Burgeoning public pensions, employees that often can’t be terminated even when they are in jail with felony charges pending and wages 44% higher on average than their private sector counterparts (study) are only a few of the factors that began raising eyebrows a decade ago and now have taxpayers outright challenging the too rapid growth of the power of public agencies. The American constitution was established to protect the interest of the citizen by limiting and controlling government power, not to limit and control the power of citizens to protect the interests of government. I have had a front row seat to a number of intentional and willful abuses of power sometimes by individual employees of public agencies while other abuses of power are systematic policies of corruption and thinly veiled threats of retaliatory government action if anyone dares challenge the agencies intentionally illegal actions. This list is by no means comprehensive and I encourage those commenting below to provide further examples of these kind of abuses.
1. Child Protective Services – Acting in Self Interest Instead of Chid’s Interest – This agency is created for the sole purpose of looking out for the interest of the child. If a parent is unfit, neglectful, abusive either physically or sexually, or simply abandons a child, it is supposed to be the role of Child Protective Services to step in and make sure that someone is looking out for “the best interests of the child.” I have heard horror stories about CPS stepping in and removing children from healthy environments because of mistake of fact or the personal bias of the individual CPS employee, but I have not seen this first hand and will leave that discussion to others. Neither of these cases deal involved me or my family, but I have been a front row witness to both cases which appear indicative of the system as a whole.
What I have seen first hand is a whole different kind of abuse of power, and one that I think is just as bad. In the first instance a meth addict had five children with five different fathers and the first four were taken away one at a time because of her addiction – one was found (at about 6 months) in a meth house where she was “cooking” (making meth). If you know anything about a meth house you know that after the police raid the meth house they have to bring in the toxic waste folks in their moon suits to clean the house which is saturated with the poisons from the drug making process. When here fifth child was born, CPS was monitoring her situation and was under court order to evaluate the safety of the child given the mother’s history. Before the birth of this fifth child, the meth addict had become a confidential informant for police and her “tips” had led to several arrests for the manufacture and sale of meth. The mother however continued to use with the full knowledge of the local authorities and CPS. As a “concession” to the mother, CPS allowed the meth addict to raise this fifth child even though the circumstances were now less safe than when they had removed the other four children (not only was the child at risk because of the mother’s addiction and the drugs surrounding her, but was in real physical danger if the mother’s police contacts were discovered). As far as I can tell, there was NO evaluation of what was in the best interest of the child who is being raised with the backdrop of meth cook houses, but instead the decision was simply expedient for the government to keep an informant “active.”
In an equally bad case, a baby was removed from parents at birth because both drug addicted parents were in jail and the father had a history of violence. CPS rightfully placed the baby with foster parents that have been universally acknowledged to have created a solid loving environment for the baby. The parents were given multiple opportunities to “clean up their acts” including free parenting classes, counseling and other government provided services. Each time both parents failed to complete the required course of education and counseling. The parents had limited monitored visitation with the baby and as often as not failed to show up at the appointed time leaving the foster parents who had driven considerable distance for the visitation with a tired infant. Every time the case would come up for hearing was set to terminate the parents rights, the parents would request a change of social worker which was granted several times. These rotating social workers then had the entire case shifted from County to County several times, each time causing the file to reopened virtually from scratch. In addition, even though the matter was set for hearing several times to start the process of revoking parental rights, the hearing was continued frequently further putting off any real evaluation of the parent’s fitness. In more than three years of ongoing review, the baby, now a three-year old child, has lived with the foster family whose mom, dad and brothers are really the only family she has ever known. The social worker assigned to the case refuses to consider the interests of the now three year old child as she continually perpetuates justification for her own job.
Throughout the process, in both cases, the real evaluation was never what is in the best interest of the children but on collateral issues well beyond what should have been considered relevant by CPS. In both cases CPS took the child from an unhealthy environment, spent years of evaluation and taxpayer time and money only to return the child to that same unsafe, unhealthy environment. There was little if any real evaluation of what was better for the child, something that was supposed to be the primary mission of CPS. The only logical explanation that I can see for the behavior is the continuation of those government jobs. Without the endless and needless changes in venue, continuance of hearings, multiple “counseling” for continued drug and other behavioral lapses by the parents there would be little need for a CPS staff of the size that it is. I am not saying that there is never a case where a parent is deserving of having their children returned to them. I hope that is the case most of the time as long as the environment to which the children are returning is now safe and healthy. The only purpose in putting a child “into the system” for years, only to return them to the same conditions that they were taken from is the continued existence of CPS.
2. Local Agency Land Use Approvals – Because They Can. I call this kind of local government abuse “death by a thousand cuts” because each individual abuse, while completely illegal, may not seem like it has a terrible consequence in and of itself. Please note that I did say that these actions are unquestionably illegal and they always are a result of the public agency intentionally demanding actions outside and beyond what the law provides. While I have no evidence that any of these officials have received personal financial gain, it is often the power to make people do something that they don’t want to do that is the drug for these folks.
