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Is Elgin doing too much?

29 July 2008 RS 6 Comments

The big news last week was some proposed legislation targeting prostitution.

What a difference two weeks makes.

On July 9, about 20 members of the Near West Neighbors Association pleaded with the Elgin City Council to crack down on drug dealing, gangs and hookers in their neighborhood.

Wednesday, city council members endorsed a new law to impound the vehicles of prostitutes and johns alike, publish their names and photos, strengthen loitering laws and declare properties a nuisance. (Daily Herald 7/24/08)

The proposed ordinance was written in haste and shows it. In a desperate attempt to look responsive to a neighborhood group, the city council simply went too far. It went from doing nothing to doing too much. I don’t have any problem with the fines and impounding of vehicles, but I think those measures are quite sufficient as a deterrent and punishment. The scarlet letter part of the ordinance–the idea of the neighborhood group no doubt–on the other hand is simply too much. Like any scarlet letter it serves no purpose other than to destroy people’s reputations and give them nothing to live up to. If you’re going to punish people, punish them once and let them rebuild their lives, not brand them with a letter.

The council needs to not just respond to every complaint with hasty legislation, but to think through what they’re actually doing.

Another case in point is the recent announcement that Ozzie’s Smoke Shop has been run out of Elgin. This is a major victory for SWAN, but I don’t know what this actually does for Elgin. In all likelihood what we end up with is another empty storefront. I never got a chance to see what the store had to offer, but just from driving by it I got the impression that they sold a lot of incense. I don’t know what else they sold, but somehow I doubt that the so-called drug paraphernalia constituted the majority of their stock. Even if it did, it’s legal. What’s the big deal?

Elgin has been trying to cast itself as an urban oasis in the midst of suburbia, and yet it often contradicts itself with policies like this. Dance clubs are told what nights they can be open, bars are told what drinks they can serve, shops are told what they can sell or not sell. What’s next? Who’s going to be run out of town next? What tattoo parlor? What shop? What bar? What taqueria?

If Elgin is serious about becoming a 24-hour city, if it’s serious about attracting artists to live and work here, then councilmen need to start thinking like big city councilmen. They need to ask themselves, if this were Chicago, would this be allowed? If this were New York, would this be allowed? We aren’t going to get anywhere by imitating a suburban village. That’s not where Elgin’s future or potential lies. Elgin has no choice but to be a city.

So please instead of these knee-jerk reactions to the latest complaints, let’s see the application of some wisdom. There is no reason we cannot have legislation that is both just and moderate. City policies should promote growth and commerce, not the shuttering of storefronts. Our city should welcome different ideas rather than imposing the personal tastes of a few people on all.

The City should not mistake the will of one group for the will of all.

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6 Responses to “Is Elgin doing too much?”

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  1. Jessica says:

    I guess the photo is what would make this different? I mean anyone arrested for any crime in Elgin could have their name published. I doubt the photo thing will happen anyway. Would the newspapers do it? That’s up to them. Would the City do it on their website? Seems like an awful waste of employee time.

  2. Paula says:

    Hmm..when I first heard a resident bring up the publishing the names of the John’s in the City Council Meeting, I was all for it but you bring up a good point…I may have to alter my opinion. I also think you have a great point about the City council acting like a CITY council. You are 100 percent correct, Elgin will only thrive if it remains a city and not just another cloned suburb. The reason I fell in love with Elgin is that is was not a clone of it’s surroundings. Great Post!!!

  3. John says:

    Yeah it’s the same old city council at work. But you can say it’s always been like that. That’s why everyone is forced to go underground. Look at the Mission on Chicago Street. There’s no signage or anything. Nobody would know it’s there if they don’t already know it’s there. And STILL some old fogeys learned how to use the internet, went straight to MySpace and found some pictures they didn’t like, and the Elgin City Council had to investigate the possibility that there might be scantily clad young women there. How scandalous.

    So with Ozzies you had a business that was providing rental income to an Elgin landlord, a business that was contributing to Elgin’s meager sales tax rolls, a business that would have a stake in the safety and success of that decrepit block, and it was chased out of town. Luckily they decided to open another store and can at least contribute to the economy of South Elgin, paying taxes and rents there.

    Other businesses would simply have gone underground or sold their goods through the internet and not pay any sales taxes or rents at all.

  4. RS says:

    Glad we share similar views. Thanks for commenting, everyone!

  5. Nile says:

    I totally agree with what has been said. If you don’t like incense don’t go in there. If you don’t want a tattoo don’t go in there. If you don’t want a drink don’t go in there. If you don’t want to worship don’t go in there. If a business is legal, leave it alone. I am beginning to wonder about the sanity of city council. There are businesses that pay rent, taxes (which we sorely need instead of another park), and utilities and they still get run out of town. There was a coin dealer who was run out of town because city council wanted tear down the building and build condos at a cost to the city then the builder cannot finish the project and begged the city for more money. Sad, sad, sad. Welcome to Moscow.

  6. RS says:

    I wonder what happened to that coin dealer. Is it too optimistic to hope that he’ll return to Elgin?