….The Government It Deserves.

“Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.” (“Every country has the government it deserves.”) – Joseph de Maistre<

Pagedale, MO is a small town of 3,300 mostly black residents in the suburbs of St. Louis. When a law was changed that reduce the amount of money (12.5%) municipalities keep from traffic fines, the town started to issue code violations as a means to increase revenue.

How many violations you ask?

According to research by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the city has handed out more than 2,000 code citations in the past year, enough to give nearly two tickets to every single household in the city of 3,300.

It is the type of violations that make one wonder what going on:

Pagedale residents are prohibited from having a basketball hoop or wading pool in front of their house.
They may not have a hedge above three feet high.
They cannot have a dish antenna on the front of their house.
Pedestrians cannot walk on the roadway if there is a sidewalk, and if there is not a sidewalk, they must walk on the left side of the roadway.
They must walk on the right side of crosswalks.
Pagedale residents may not have dead vegetation on their property.
They may not have fallen trees, cut shrubs, overgrown vegetation, or weeds more than seven inches in height.
They may not conduct a barbeque in their front yard except on national holidays and they cannot have more than two people gathered around it and they cannot have alcoholic beverages visible within 150 feet of the grill.
Pagedale’s children cannot wear pants below the waist in public or play on the residential streets in front of their homes.
Cars must be within 500 feet of a lamp or source of illumination during nighttime hours.
Windows in houses facing the street must have drapes or blinds “which are neatly hung, in a presentable appearance, properly maintained and in a state of good repair.”
All doors or windows opening to the outside must have screens.

Who would have ever thought that standing around a barbeque grill in your own yard with an adult beverage in your hand would be something for which you can be cited. That’s plain crazy.

In addition, foundations must be painted. Fences must be stained or painted. People have been cited for having drapes that do not match.


Follow the money.

Why are ticketing and fines such a large part of life in Pagedale? The city’s budget suggests an answer. In 2013, Pagedale’s total revenue was $2,016,430. Of this amount, $356,601, or 17.68 percent, in revenue came from fines and fees. The cost to operate its court was $90,758, meaning that the courts brought in over a quarter of a million dollars in net revenue to the city. Fines and fees are the second-largest source of revenue for the city, right after the city’s $.01 per dollar sales tax—nothing else even comes close.

This means that to keep almost 20 percent of its budget in existence, the city has to keep its vigorous ticketing efforts up. In Pagedale’s FY 2014-15 Budget, the city anticipated receiving $353,000 in revenue from fines and fees. Budgeting for a set amount of income sets a monetary target for code enforcement, the police, and Pagedale’s municipal court to reach, regardless of how many violations actually occur in the city. And that is what happens—in 2013, the Pagedale Municipal Court heard 5,781 cases or an average of 241 cases for each twice-monthly evening session.

The Municipal Court which hears cases arising from these citations meets twice a month starting at 6:30 PM. Don’t show up? They issue a warrant for your arrest. Don’t pay the fines? They penalties start stacking up and you can be jailed. Nothing shows the thinking of government by fining people and throwing them in jail where they cannot earn money to pay the fines. Not only that, but if you work at night, are a single parent or any other legitimate reasons, you may not be able to either get to court or afford to go to court.

The Institute for Justice started looking at towns around St. Louis after seeing what was going on with fines in Ferguson, MO. Ferguson, if you remember, was where Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson. Ferguson’s policies of ticketing for to drive revenues instead of to protect the safety of citizens was part of the resulting unrest after the justifiable shooting of Brown.

Seeing Pagedale as an example of the illegal practice of “ticketing for profit,” lawyers at the Institute for Justice have filed a class action suit against the City of Pagedale.

The lawsuit alleges many things but one of our favorites is that the City cites people for infractions that by the City code only apply to abandoned buildings. They then send notices of the infractions to the building in which people are living demanding they show up in court to defend themselves against the charges.

The Institute for Justice has prepared a short video on the case.

Pagedale specifically budgets to receive a large percentage of its revenue from fines and fees. By targeting a certain amount of revenue from fines and fees from its residents, Pagedale turns policing on its head. Rather than react to conditions to ensure that the public is protected and wrongdoers punished, Pagedale sets a revenue goal and then uses its code enforcement powers to achieve it.

There are two things to take away from this case.

The first is the power of the government to take basic, decent, hard working people and turn then into criminals for non-illegal activities on their own property. The power of a government to raise money at the point of a sword is scary.

Secondly, the people that made these codes didn’t suddenly appear. They were VOTED into office. If people stood by and let the Alderman of Pagedale beat their citizens down like they appear to have done, the citizens bear some responsibility for this mess.

That doesn’t excuse the actions of the City, but people have a voice at the ballot box.

Use it.

(tip of the fedora to our friends at

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