Friday, September 15, 2006

Seizure law riles Cooper City residents

By Thomas Monnay
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

September 9, 2006

COOPER CITY · The city has given itself the right to seize its residents' personal property for public use in an emergency.

And although commissioners say it would use its new law only in "an exceptional disaster," some residents are furious.

"These people, with their mindset, should be arrested and put in jail for even attempting to do something like this," said Tim Wilder, a mobile mechanic who owns emergency tools and equipment.

Commissioners on July 25 approved the law in anticipation of a busy hurricane season, to ensure the city could assist residents quickly. But they said they wouldn't enforce it unless there were no other options.

"There's always the possibility of abuse of power," Commissioner Elliot Kleiman said, "but it's not going to happen here."

Property that could be taken includes a truck to transport emergency workers or a building to shelter disaster victims.

Fort Lauderdale has had a similar law on the books since 2004. Mayor Jim Naugle said no one has complained about it because residents and businesses understand that governments must protect and assist them in times of disaster.

But he said, "We haven't had to exercise the authority. We try very hard to prepare ourselves for emergencies."

The state has the same power, but Mike Stone, a spokesman with the Division of Emergency Management, said he couldn't recall Florida ever using it. Still, he said, it's a necessary tool.

"You don't know what you are going to be facing," Stone said. "You don't want to limit your ability to render services."

Cooper City business owner John Sims owns two trucks, a 7,500-watt generator and chain saws. He said that despite the law, "I intend to not allow anyone on my property without a warrant. I'm going to use my equipment to protect my family prior to allowing the city to [take my equipment]."

Under the city law, once the city declares a state of emergency, officials would be able to regulate fuel and alcohol sales, close any place of public assemblage and prohibit public possession or display of firearms. In addition, they would be able "to confiscate merchandise, equipment, vehicles or property needed to alleviate any emergency condition."

Confiscated property would be returned within 30 days after an emergency ends. And the city must compensate an owner for using personal property, which would have to be returned in the same condition in which it was seized.

The plan was advertised in local newspapers for several days before it became law. Commissioner Bart Roper said only one resident complained during a public hearing, when the item was discussed and approved by a 4-0 vote.

Barry Butin, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Broward County, said there is no need to confiscate property because both the state and federal governments help cities after disasters.

"It's just political grandstanding," Butin said.

Weston has an emergency management law, but it doesn't allow the city to seize private property, Mayor Eric Hersh said.

"We certainly do not have any desire to infringe on people's personal property," he said.

Lorie Mertens, an assistant city manager in Hollywood, said her city uses its own equipment and makes service arrangements with contractors before a hurricane strikes.

Kleiman said Cooper City residents should be happy because their city has taken preventative steps to ensure their well-being.

Wilder, who owns chain saws, a 45,000-watt generator and several trucks, said the law is unconstitutional because city officials could take his property against his will.

"These clowns think they can come to your home anytime they want," he said.


John Sims said...

Hey Bro! I am John Sims. I love the blog. Keep up the good work! I too got disgusted and ran for local office and won last March. I am now a city commissioner looking to repeal this disastrous and illegal ordinance...Wish me luck as I am the minority vote on this someone deranged commission...

kdsmooth said...

That's how we get our rights & country back by voting and running for office. Stand strong John and fight the good fight.


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