Litigation, taxes and the truth

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 17, 2005

As city hall takes more and more of our money due to rising taxes on our property every year, they seem to feel that paying big bucks for litigation to enforce their every whim is in our interests.

With so much of our money in hand, they too conveniently pursue a legal strategy that is of questionable public policy by pushing even simple matters of equity into the courts.

There seems to be less interest in the truth and more effort to prevail in the courts at any cost.

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The reason that city hall’s legal strategy and propensity to litigate is so concerning; is that while it is expensive, especially when you are found wrong, it also is a corrosive element of government enforcement when wielded so often.

This distasteful issue includes too many cases where the city is found to be on the wrong side of the issues which is a waste of valuable resources and nothing less than direct intimidation.

This is further compounded by the fact that city management has stated that a tax cut is not possible, due to the needs of such spending.

This is both disturbing and distasteful and can only be seen objectively as bad government.

With the city council and senior city staff deciding to litigate even minor personnel issues that should be negotiated to proper resolution, the unyielding policy to litigate is ripe for public review.

As these clearly bad ideas are pushed into court, it is apparent that we have a problem.

The city has chosen to hire outside legal help too often, just because it is convenient and the public is paying the bill. As a result, the citizenry must demand a sound legal strategy to ration the government’s use of the courts, to insure that spite and avarice are not the purposes such efforts are put to. When it is, we suffer obviously the outright costs, but also the indirect loss of confidence in government and the objectives of those who subscribe to be our leaders.

They should not be allowed to so quickly bludgeon any who challenge their rule in the courts, or their imperial rule of our community by such policies.

Leaders choose battles with purpose and principle, not emotion and temper to reach needed objectives, not just to teach someone a lesson or to stroke their own egos.

This last point is what must separate government litigation from private rights to litigate.

With almost unending tax supported resources to litigate, limited only by the tolerance for such by the electorate to pay, government should always apply rational measures to insure that litigation meets a direct and significant need.

Litigation must be a last recourse, and should be reserved for profound and compelling purposes that fulfill a significant public interest.

This last point is totally and utterly unknown at city hall and we suffer great expense in money and objective purpose as a result.

Some examples of this problematic policy can be noted by the smug attitude that attaches to how litigation is pushed by city hall concerning the failed marina at Constant’s Wharf, personnel issues that should be addressed in mediation, and other subjective issues of policy.

While the mayor recently described our new marina in glowing terms during the &uot;State of the City Speech,&uot; he did not describe how we paid twice or more for it due to wasteful litigation, rather than performance.

The only real issue seems to be; &uot;We must have it at any cost to polish the Crown Jewel of the City.&uot; While this is perhaps the starkest example of the concept to use litigation, the other examples cited are of a similar nature.

These unfortunate events have lead to a process where we pay and pay for the city to hire legal mercenaries; to fight battles that support bad policies that can only be implemented behind closed doors.

When governmental actions are based upon such faulty policy, it is we the people who pay dearly.

Filing court papers can’t diminish the duty that city hall has in these situations to the truth.

It is readily apparent that too many examples arise everyday and more litigation results.

If we demand it, one of the outcomes just might include less spending and the potential for more than just a three cent reduction in our property taxes.

Government force by litigation is perhaps the most corrosive and flawed method of implementing backdoor policy that can occur in our republic.

The most compelling issue though; is why the populace who must pay, will tolerate such flawed and bankrupt methods to implement truly bad policy.

Litigation is used too often when an embarrassed public official has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar or when he decides questions of public policy by temper, rather than compelling logic and the public good.

We all should demand that our government put less time in the courts defending the undefendable and more time figuring out how to cut our taxes with the money they save as a result.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at