Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Outrageous Traffic Fines, McHenry County

Is the fine for a speeding ticket in McHenry County really $164.00?

Recently I had occasion to look up traffic fines. (No, I did not get a ticket.) I found a schedule that shows the fine for a citation up to and including June 30, 2019 was $120.00. If you waited until July 1, 2019 to get caught for speeding, the fine is $164.00. That's an increase of 36.7%.

The new schedule combines the violations for 1-20MPH above the limit and 21-25MPH over. In other words, the fine is the same whether a County mountie runs you down and cites you for 25MPH over or a Bull Valley cop cites you for 1MPH over. (Assuming there still are Bull Valley cops and that the ticket is answerable in McHenry County Court, not in the "Bull Valley system".

The minimum fine appears to be $164.00 and that's if you pay in advance and plead guilty.

If you go to court, the judge will assess the fine AND you will be responsible for court costs and fees.

The traffic judge might take pity on you and set your fine at $100. You'll breathe a sigh of relief and walk out of the courtroom thinking you have saved $64.00.

BUT... just wait until you walk up to the payment window.

One Google search result for the amount of court costs and fees revealed: 

"Minor traffic ticket court costs would be $226.00 (schedule 10) in addition to the fine set by the judge. Major traffic offenses would be $325.00 (schedule 9) in court costs plus the court ordered fine."

So that speeding ticket fine of $164.00 plus $226.00 will cost you $390.00 to walk out of the courthouse!!!

Why isn't there a revolution in McHenry County???

Remember when a burned-out headlight was $75.00? (2007) Or failing to signal a right turn far enough ahead of an intersection? $75.00

Well, somebody has to pay for that fancy courthouse and all those employees and judges sitting there, and YOU are that somebody.

Judges will tell you not to get mad at the women at the payment counter. They only collect the money. Court costs and fees are set by State legislators and the McHenry County Board. There is where you direct your anger and outrage!

If you are going to plead guilty, mail in your fine and waiver BEFORE the court date. Or take it in person to the courthouse BEFORE your court date (which you probably cannot do during the COVID-19 health crisis). 

Even if you walk into court and plead guilty, you are going to get slammed with the court costs on top of the fine!!!  $390.00 worth of Slam.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Know where your library (card) is?

I just read John Daab's story about his first library card. The story starts on page 25 of Vultures and Other Friends.

His book is NOT one to get at the library. Buy it. Own it. Read it. Share it. Give it as gifts.

I don't remember my first library card, which would have been in University City, Mo. Probably before you were born. John's story did, however, remind me of my first (and only) foreign library card.

I had gone to Belize in 1992 to visit a friend with whom I had had one date in Denver in 1986, some short  time after which she left the country. She had been in Mauritania for four years. After that, wherever she lived, she lived the way the people of the country do.

My trip turned out to be 5½ weeks, and it had to, of necessity, be a low-budget trip. I ended up spending $400 door-to-door. But, first, back to the library card.

In July 1992 in Corozal Town, Belize, there wasn't much to do. We walked everywhere - to the tortilla factory every morning, to the produce market, to fish in the bay and catch catfish (which the locals wouldn't eat), and to the town library. Everyone had to have a library card, including foreigners. In order to get a card, one had to apply.

And, to apply, you had to have a signature of an official on your form. What could be more official than the signature of the town mayor, and that's where I went with my form. He was gracious and signed my application, and off I went to collect my card. I'll have to find my diary of that trip. For some reason, I think my library card might still be with it.

Corozal was a small town. The Population sign at the edge of town read "7000", but I think that was wrong. I guessed at 700. But maybe the area all around it was counted, because the 2010 census was over 9,800. Perhaps they counted everyone who could walk into town and get back home in one day.

How did I get away for 5½ weeks for $400? I had a frequent-flyer ticket that I used to Mexico City (and back). My brother happened to be in Mexico City on business, so I spent one night with him at the Hotel Nikko. My friend had suggested I take a second-class train from Mexico City to Chetumal, but my brother's plant manager insisted I take a first-class bus (since I didn't speak Spanish). He took me to the bus station and told me to sit until the bus came to "that" door at 5:00PM and get on. "And don't walk away from your backpack." Twenty-four hours later I took the "Belize bus" from Chetumal across the border and arrived at 11:00PM. "Surprise! I'm here..."

