Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No MAS, please

Poor Morro Bay.  It's like a rather lackadaisical family who lets the nickles and dimes fall out of their pockets and accumulate under the couch cushions, until Momma needs a new pair of shoes and then the family roars into the living room and starts tearing the couch apart in a fury looking for those dimes, shrieking, "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" and terrifying the children.

Apparently, Morro Bay has been pretty lax over the years when it came to making sure all businesses are up to date on their business licenses.  Then, months ago, since they're cash-strapped (aren't we all?), they passed a consent agenda item without really understanding what they were getting themselves in for.  They held no public hearings, did no research, got no feedback before they signed a contract with Municipal Auditing Services (MAS) to do a thorough audit of the town in order to shake loose all those missing business licenses.

So MAS roared into town like wild-eyed Momma with a huge pair of giant scissors in her hands heading for the couch cushions and those dimes hidden underneath.  Rather alarming and confusing  letters filled with muddled but unmistakeable menace went out to businesses.  The letters can best be summed up as, "You're gonna pay up big time, you scofflawing low-life, or we're gonna dynamite your store and hang your dog!"  Soon, complaints were coming in about the "rude, intimidating" follow- up phone calls. And before you know it, fear and fury roared through the business community, which is the lifeblood of the town, and all kinds of dark, dire imagining rose into the air like a terrifying miasma. It was like a spooky, scary Halloween before Halloween.

The Chamber and other business folk soon called a "workshop" to try to figure out what the hell was going on.  At the meeting they were able to make clear some of what MAS was going to do -- collect four years of back license fees plus taxes plus penalties, with a possible total cost of $1,200 or more -- and require that all "vendors" that sell anything to anybody in Morro Bay cough up a $135-a-year license.  That information caused a good many jaws to drop and eyeballs to pop out and tempers rose accordingly.

Worse, was what that $135-a-year would mean to  "artists, artisans, home crafters" who eke out a modest living occasionally selling their work to galleries and consignment stores, with the concern being that Morro Bay's lively arts community would go kaput.  After all, what artist, who may do one or two shows a year, often selling very little, would exhibit in Morro Bay if they had to cough up $135 smackaroonies for the "privilege" of doing so.

And, nobody seem to know what the hell the term "vendors" meant.  Like was MAS going to post blockades on every road into town and stop any vehicle coming in with anything intended to be sold in the town's stores, and check them for their "vendor's" licenses?   Or take the names of every product sold in the town then write a little note to the manufacturer of that product demanding they cough up the dough for a business license  since they are a "vendor" selling a product in the town?

In short, things were in a mess, but the staff and Council listened to the concerns and last night the Council came up with a few modifications: A 90 day amnesty for everyone not in compliance -- no back taxes, no back penalties, just pay the previous 4 years license fees which will bring your business current and you'll be good to go.  And small art crafters/artist "vendors" who sell $2,500 or less per year, would only need to get themselves current then would need a $10 license. And they promised to revisit the municipal business codes to see what needed updating and fixing so they could end up with a more level playing field and make sure that all businesses are paying their fair share, without killing off the golden geese  (small business) that keep Morro Bay a thriving community.

As an example of how poorly this whole things was handled, I had to ask whether that $2,500 for art/crafters/vendors was gross or net.  The council didn't know.  And there was the reason why this whole mess went sideways from day one.  The municipal codes, the MAS implementation, all of it was ass-backwards and not ready for prime time.  Worse, City Manager, David Buckingham, stated that "outside vendors" (which nobody bothered to define) would not be tracked down if they lived and worked out of the city or , as Mr. Buckinham put it, they were not worth the juice (i.e. the cost of pursuing costs more than what they would owe.).  Which means you've got a law on the books that will be selectively enforced at the whim of MAS or Mr. Buckingham, which means it's a bad law.

And there the problem lies.  The city needed to first re-consider and re-define the code and decide what various parameters should be, define the terms, outline categories with fee amounts and etc.  Then do an education/outreach effort, and only then bring in something like MAS for enforcement.

But that didn't happen because, as the Council made clear, they had hired MAS without doing their homework/due diligence, without thinking through some of the unintended consequences, and were now very sorry but they had already signed the contracts and were stuck for the next three years.

And then something extraordinary happened.  One by one (Jamie Irons had recused himself for possible conflict of interest since he was already officially appealing a MAS ruling on his license requirements)  the Council members APOLOGIZED to the community for screwing up and causing such distress.

Apologized to the community!  It was a breathtaking thing to see.

And certainly a hopeful sign that they will be working hard to ensure this cockamamie mess gets fixed, will be open to community input, will work to get the codes tweaked and improved to ensure fairness and common sense.  And they'll likely put a muzzle on the MAS enforcers, maybe school them in the Morro Bay Way.


Ron Crawford, over at www.   
 is wondering why a handful of people got a refund check from the bankruptcy proceedings while others didn't.  Hmmm, more ancient history to unwind. Ron is just having too much fun.

Fair warning to my fanboy/girl Sewer Trolls, don't come on this comment section to chew on my ankles.  You will be dumped.  If you got a crank, go chew on Ron's ankles on his website.  And if you know any of the folks listed, ask them to give Ron a call or post on his website so he can finish his story on this little wrinkle. Thanks.


Ron said...

Ann writes:

"Apologized to the community!  It was a breathtaking thing to see."

I'm stunned. A government agency actually apologized for their screw-up? Stunned, I'm tellin' ya.


"Fair warning to my fanboy/girl Sewer Trolls, don't come on this comment section to chew on my ankles.  You will be dumped.  If you got a crank, go chew on Ron's ankles on his website."

Thank you for that, Ann. And since I don't allow anonymous blog comments, I don't foresee much ankle chewing.

Thanks for the link! : -)

Churadogs said...

Ron, Yes, it was breathtaking. I was actually very touched. It was clear that these elected folks really did feel bad about the distress they caused their friends and neighbors and because of that I know they'll work extra hard to undo the tangle. It was amazing.