The Citizen As ATM

Though some of the 90 municipalities in St. Louis County, Missouri, have as few as 300 residents, most have their own courts and police. Such fragmentation is expensive, requiring residents to pony up for general administration services that could easily be consolidated. Municipalities must constantly be on the lookout for revenue. Pagedale in North St. Louis County is currently embroiled in two lawsuits over its reliance on aggressive code enforcement and municipal fines to pay for the day-to-day operations of city government. The suits’ outcomes could determine whether Pagedale and similar cities survive as independent entities.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in November, three Pagedale residents—Valarie Whitner, Vincent Blount, and Mildred Bryant—allege that the city’s code-enforcement practices violate their civil and due-process rights. Their suit lays out the many ways to run afoul of the city’s code: letting shrubs or vegetation exceed seven inches in height; having sloppy or mismatched drapes; failing to put screens on windows and doors; playing or walking in the street; barbequing on the front lawn; and “wearing one’s pants below the waist in public.” The city has put revenue generation ahead of the administration of justice, the suit claims.