Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Home from Maine, and why I just wrote a check for 1000 dollars to a Scam Operation

Maine was lovely. The seminars I attended were nifty, and I think the workshops were pretty all right, too.

Travel was odious, but isn't it always odious? Blah. Airports.

Ah, homecoming... Slogging through mail...

Wait... What's this? A warrant for my arrest? WTF?

So, there's these little tiny-ass towns in Texas where they derive a ton of their budget from traffic violations. Little Texas towns are famous for giving you tickets for 71 in a 70, and for doing all kinds of things to encourage cops to write more tickets. Look it up. Google Pantego, Trophy Club, (this particular town...) and quite a few others.

No state tax in Texas, you see, and low property taxes. They tend to make up the gap in aggressive violations.

(On people who do not live in that town, mind you. Local inhabitants don't realize how come their city has so much money while property taxes are so low, on the whole... Easy to do in a communter society.)

Right, so, many, many years ago (over 3 years ago) I was issued a warning, not a ticket, but a verbal warning that went something like this: "Hey, did you know your registration is expired? Oh, no wonder you didn't know! You moved! Well, don't forget you have to tell the DPS not just the Post Office! Right... Go to that court house over there to fix your registration."

Apparently, I was issued a ticket for that. I had no ticket. I was given a verbal warning on this, while my car was parked. No fines. No fees. No sheets of paper in my hand. Nothing but a friendly, "Dude, oh, here, let me tell you how to fix that..."

This particular town is actually famous for being total citation bastards. (They're usually spoken synonymously with Pantego, and Trophy Club, for all you D/FW residents out there.)

One step was missing, however.

Apparently, I was also supposed to go to the particular city courthouse, because apparently I was issued a ticket, and apparently I was supposed to physically show them that I had updated my registration and address. How I was supposed to know this in advance is beyond me. I didn't even know I was issued a ticket.

Here's where it gets even more shady.

Apparently, no one noticed this issue until I moved out of state.

Now that I'm a few hundred miles away, I'm issued a warrant unless I pay over a thousand dollars on two overdue ticket. Even if I prove that I, in fact, registered my car in Texas and changed my address in Texas with these documents that are, at this time, four years old, I'm still fined in the neighborhood of 400 dollars.

I register in Georgia. I change my address, register my car, etc., etc. Suddenly, a four year old verbal warning has become a citation that requires 1000 dollars, or I'm at risk every time I set foot in Texas.

Even if there really was an actual ticket, you'd think, in a sane, rational universe, there'd be some step between "Take this form and show it to the city clerk." and "Give us a thousand or go to jail." For instance, a form letter might go out, indicating that there's some problem that needs to be addressed. Fees are accumulating. Nip in this in the bud, fellow American.

No, that would make it too easy for criminals to get away with their evil, odious crimes of lost registration papers. Also, taxpayers would have to pay for an envelope, a stamp, and a sheet of paper with ink on it instead of getting 1000 dollars in the mail.

Now, I have an option. I could hire a lawyer, and arrange a court date, and make my case before a judge...

I would have to show up in court (halfway across the country, mind you...) with a decent lawyer to confront the city on this issue. Plane tickets alone would likely eat most of the 1000 dollars. And, that doesn't even begin to cover the cost of hiring a lawyer, and missing work. And, there's always the possibility I would lose the court case, in which case I pay even more fines, and still paid for the lawyer and the plane tickets.

If there's anything you should know about tiny towns in Texas, it's that the city judge tends to favor the word of local law enforcement officers over the word of people who flew in from out of town and hired some slick, city lawyer.

All told, I'm fucked. I wrote a check to this municipal scam operation. I put a stamp on it. I'll mail it in the morning.

Not only am I scammed by the city in question, what's even worse is how arrogant they are about it.

