There’s a difference between just being contentious and having an argument. True, we’ve lost a lot of ground with the concept of arguments thanks to such things as talk radio, 24-hour “news” channels, and TV sensation pimps like Maury Povich. But taken one way, America itself was an argument that was won by the founding fathers. “Excuse me, England, but we’d like our liberty. And here’s our argument for that…”
Webster acknowledges that the definition of an argument starts out with “verbal opposition or contention,” or what some might call “parenting.” But deeper in we get “debate or dispute” followed by “a process of reasoning,” and then my favorite, “a statement for or against a point.”
Mirror contributor Hannah Heineman has reported that there’s a definite level of contention about the way citizens are dealt with by the city of Santa Monica regarding appeals for parking citations [See “City Accused of Not Explaining Denied Parking Appeals” on page A1]. It appears that during the appeals process, the city can review an appealed citation and then send a letter to the citizen involved that has this language in it: “The review has confirmed that the citation was properly issued and is valid. The reason given does not invalidate the citation.” There’s no reason given (by or from the City) for why the (appealed) citation was not dismissed. Put another way, the City is refusing to give up enough information for the appellant to continue their argument.
Heineman’s reporting pressed the city for comment. As she wrote: “Don Patterson, the City’s business and revenues operations manager, issued a statement on May 4. Patterson said that the City attorney’s office looked over the City’s citation administrative review process and concluded the following: “Our current administrative processes and notices meet the minimum requirements of applicable state law. The City continuously reviews all of our processes in an ongoing effort to improve customer service and we have been in the process of reviewing and updating various parking related notices over the past several months.”
So we see some daylight in a possible review of the process. But there may be an observation to be made which is that there can sometimes be a dimension to government process whereby citizens are, shall we say, nudged to give up the fight. Borrowing from the Museum of Things Grandad Used to Say, you can’t fight city hall. Except that you can, and there are times when citizens do and they’re right. I’m reminded of the dust-up a few years back about high hedges and fines for high hedges. At one point, letters from the City informed Santa Monica residents of ridiculously high potential fines for not cutting their hedges lower. Cooler heads and accommodation prevailed.
It’s fair and reasonable to put some of this off on human nature. We will often come to realize what’s involved in a process, and give up by making the decision that the pursuit of an issue or point or a citation appeal is bigger than the thing itself. Take the scenario of realizing a product you’ve purchased has failed while still under warranty. Suddenly a seemingly simple conversation on the phone about a blown-out hair dryer becomes the Scopes trial from “Inherit the Wind” with you arguing that, if this were a moral universe, somebody would simply put a new hair dryer in the mail and stop beating you up about a store receipt. And let’s not even start on talking to the cable people …
But the day-to-day interactions of government with its citizens should never incorporate some expectation of citizen fatigue as means of reducing additional steps in full and fair process. Could not providing the complete information a citizen needs to continue their appeal reflect a small level of hope that, in frustration, the appellant will throw in their cards? Or more specifically, throw a check into an envelope and quit fighting? I hope not.
About a year ago I was cited by LAPD for crossing a double yellow line. I was guilty, but I considered arguing to a judge that there are so many 24/7 violations of that nature that picking me out for a fine was ludicrous and thus somehow unfair. (I concede the weakness of that argument.) I reflected on the time all that would take, and decided to pay my fine. I went to the building where you pay fines, and my ticket was not in the system yet. I was advised not to mail the payment until their processing had caught up. I was concerned about not having a receipt, so I would have to come back again in two weeks to pay. For a good citizen, it seemed like a lot of bother. And the parking at the building involved was five bucks a pop. Just sayin’…
If I was administrating parking ticket appeals, I wonder exactly how liberal I would be in giving everybody their day and time to argue it out. I can see myself at some point suggesting “I’ll flip you for it.” The frustration template of “Well, you can keep pressing on this but it’s hard…” appears everywhere in modern life but we shouldn’t always throw up our hands and quit, especially in instances where it’s our government. Ours. And that’s not an argument.