Is Elgin doing too much?
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.