They wouldn't even tell me why a warrant was issued. They told me to call this other number to find that out. Twice they gave me the wrong number, (Oh, I'm sorry, did I say "XX00"? I meant "XY00", and "Oh, *you* obviously entered it wrong. The number is XZ00." As if they genuinely enjoy fucking with people. Yes, I was getting angry. Because you're fucking with me, and I can tell you're getting off on that over the phone.

People ask me, sometimes, if I miss Texas.

I miss my friends and family. Texas? No. No, I do not miss Texas.

In a sane, rational universe, I'd be able to challenge this. Verbal warnings do not equal tickets. If I fix this at one courthouse, and there is no piece of paper or person telling me I have to go to this completely different courthouse to negate a ticket that did not - to my knowledge - exist. If there is a fine accumulating to the point of warrant for your arrest.

You'd think. You'd think there'd be steps. You'd think there'd be something between a cop giving you a friendly verbal thing, and a warrant for your arrest four years later.

You'd think.

These little towns, they just thrive on that equation that people have to run in their heads, when the warrant shows up with the bill... "Is it worth fighting city hall? What's my cost-benefit analysis, here?" They thrive on people like me, who are quick to discover that the only solution is "Fuck. Nope. Fighting it and paying it cost exactly the same, except paying it means I don't have to lose time at work and graduate school."

I bet that shit happens everywhere, too. I bet there's a bunch of small towns just like that, all over.

Steps, man. Someone should put into law some kind of degree between cop saying "Dude!" and courts saying "Warrant!". That way, if the cop's fudging his citation numbers (as they are encouraged to write tickets in a couple of these little towns) American citizens can actually prove it.

Also, I think, if the citizen is wrong, at least they'll know there's a cloud hanging over their heads.

Oughtta be a fucking law. Degrees of warning between citation and warrant.

But, again, that would mean cities don't get a check in the mail for 1000 dollars, no?

(Certified, of course. You think I trust these fucking people? They gave me the wrong phone number twice just to get a rise out of me. They wait four years to pull this shit, when I'm showing up as an out of state resident. Now, it's more expensive for me to actually fight back than to write them a check for 1000 dollars.)

Maine was nice. Maine was very nice. Better than Texas.

It wasn't until I moved out of Texas that I've started to realize how awful that state was.

When you live there, you just get used to it. You don't even notice all the little things that add up to divide the rich and poor, the haves and have-nots.

Coming back from the airport, I rode public transportation - a very nice, clean, efficient metro train - directly from the airport to a station nearby. I rode a city bus to the elementary school across from my apartment complex. It cost me $2.25 to travel from one far side of Atlanta to the other far side of Atlanta. Along the way, people of all ages, races, and economic classes were riding the city's public transportation. Good luck trying that in Dallas. The buses are terrifying. The train is underfunded, and has to dramatically cut back its trips all the time. And, if you're in one of the suburbs, there are no buses. Arlington, TX, is proud of the fact that it is the largest city in America with no public transportation. It had been problematic trying to explain to the people I met while there why that's part of what causes the urban blight rotting out the center of Arlington into crime and despair, because people who don't have cars suddenly can't realistically work outside a four or five block radius.

When I get confirmation this is dealt with from this fucking city I might tell you which one it was. I'm a good citizen, after all, and do not deserve to be treated this way. I do not want to risk being treated worse just because some bureaucrat thinks I have an attitude problem. I also do not consider myself some kind of social activist. I'm just another grumbling sheep, wondering when the change we all voted for might sprinkle down into the red states.

God, I am so glad I don't live in Texas anymore. You have no idea.

And, for all you Texans out there, isn't it weird how everyone is always complaining about the "Good Ol' Boy" Network and you keep voting those turds back into office?

Here's a tip: vote female, minority, and often. It never ceases to amaze me that the towns who are most notorious for behaving badly are run by and for a bunch of rich white guys.


J m mcdermott said...

And, I just thought I'd post the racial stats on one of the mentioned cities, from Wikipedia:

"The racial makeup of the town was 87.06% White, 8.58% African American, 0.22% Native American, 1.90% Asian, 0.22% Pacific Islander, 0.73% from other races, and 1.29% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.67% of the population." Median income? over 65,000 dollars annually.

