29 July 2011

So, vegetable gardens aren't criminal after all... yet! (But why tempt fate?)

Earlier this month, I posted about Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan. (And, apparently, half the Internet was talking about her too!) Anyway, I wanted to follow up on this story for some closure, as well as to see what self-reliance lessons we can take away from this.

I first checked with the local news station that had broke the story. You can watch their follow-up story below:

I also read up on Bass' later blog post summarizing the dismissal of all the charges.

So, it seems to be basically good news, since the vegetable garden lawsuit was apparently dismissed. I stress "apparently," because the new story above mentioned that "the mayor wanted feedback from the citizens of Oak Park before they take this any further." "Further"? That sounds vaguely threatening and ominous.

Still, it is good news for Bass and her self-reliance, as well as for the grass-roots activism that helped lead to her victory. However, the video above does paint a pretty disturbing picture of this whole incident, in my opinion. Aside from the whole vegetable garden lawsuit, the city did instigate another issue with the dogs' licensing.

That at least was a more clear-cut case, since the ordinance requires dogs to be licensed, and Bass' two dogs were not. I suspect she recognized that, which is presumably why she got the licenses within a few days of receiving that ticket. Apparently, Bass subsequently "presented the documentation to the prosecutor," yet this still continued to be an issue following the dismissal of the garden charges.

It seems that the city was coincidentally lax in their record-keeping, or that they were determined to punish Bass in some way. Of course, the reporter did indicate that the city said this "wasn't personal." However, all of the city officials in these news stories make it sound pretty personal.

In the first video I posted, Kevin Rulkowski (Oak Park City Planner) presented his understanding of "suitable" as it relates to the lawn ordinance in question, which he translated to "common." Basically, his position seemed to be that the residents should conform, which essentially means that Bass was singled out because of her preferences, not because she did something against a clearly defined rule.

Further, in the video above, Eugene Lumberg (Oak Park City Prosecutor) seems particularly vague on the circumstances of the charges being dropped:
[City Prosecutor] Eugene Lumberg: "The vegetable garden issue is now moot. I have dismissed that. For whatever reason."
[Reporter] Alexis Wiley: "For... for what reason? Why have you dismissed that case?"
Eugene Lumberg: "That's... that's... uh... up to me to determine."
Really? The case was dismissed "for whatever reason"? And, it's up to him to determine that reason? He didn't say that they reviewed the ordinances and determined that there wasn't a case. To me, that means that this case and its dismissal was entirely personal? Lumberg's comments later in the interview seem to infer that as well. He and others in the city government don't agree with Bass' personal preferences, and so they we going to bully her into conforming.

Bass' reasons for planting a garden in the front may have seemed good at the time, and maybe that's just the best spot in her yard. The thing is, she went against the norm, so she should have anticipated some kind of negative reaction.

That's not to say that I favor conformity as a rule, or that I'm advocating it. But, we just need to pick our battles wisely, as I discussed in my first post on this story. In the end, this kind of government intrusion into our lives seems to be on the increase, and that's generally not a good thing, especially for people trying to live a self-reliant lifestyle, or those practicing preparedness.

It's not that we have things to hide, per se. However, any "official" attention can attraction even more attention, leading to something that doesn't comply with "the rules." Look at Bass' situation. The city came out about the garden, and noticed the lack of dog licenses. If it hadn't been for the garden, the dog licensing issue would probably never have come up.

A similar visit to a "prepper's" home could result in more problems, especially if there was blatant storage of large quantities of fuel, guns and ammunition, or even food. That's not to say that these things are inherently wrong or illegal. Rather, they are outside of what's "normal" for the average citizen, which in turn invites more scrutiny. They might wonder: Is the stored fuel dangerous? Are those guns legal? Even the food might be noted, which could be remembered during a true area-wide emergency.

What's the solution? Do what you need to do, and live your life as you see fit. But do so maintaining as low a profile as possible. Maintain whatever privacy you can. Check out The Art of Keeping a Low Profile, which gives some brief tips along these lines.

Do you agree that it's important to keep a low profile? If so, how do you achieve that? If not, why not?

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