On the return trip I took a bus back to Mexico City and a cab to the airport. Arriving at a Delta counter I asked when the next plane was. The agent started stamping papers and then said, "If you can get to Gate 20 before the door closes, that's your plane." I made it, but my backpack didn't. It arrived the next day.

The flight connected in Houston, and I went through Customs there. When the Customs agent asked where my luggage was, I held up my orange day-pack. I told him I had been visiting a friend in the Peace Corps. All he heard was "Peace Corps" and he waved me through.

I got into Denver at 12:20AM, after the last bus serving the old Denver Airport had departed. Thinking about how I would have gotten "home" in Belize in the middle of the night, the choices were 1. take a bus; 2. take a cab; 3. walk.  The bus was out, and I wasn't going to wreck my budget with a cab fare, so I walked home. Four and one-half miles in the middle of the night.

It was a beautiful night and a great way to return to civilization.

Be sure to read John's book. Your memories will coming flooding back, too.

Oh, yes. Why did my friend leave the country after one date with me? She reminded me that she had asked me how to get a job overseas, and I had replied, "Oh, I don't know. Call the Peace Corps."

Friday, February 7, 2020

Woodstock Author Publishes Book


Woodstock resident John Daab has published a new book, Vultures and Other Friends.

I've known John and his wife, Kathy Spaltro, since 1996, and I enjoyed his columns in The Woodstock Independent. As soon as I read the first story, as a sample on the Amazon site, I knew I had to own the book.

That story reminded me of an IMAX movie I had seen in Denver in about 1976. The movie was "To Fly", a history of flight. At the Boettcher Auditorium screening, four birds of prey were flown in the theater by the Colorado Raptor Society, before the movie started. I still remember the thrill of watching a falcon launched from the back of the theater, as a second handler stood on the stage and swung a leather rope holding a piece of meat. When the piece of meat sailed out over the audience, that falcon nailed it on the fly!

The next morning I called many friends and urged them to see the movie and the live birds. Over the next week a number of them called me to ask, "What birds?" It turned out the birds of prey were flown only on the night I was there!

I'm betting that John's other stories will bring back more memories.

Grab a copy of his book (go on; buy the paperback edition!) for $10 and display it proudly on your coffee table or bookshelf. And read it! There is a Kindle edition available, too, if you prefer to build your digital library. You can find it on a different Amazon page by searching by the book title.

Image of the cover used with permission.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Housing Authority - Part 9

What could have the McHenry County Housing Authority have done differently? What should it have done differently?

First of all, it should have taken the tenant's complaint seriously. The employees of the MCHA seem to have "circled the wagons" and made up their minds. Once "they" decided that pawn shop loans were "income", they were not going to back down.

Even when I quoted HUD Regulations to them and pointed out that the Tenant was not engaged in a business of "pawn shop loans" and certainly was not an employee of the pawn shop, they should have asked themselves the question, "Could the Tenant be right?"

When I suggested to the Executive Director to get an opinion from a CPA, that fell on deaf ears. What would a CPA have said? "Are you kidding me?" I guess they wanted to avoid that embarrassment.

But they should have re-read the HUD Regulations, especially the part about "net income", not gross income. Even if they didn't know what the difference was, it should have caused them to inquire about it. And they should have made an effort to understand what short-term collateralized loans really are.

The Housing Authority must have, or know, a CPA.

The problem was compounded by the unwillingness of the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners to recognize the error in gross income vs. net income. And, as a banker of 35 years' experience, he should have known in a heart beat that short-term collateralized loans are not income.

Further, the Executive Director was wrong when she said that many of the pawn shop loans had not been redeemed. As a matter of fact, all of them were redeemed. But, even if none had been redeemed, that would not have caused loan proceeds to become income.

The Housing Specialist and the Housing Supervisor should be required to attend trainings by HUD in how to understand and apply Regulations.

How many other Tenants of the MCHA have been harmed by staff mistakes?

Many Section 8 tenants do not have the resources to challenge errors successfully. Some of them might assume that the staff should know the rules and regulations and they would apply them correctly. Now we know that they don't know some of the Regulations and they don't apply them correctly.