Let's compare that to... Oh, let's say nearby neighbor Dallas:

"The racial makeup of Dallas was 56.9% White (30.5% non-Hispanic-White), 23.8% Black, 2.7% Asian, 0.9% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 16.9% from other races, and 1.2% from two or more races. 42.4% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race"

I know, I know, you want to say it's a "suburban" thing, not a race thing, but it's not.

Compare Our Notorious Citation Issuing Towm above to the lovely fishing-friendly suburb of Grand Prairie:

"The racial makeup of the city was 62% White, 13.5% African American, 0.8% Native American, 4.42% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 15.90% from other races, and 3.34% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 33% of the population."

The big number I want to point out, here, is the Latino number. You're telling me, in a town (Example 1) less than 5% of the population - in Texas... TEXAS, for god's sake! We used to BE Mexico - is Hispanic or Latino? Even in a regular suburb like Grand Prairie, Latino/Hispanic is 1/3 of the population.

It's this thing about every one of those god damn citation-issuing towns. They've got this unsurprising commonality.

Is it intentional racism? I don't know. It is a noticably odd detail.

J m mcdermott said...

Oh, and I'm not Hispanic. I do drive a cheap car, though. And, I have weird hair, like one o' them liberal Hippies.

K.C. Shaw said...

Geez. If you haven't already mailed that check, you might call up your closest university's law school. Quite often they do free consultation to give students experience. I bet they'd love to hear about this, and they might write an official-sounding letter that could at least get the "fine" reduced. It can't hurt to try, anyway.

Geez, my mom grew up in Lubbock. If she'd stayed behind to finish college when her parents moved to Tennessee, she'd have married a Texan and given birth to me in Texas, and I'd probably be having the same problem as you. This sort of thing infuriates me. Good luck with it, and I do hope you hold on to that check until you make a call or two first to see if you can deal with the issue without losing a ton of money. If no one fights this kind of thing, it'll just keep on happening.

J m mcdermott said...

Fighting it? Are you crazy?

I'd have to give myself up for arrest to fight it - traveling out of state to do so.

Yeah, I'm not going to be fighting this injustice. It's BS, and it's wrong, but it would all be for naught.

You honestly believe a small-town municipal judge is going to pass up on the very kind of activity that keeps the city afloat year after year?

Trophy Club, as an example, pays for it's independent city police force by writing traffic tickets to cover the costs. It's a huge scam, and was all over the Star-Telegram for a month or two.

And... It didn't change anything.

If the Fort Worth Star-Telegram can't change anything by actually, physically proving every charge against the system in place, and people still vote these same turds back into office, what chance do I have?

No, it's in the mail. It sucks. Sometimes, it's just your turn in the barrel.

K.C. Shaw said...

Something of the sort is happening in a town half an hour from where I live. They just installed a bunch of speed cameras and as a result, last month they ticketed 4,000 people at one intersection, 3,500 at another, most of them for going only one or two miles above the speed limit.

I have to wonder, in a case like that, if there's some corruption with the company that installs and maintains the speed cameras. They get something like 60% of all ticket revenues, so you know they've got a good incentive to set the camera's speed limit a few miles below the posted limit. And the city doesn't care because they're raking in the money too. That city has plans to install a dozen more speed cameras in the next few months. I never go there anymore.

Your issue sucks even worse. It's flat out illegal, and without some heavy national attention it sounds like nothing's going to change. On the other hand, if you'd fought it, I bet you'd have ended up BoingBoinged (and also bankrupt and possibly in jail, but you know).

J m mcdermott said...

I wish everyone who was a police officer had to have at least a Master's Degree in Social Work.

My issue pales in comparison to Robert Gates, up in Boston.

He didn't even get the option of paying a thousand bucks to make it go away. He was just arrested in his home by seventeen police officers for asking the cop to identify himself.