Ah, Poor Morro Bay. Last year the city hired Devin Weigant of Municipal Auditing Services (MAS) to pull an Inspector Javert on the city and track down anyone, including "outside vendors" who do business within the Morro Bay city limits and see if they have the proper business license. Weigant and MAS will get 40% of whatever monies he can shake out of the pockets of the business community.
The reason for the sudden enforcement of what has been, apparently, a lax and sloppily administered law, was the city is, well, broke-ish and needs mo’ money. But it turned out Inspector Javert’s ham-handed enforcement methods left a lot of business folks feeling insulted, threatened and, above all, totally confused and angry.
And now, Colin Rigley of New Times got his hands on 492 pages of emails between Weigant’s firm and the city staff, including the city’s new Manager, David Buckingham. And, being New Times, “The Shredder” had to chime in as well. I don’t think MAS will be amused. Neither will the good folks of Morro Bay when they read what Mr. Weigant had to say about them in those emails.
Well, who can blame them? The original roll out of this enforcement effort wasn’t ready for prime time. Even after some modifications, it still isn’t ready.
This is one of those ordinances that’s been on the books for years, wasn’t really widely known or diligently enforced, and needed considerable re-working and re-thinking before being turn-keyed. None of which happened here.
Instead, business owners woke up to what they perceived to be threats and bully-boy tactics when they tried to inquire or appeal. They were faced with totally confusing information (at an early public meeting, officials didn’t know whether the income parameters were for net or gross). They were also facing an ordinance filled with strange loopholes, exceptions, disparities that left the city staff scrambling to make patches, and soon these bungles started to reveal a poorly written and considered law that was filled with unintended consequences.
For example, the owner of one of the city’s consignment stores pointed out that her consigners really made so little selling their art or collectables that if they had to cough up big bucks for a license, they’d simply leave town and she’d be out of business. Artists chimed up to note that if they had a show in a Morro Bay gallery a couple of times a year, they’d be dinged with a huge bill for the license and 4 years of back fees, an untenable hit for an artist who may only sell a few pieces of work a year.
They too would leave town. After all, why would any artist bring their work to any gallery in town, when no other gallery in the county requires such an expensive license?
Realizing they were faced with some unintended consequences heading their way, the City Council created a second tier of fees for artists, small crafters, etc. But, I recently heard (unconfirmed) that thanks to some lobbying, musicians were now exempted while (visual) artists are still stuck with what could turn out to be fees totaling $160 just to hang a picture in town. If true, then clearly this cobbled together law still needs more work.
Meantime, Weigant & Co’s emails have done nothing to improve the mood of the Morro Bay business community. Calling them “scoflaws,” “child like” and “clowns” when they were just trying to make sense of, clarify and appeal what was so obviously a poorly written, confusing ordinance, is not a way to make friends or influence people.
And for a town that relies for so much of its tax money on small businesses, hiring MAS now looks like one of those penny wise, pound foolish desperate measures elected officials make when stressed over flagging budgets.
Instead of doing the hard work of consulting with and understanding the communities’ business structure in order to construct and perhaps amend and improve on previous ordinances to enhance both small business and the city’s coffers, they just grabbed at a rain-making Inspector Javert who came roaring into town promising that coins would fall out of the sky with little or no work on their part.
Knowing Morro Bay Politics, it’s a choice that’s likely to have consequences --unintended, many of them unhappy, few of them necessary. But then, in a city filled with “clowns,” what can you expect?