In 2007, the city passed an ordinance which required a 'license' to operate a convenience store - on top of all other licensing already required for such an operation. Included in the 'not business friendly' provisions were requirements to clean up debris and litter on other people's property as well as the threat that the license would be revoked if illegal activities happened upon the store grounds, regardless of the owners' efforts to stop them.
Fortunately, many of the store owners got together, hired an attorney and sued the city over the constitutionality of the law. They also filed an emergency request for an injunction to stop the implementation of the law, which was granted.
The city did repeal that version of the law and implement a new one - which was immediately challenged in court as an amended complaint as well. But not before the federal judge awarded MWRA $29,999.00 in attorneys fees for the first portion of the case (which was paid in March, 2009).
Since that time, the two parties have been in negotiations over a settlement. Council President Joe McNamara issued a press release explaining some of the terms of the settlement:
The proposed settlement agreement, which would need to be approved by Council, repeals the licensing ordinance. In exchange, the Midwest Retailers Association agrees to do the following:
* Adopt a code of ethical business practices for its member that includes:
1. banning the sale of items commonly used as drug paraphernalia,
2. establishing a zero-tolerance loitering policy
3. keeping stores clean and well-maintained
4. not generating any undue noise
5. selling healthy items like milk, fruit and vegetables
* Encourage store representatives to attend Block Watch meetings
* Develop a plan for a coordinated security patrol of member stores consisting of off-duty and laid-off police officers
* Meet quarterly with representatives of the Community Development Corporation alliance to review the relationship between the stores and their neighborhoods.
* Waive any additional attorney fee or damage awards.
So the store owners will do what they probably would have done in the first place if just asked and the city repeals the law, which never should have been implemented to begin with. The city also gets out of paying any more attorney fees.
But the city is still out more than $30,000 with the payment of the first set of fees and the amount of time, effort, energy and wages spent on defending this case in court over the last two years, not to mention the negative publicity over the law and the 'not business friendly' message it sent to current and potential businesses within the city limits.
I still have a problem, though, with the city's dereliction of duty when it comes to safety. The agreement requires that the stores "develop a plan for a coordinated security patrol of member stores consisting of off-duty and laid-off police officers."
First of all, why must it be off-duty or laid-off police officers? Many companies use private security personnel for such purposes, so this can only be construed as the unnecessary interference of the city in operational aspects of a private business. Or perhaps this has more to do with helping the police unions and/or covering the city because they've so overspent in almost every other area that they had to lay off police. Regardless, this is wrong and I wish the settlement would have contained more generic language to be able to give the store owners as much flexibility as possible.
Secondly, this particular requirement is a bad precedent for the city to set. The reason this is needed - and the reason 'community development groups' and politicians wanted the law in the first place - is because of a lack of enforcement of existing laws. The original problem wasn't the stores, but the illegal activities that police were unable to address, either because of lack of numbers or low priority.
Rather than address the lack of policing, politicians did what they normally do - created a new problem in an attempt to 'solve' an old one, enacting a law for every single store of this type, despite the fact that only some of the stores were having a problem. What they should have done was increase the enforcement in and around those particular problem areas - but they didn't.
Now, the solution is not for the city to assume its chartered responsibility, but for store owners to pay additionally for that same service. And if the city can do it with one, it can do it will all.
Considering everything, this may be a win-win for the parties: the store owners get the law repealed and the city doesn't have to pay anything more in attorney fees.
However, there are other 'costs' to this settlement:
* the enforcement of the anti-business reputation of the city;
* the perspective that if business owners don't do what politicians want, laws will be passed to force compliance - also know as extortion, especially with the threat of reintroducing the law;
* the precedent of making certain businesses pay extra for police protection which should be a service available to all; and
* the negative message that if some members of a group (convenience store owners) are acting in a way that some do not like, all will be punished.
...and those 'costs' will be felt for years to come.