Jeff Ward: I Want to Encourage Underage Thinking!
Not all citizen activism is a good thing.
At the risk of making some readers’ heads explode, I’m gonna say it again. Not all citizen activism is a good thing.
But what those all-caps responders fail to understand is, that doesn’t mean I’m discouraging anyone from getting involved. As long as your methodology is reasonable, and you’re not too attached to the outcome, by all means, give it your best shot.
You see, when you have the wisdom to put the process above your ego, the process tends to take care of itself.
It is with that self-correcting mechanism in mind that we’ll take a look at 21-year-old Geneva resident Zachary Ploppert’s recent two-part Patch assertion that, in light of another parent-sanctioned underage drinking party bust, we should increase that fine from $100 to $250 and throw in some community service for good measure.
I apologize to my smarter readers for having to issue this caveat—not that it ever stops the knee jerks anyway—but here it is: I’m not advocating unbridled underage drinking. What I am advocating is that civic-minded folks, especially those with an eye on an aldermanic seat, should more-carefully consider their position before going public.
To wit, Ploppert’s proposition was flawed from the start. He essentially opened his letter to the editor with, “ … the number of tickets issued has declined in recent years, and overall, the amount of underage drinking tickets issued is relatively low.”
And that’s exactly where he should have stopped. But instead, like so many folks who remain undaunted in the face of contrary facts, Ploppert simply created his own.
Rather than accept that his original statement was correct, he unilaterally decided the crime wasn’t in decline, it was that Geneva teens were becoming more adept at avoiding detection. Thus, he called for the increased fine that "sends the message that underage drinking will not be tolerated in Geneva.”
But Zac? Isn’t that like Metra instituting a fare hike when they’re not collecting them to begin with? What’s the point of a $250 fine if they’re not going to get caught? The only message that sends is the Geneva City Council is willing to waste our time on ineffective feel-good legislation that only makes it appear as if they’re actually doing something.
Sure enough, when Ploppert appeared before that body, Sam Hill hopped right on the bandwagon. Dean Kilburg, the alderman for whom I’ve harbored such high hopes, actually said the fact the fine has been the same for 42 years was “ridiculous.”
Ah, yes! Another example of the municipal mindset at work. Fines should always go up over time if for no other reason than they should always go up over time.
My advice to the City Council would be to stop considering sandwich boards and underage drinking and prepare yourselves for the disruptive budgetary effects of distressed properties counting toward property-tax assessments for the first time in 2012.
Inexplicably, after ignoring his original analysis, Ploppert stopped the investigation altogether. I agree that community service is a better alternative than a fine, but small municipalities like Geneva don’t have the infrastructure to run a community-service program. That’s something typically left to the county.
And speaking of the county, the GPD already has the discretion to send underage drinking cases to the State’s Attorney’s Office. Once it’s in their capable hands, they can hit the offender with community service as well as a $2,500 fine.
In fact, it’s been the GPD’s policy to issue a $100 ticket for the first offense and kick it up to the county for the second. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. If there’s one police force on the planet I trust to appropriately use discretion, it’s ours. Why mess with success?
Chief Steve Mexin told me, “I’m not necessarily opposed to a fine increase, but the fact is, I don’t see any identifiable reason that would indicate an increase is necessary.” Hallelujah! I love a law enforcement leader who refuses to pander.
Take note, aldermen! There’s no need to consider this any further.
I would also encourage Mr. Ploppert to re-read his high school history books. Prohibition never works! When every third TV commercial portrays a crowd that can’t crack a smile without a beer buzz, how are we gonna keep ‘em down on the farm?
You want the real answer? In Europe, teenagers can have a glass of wine with their parents in any restaurant without repercussion. Even children can partake. And because it isn’t forbidden fruit, those countries don’t have an underage-drinking problem.
Mr. Ploppert! When you noted that underage drinking citations were in decline, instead of assuming facts that weren’t in evidence, perhaps you should’ve pulled the plug right there. Not only did you compound your error, you wasted the City Council’s time by offering a solution that already exists and one that doesn’t address the root problem.
That said, your willingness to put yourself on the line in the battle against underage drinking is to be lauded and, armed with a better plan, I heartily encourage you to continue your efforts.