying to jump on an illogical bandwagon and join a minority of other areas statewide, and nationally, who have instituted similar measures.

Public nuisance? A gathering place, supported by the residents, that is a safe recreational area for young children who do not have to travel to an unsupervised location via unsafe roadways to engage in sport, play and recreation is to you a public nuisance - you who do not live in this neighborhood, who did not build here, who do not have small children here, and who are not raising your families here. Shame on all of you.

The Township Trustees need to own up to this and find a way to make allowances for common sense. And in this case, common sense says that you are doing more harm to neighborhoods than good through this punitive global mandate. Your intentions may have been in the right place, but this action is a misguided application of that intent. You are in effect harming the children and families in the community you believe you are protecting, and whom you were elected to serve.

The township owes it to its residents to do a much better job than this notice represents.



At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did your fight end up or is it ongoing?

Do you have a goal post in the street or has it been moved?

At 2:50 PM, Blogger N.J. said...

Issue is ongoing. No actions have been taken yet. The goal on our street is still there... for now.


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