A little background in the law will help set the table for this discussion. If I own property and I want to build on that property or change the use of that property I usually need to obtain the permission of the local agency before I can start building or change the use. Most permissions necessary to build or to allow a change of use require the permission of the agency (generally with the exception of plain building permits) which the agency can legally withhold. When citizens started pushing back against increase property taxes a couple of decades ago, local agencies started turning to land developers to build the coffers of those agencies through the imposition of either special taxes (only imposed on developers) or fees. So for instance, if the opening of a retail shopping center was going to require the construction of traffic improvements including a traffic signal, it was reasonable for the local agency to make the potential developer pay for those expenses. Unfortunately many agencies were far more greedy than this and started trying to charge developers for virtually everything in that city or county. When a city demanded that a hardware store had to build several miles of bike trails the United States Supreme Court finally had to step in and say “no” and determined the developer could only be required to pay for things caused by its development.
Cities and counties continue to break the law and make demands for payment well beyond that allowed by law, generally keeping the extorted dollar total small enough compared to the value of the proposed development to discourage the developer from bringing a law suit. Even if the developer brings a law suit (at a cost of anywhere between $50,000 – $250,000) and wins the local agency merely has to rescind the demand and suffers no economic consequence. I have seen local agencies demand more money than they are legally allowed for schools, art, parks, roads and even money for the construction a new city hall. These illegal demands are knowingly made by the public agencies that are purely flouting their power as “the sovereign” forgetting that the real sovereign is the people and not the government. These illegal demands are perpetuated because developers are afraid 1) that they will never get any other approvals from that public agency again, 2) the agency will delay and make the cost of the current approvals higher, 3) their legal fees in challenging the action will be more than the benefit of winning that law suit, and 4) that they will get bad publicity as the “evil greedy developer” challenging the “poor little city” even though it is usually the city that has all of the power.
Another favorite trick of the public agencies is to refuse to move an approval along until it is able to obtain the concessions for approvals that have been illegally demanded. My favorite example of this kind of abuse deals with what are known as “final map approvals.” Remember earlier when we talked about permits that a public agency can legally deny? A final map can only be denied if you don’t do what is required by the permit. For example, if your permit says that you need to bring in 15 copies of a map stamped with an engineers approval and you bring in 15 maps stamped with an engineers approval, then the public agency MUST grant approval. The law says the approval must be given at “the next available meeting of the public agency” meaning that if you come in on September 15 and comply with your permit requirements the agency is required to approve your matter at its next meeting, say for example Oct 1. In Riverside County, California, the County will tell you, “oh gee, since you aren’t will to pay this additional money, it looks like we are unable to talk about your case for six months to a year because our agenda is ‘full’ for the indefinite future.” There is nothing in the law that allows for the delay because the agenda is full (nor is there a concept in law that the agenda can be “full”). Of course, as soon as the developer agrees to the illegal sought concession the agenda miraculously becomes completely free and available and the approval is quickly issued.
The final scam from public agencies deals with demanding that others pay for the public agencies legal counsel. For many approvals, public agencies demand that the citizen need an approval “indemnify and hold harmless” the public agency. This is a fancy legal way of saying “if we could sued because we gave you a permit you have to pay for the lawsuit and pay us back if we lose the law suit.” In concept I have no problem with this because as the person requesting the permit you are seeking a benefit from the public agency and it only seems fair that you have to pay US, the citizens, back if you a court finds that you were improperly asking for something more than you should have received. However, the game that many public agency staff play is to demand that you hire their lawyers at your expense and pay for everything they tell their lawyers to do, even if that does not help your case. I have seen instances where a citizen has to pay 2-3 times as much to the public agencies attorney as they do to their own attorney even though their own attorney did most or all of the real work.
3. All Public Agencies – The “Secret” Meeting – All 50 states have requirements that public agencies must hold their meetings in public. The rationale behind the is simple, there will be more public confidence in government if the public has access to the decision-making process. Many states have complex laws dealing with how and where the meetings must be held, how the public must be given notice, how elected officials can communicate with each other away from the public meetings and other similar requirements. These laws are good and healthy for functioning democracy . . . if only anyone actually followed them.
I would be curious to take the following survey, of all people who have to do business with a public agency on a regular basis, how many actually believe that the real work of the agency takes place at the public meeting? The answer should be 100%, but anyone that spends any time around public agencies will know that is a joke. I have been to meetings where an incredibly complex issue or contract is presented for approval. As a trained lawyer I have questions about the contract and how it will be implemented. The electeds will pass a knowing look amongst each other and then unanimouslyvote for approval without a single question. The implication is obvious, there was a meeting before the meeting and the wheels were properly greased. I am certainly NOT saying that every public agency conducts itself this way, but I am saying that in my experience, it is the majority.
I had several addition examples of corruption to detail, but I evidently felt more fervently about this than I thought having just written a small book. Needless to say I believe that ”petty corruptions” are one of the main factors chipping away at the bedrock of faith in government and we must do what we can not to accept them as normal.