And, worse, they dug in their heels when challenged.

If you know any clients of the MCHA who has been treated unfairly, let me know. As I have said many times, "I am not a lawyer, but ..." 

Write to gus@woodstockadvocate.com

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Housing Authority - Part 8

An appeal beyond the Executive Director should never have been necessary. But her statement that they "always use Gross Income" told me that she did not understand the difference between earned income (wages) and business income (which has gross income, expenses and net income).

On October 25 I mailed a letter to the Chicago Regional Office of HUD, explaining the complaint and enclosing copies of the Housing Specialist's determination of the reduction in assistance and the Hearing Officer's Decision, which completely - and incorrectly - upheld the position of the MCHA.

I estimated that my letter would be delivered on Monday, and so I waited until Tuesday to call.

I was fortunate to be connected with an official at the regional office. A few minutes after our conversation, his administrative assistant told me that my letter had been received, and I asked if she would take it right in to the official.

The help from that official was outstanding. He undertook investigation of the complaint personally and immediately. Two days later he called the MCHA Executive Director and explained that pawn shop loans were NOT income. That was Thursday, October 31.

Let's be clear. He did not over-ride HUD Regulations. He explained the HUD Regulations.

And still the MCHA malingered in correcting the problem. They only needed to do at least two things.

  1. Adjust the monthly assistance to the correct amount for November; and
  2. Issue a check for the amount that had been improperly withheld from the September and October rent assistance.

MCHA is a small agency. I'm sure the employee group is a close-knit group. I'm sure they all want to get along well.

And, when they screw up, they should fix the problem quickly. The Executive Director could have ordered the correction and the preparation of the adjustment check that Thursday. Instead, they claimed they had to wait for the letter from the Regional HUD Office. And wait they did.

But the tenant finally was able to pick up the adjustment check, and the MCHA paid the correct amount of rent assistance for the November 1st rent.

Tomorrow - look for my comments about how this should have been handled at the MCHA office in Woodstock or at least upon escalation to the Board of Commissioners.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Housing Authority - Part 7

When should a Board of Directors intervene in the operation of an agency it directs?

Its function is to direct the agency, not "manage" the agency. But when it is informed that the agency is not being properly managed, then the correct duty of the Board is to investigate and determine whether, in fact, the agency has been mismanaged and, if it has, then its duties is to direct corrective action.

Is that what happened when the Board of Commissioners of the McHenry County Housing Authority was informed of the errors and conduct of employees of the Authority and even of the error of a hearing officer? Did the MCHA retain an impartial, independent, unbiased, unaffiliated hearing officer? Or did it "stack the deck"?

When the Executive Director refused to consider an appeal of the hearing officer's Decision, which merely rubber-stamped the errors made by employees, I contacted the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Keith Leathers.

Leathers is Senior Vice President of Commercial Lending for Home State Bank. According to his bio on the Home State Bank website, he has been on the Board of Commissioners of the McHenry County Housing Authority for 18 years. With 35 years of commercial banking expertise and as a graduate of the Graduate School of Banking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you'd think he would immediately realize that a short-term collateralized loan was not "income". It might be reasonable to assume that he would have at least some familiarity with HUD Regulations or know where to look quickly in the Regs for a particular question.

In his October 24, 2019 response Leathers advised that MCHA staff is certified and experienced in the programs they administer. He stated that "While the use of "pawn shops" is not a usual source of income it is not excluded from HUD regulations."

What he did not say, and could not say, was the the use of pawn shops was included as income in HUD Regulations. Because it's not. Furthermore, it's not any source of income. A pawn shop loan is not income. How could a graduate of the UW-M Graduate School of Banking not know that?

The MCHA was treating the making of pawn shop loans as a business. And, even so, it was considering only the proceeds of the loan received. It disregarded the repayment of the loan. 

First of all, it wasn't a business, at all. And even if it had been, HUD Regulations call for the determination of Net Income. The MCHA Executive Director told me they use only Gross Income. I recognized that she was most likely referring to Wages, not Business Income. It also seemed that she did understand the difference between Gross Business Income and Net Business Income. Every pawn shop transaction would have resulted in a loss, not a profit.

