Who you gonna call? Archaic ordinance busters
A citizens board and a county commissioner are clearing out rules that don't make sense anymore.
By RICK GERSHMAN
Published August 3, 2005
In late July, a pair of pet psychics from a ways east put on a show at the Hernando County Fairgrounds.
They're paid to see the future, not the past, so can you fault them for innocently violating an ancient county ordinance?
It's Sec. 18-48, titled "Fortune tellers, clairvoyants, etc." It reads:
(a) Every palmist, fortuneteller, clairvoyant, astrologer, phrenologist, character reader, spirit medium, absent treatment healer, or mental healer shall pay a license tax of $150.00.
(b) This section does not apply to churches (that) heal the sick by prayer.
Now, no one's suggesting the Clerk of Circuit Court visit these women and threaten to haul them in if they don't cough up the three bones.
It just won't work. Among other problems, they're psychics: They'll see her coming.
But what County Commissioner Jeff Stabins and a citizens advisory group would like to do is eradicate Sec. 18-48 and several other archaic laws from the Hernando County books.
Stabins is liaison to the Citizens Ordinance Advisory Team, or COAT - the rare governmental title that condenses into a tidy acronym without strained linguistic contortions.
The advisory team predated Stabins' 2004 election to the County Commission. But for its first few years, the group, the commission and county staff members struggled with how to effectively use group input.
Stabins' participation and improvements to the amendment process have made a difference, members said.
"It took us awhile to get going," said Irma Carr, a founding member. "Numerous things kept derailing us. But now we're better organized."
Tightening the code of ordinances improves government efficiency, Stabins said.
"It probably goes back to my campaign," he said. "Listening to my constituents, they think all government does is grow bigger. All we do is add ordinances and do things to regulate their lives.
"I thought, wouldn't it be great to repeal or revise some of those, or trim them down. Then I found out there was a citizens' team."
The team's meetings are public; the next one is at 1:30 p.m. Monday. Though it's running smoother than before, the code revision process remains quite involved; it requires commission approvals at several stages.
However, some obviously irrelevant codes, many of which predate the 20th century, will be easier to clear out.
Section 18 is a gold mine for such archaic codes. The section regulates licenses, permits and miscellaneous business regulations.
Sec. 18-65, for example, legislates "every person engaged in the business of owning or operating telegraph systems within this county," levying a license tax of 33 cents per mile.
And if by chance you operate a private toll bridge, Sec. 18-69 has some news for you: You need to cough up a license tax of $375. Come on, don't be a troll about it.
Then there's Sec. 18-42, which regulates traveling medicine shows. This ordinance too soon will be leaving town.
"I don't think there's really a great need for that one any more," Stabins said. "It should be in some archives somewhere for some historians to enjoy."
Deep in Hernando's history, someone lobbied the county to get a special provision for a unique vocation. That explains Sec. 18-57, which notes that no license be required "for any nonprofit sponge cooperative association."
The advisory team recently moved to repeal the medicine show, telegraph and toll bridge ordinances. Stabins and company figure the sponge ordinance is all wet, but they won't ring it out until legal staff signs off. And no one can predict the future of the fortune teller ordinance, which is in limbo while county staff double-checks whether anyone actually has such a license.
The team also has recommended a couple of amendments to established ordinances, including a revision to Sec. 18-31, a $50 business license exemption for "disabled veterans of any war, or their un-remarried widows."
Widowers would be added to the title; the Spanish-American War of 1898 would be trimmed from the ordinance text - probably not too many of those vets or their spouses starting new businesses these days; and the Navy, curiously omitted from the original ordinance, would be added.
Rick Gershman can be reached at 352 754-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified August 3, 2005, 00:36:17]
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