Leathers also wrote that the MCHA is "better suited for hearing officers to have expertise in HUD income regulations, not an expert in accounting and income tax." He said later in his reply, "When using an outside hearing officer, it is important to ensure they know the rule and PHA policy related to decisions under dispute and are informed of the limits to decisions that can be made in a hearing."

Now, the last part of that sentence really bothered me. Exactly what were the "limits to decisions" that the hearing officer could make? Could she find for the Appellant? Against the MCHA?

He directed me to MCHA for the contact at HUD for an appeal. But I didn't need that. Contact information was readily available at www.HUD.gov 

On Friday, October 25, I mailed a letter to the Regional Office of HUD in Chicago. 

What was the response? Come back tomorrow. Fasten your seat belt!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Citizen Beats Bull Valley

There is a citizen out there who took on Bull Valley and its revenue plan. He fought and he fought and he fought. Was this David vs. Goliath? Or David vs. a mole hill? But a mole hill that could spend taxpayer dollars. Dollars after dollars after dollars.

I don't know the Petitioner, the person who was harmed by the tactics of the Bull Valley PD and its former Chief. Most drivers know the reputation of the Bull Valley PD, or at least its reputation for many years.

From McHenry County Circuit Court record, this case appears to be No. 15LA000407, Charles A. Casamento v. Village of Bull Valley et al. Virtually impossible to find among the many cases involving Bull Valley, but easily found in search results for James Page.

I had heard a story about one of its part-time police officers who would stop local Mexican pizza delivery drivers for speeding. Being such a nice guy, he would "let" them pay their speeding fines on the spot, in cash, so that a hot pizza wouldn't cool off. Very considerate, right? That officer was allowed to resign. He should have been prosecuted and sent to jail.

Well, the local lawsuit was settled this week. Read this posting from Facebook.

I’ve been waiting for this day for almost 4 years. Four days short of 4 years actually.
Tonight, the jury concluded that I was falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted by Jim Page and the village of Bull Valley holding them liable for my damages.
One month ago at a pre-trial conference with the judge, opposing counsel, and my lawyers, it was ruled that there would be many things that were not to be discussed or allowed into the trial as evidence. While I don’t agree with that decision, I respect the rule of law and it applied to both sides - but in my opinion there was so much more that wasn’t allowed on my side.
My attorneys went into the lions den this week with two hands tied behind their backs and simply delivered the best case they could have with what we were allowed to do. They fought and battled like no one I’ve ever seen to make sure the jury understood the most they could from what happened to me. I am extremely grateful by their efforts in the monumental task.
Thank you Jeannie Ridings and George Kililis for all of your hard work. And Randal Baudin Sr who initially assisted me and filed the lawsuit. 
And thank you to all the anonymous police officers who assisted me from day one. You know who you are and I am extremely grateful.
After understanding the rules of evidence before the trial, we had assumptions that my damages would be under $10,000. Tonight, 12 jurors awarded me $55,000. While it is not the amount we were hoping for, I am extremely satisfied simply over the principle and I understand it was way more than I thought it would be based on the rules going into trial.
I will say this one last time. I started this campaign over five years ago to help every citizen who either drives through or enters Bull Valley. The police department for so many years was running a major racketeering and illegal ticketing operation robbing citizens blind for so many years and left unchecked. My initial goal was to figure out what was going on and help one of my employees at the time. And then the rest is history from there.
I gave them an opportunity to make a course correction and rather than change course, they tried ruining my life. At the end of it, the illegal ticketing operation has ceased, several police officer positions have been eliminated - including the chief of police and I now understand people can drive through the village for the most part without the fear of having their lives turned upside down.
Thank you for all of your interest in my case, and I want you all to know today justice has been served.
Cheers.
I myself never had a problem driving through Bull Valley but, then, I'm the guy who was often at the front of the line of cars, poking along at exactly the posted speed limit and making full stops at Stop signs. I had heard about speeding tickets for 2MPH over the posted limit, although a former Chief told me that none of his officers ever wrote a ticket for less than 10MPH over.

Congratulations to Mr. Casamento for your perseverance and your victory.