Sunday, September 10, 2006

Tale of Two (Corrupt) Cities




My New Orleans project is the pink one in the center, the Jefferson house is the pink one on the left.










Tale of Two Corrupt Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. September 2005, two completely Democratic Catholic Cities, both with long histories of Byzantine, machine politics. Boston seemed at the top of its game, with a strong housing market, a glow from being the World Series Defending Champion, recent spruce up of downtown for the national Democratic convention, completion of the biggest public works project in American history. New Orleans was at the bottom, its infrastructure, both physical and political, exposed for the fa├žade it was. People dead in the streets, the living with no homes, possessions or hope from the government institutions they had paid tribute money to all their years. Not local, not state, not federal could be counted on.

When I decided to run for office in Boston, I sat down with one of the heads of the Banner, the African American paper of record in the Hub. When I told him my plans of telling the truth about the state of the City and how big money is siphoning off the assets of the citizens he told me in all seriousness I’d be shot. Strong words coming from a veteran of the civil war battles of the sixties, I politely laughed it off but agreed that there would be reprisals from our vindictive City Hall. I told my wife that for sure they would raise the taxes on the house we live in.

It was a story I told to my campaign workers, many of whom were Boston Public School students. Sure enough, last summer when we were doing campaign preparation the taxman came by to reassess the property. And What an Assessment It Was!!! When the new bills came out for 2007 I found we were now the second highest assessed house in the South End. This despite being on West Springfield Street, which has the sirens of the police and ambulances roaring out back all night long, where drugs can still be bought in the alley, with no fountain or park in the middle of the street, with Northeastern students next door smoking dope and throwing beer cans in our yard during late night parties. Amazingly, no other house on the street was assessed at closer than 60% of the value of ours, despite the identical natures of the strict Victorian facades and layouts. Only one other house on Union Park was assessed for about $50,000 more, despite home prices on Union Park well beyond the 2, 3 and 4 million dollar mark. No house on my street has ever sold for more than 1,250,000 yet somehow our assessment is over 1.9 million!!! All of this without ever going inside the place! (see assessment at http://www.cityofboston.gov/assessing/search/default.asp?mode=value&pid=0900767000)

Teach me for using that First Amendment Right! Clearly that Amendment is not first in the hearts of proper Boston Democrats.

In the by and by, I went down to Louisiana to help out the citizens recover from this greatest natural disaster in US history. I got to see real incompetence, corruption, stonewalling, and flim flamming first hand and the detrimental effect of these actions on its citizens. In the course of my work with private citizens and Habitat for Humanity I was able to get a glimpse of the Big Easy, and to see it is to love it. I decided to make a long term commitment to the city, and buy a building to fix up and provide more housing stock where it was desperately needed. I looked at a number of places before finding an historical double shotgun, on a block of double shotguns in the Irish Channel, and made a contract to purchase it for $200,000.

Louisiana’s laws, unlike most of the rest of the US, are based on Napoleonic law and thus have different monikers, anachronisms, and systems. One of them in New Orleans is the election of seven tax assessors, each with their own fiefdom. As one might imagine this has the potential of, how shall we say, “Skewing” the assessment of certain ‘friends of the assessor’!!! These offices are often held in one family for multiples of decades.

It turns out that the house I bought is next door to a member of the Jefferson political family. The head of the Clan is Richard, the congressman recently found with $90,000 cold hard cash in his freezer, and whose office in Washington was raided by the FBI. His sister, Betty, is our local Tax Assessor. An independent auditor about 4 years ago found that over 80 percent of the properties in her district were incorrectly assessed by more than 50%!!! Imagine if 80 percent of the work you did was off by 50% or more….I guess this is where the expression “close enough for government work” comes from. Sure enough, when I got my New Orleans tax bill, I found out the property I’d purchased was assessed for $20,000.

(I hope no one in New Orleans reads my blog!!!)

So, one doesn’t have to wonder why corruption works. In Boston, where I’m outspoken, talk about having open, transparent, professional government I get penalized with a $19,000 tax bill. In New Orleans, where I, mostly, keep my mouth shut, go along to get along, fix the downspouts of the political family house next door, I pay $73 in taxes. Doesn’t take a genius to see which method is better off for someone personally.

Therein is the problem. If people only do what is best for them personally, we as a society suffer. That is why the city budget in New Orleans, with a similar population to Boston of 600,000 was about 500 million dollars pre-Katrina, while Boston is 2 Billion. That is why the roads are terrible, the police and DA are terrible, the schools are beyond abysmal, etc.

If you are friends with your taxman are you going to give them a political donation and keep your assessment at $20,000 and take the saved money to send your kids to private school, or be altruistic and put a street sign in front of your house for the candidate calling for professional tax assessment and risk paying more of your hard earned dollars in retribution?

This is how corruption works and wins, the tyranny of the majority which can lead to catastrophe for all.

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For fun, check out Tom Menino’s tax assessment. Amazing how the city tax increases which had residential taxes go up about 9% in each of the last two years didn’t reach to his corner of Hyde Park. (http://www.cityofboston.gov/assessing/search/default.asp?mode=value&pid=1812819000)


Parcel ID:

1812819000

Address:

102 CHESTERFIELD ST, Boston, MA, 02136

Property Type:

Residential - One Family

Lot Size (sqft):

3651

Owner Name:

MENINO THOMAS M ETAL

Residential Exemption:

Yes

Owner Address:

102 CHESTERFIELD HYDE PARK MA 02136


FY2007 Preliminary

Attributes

Current
Owner(s)

Value
History


Fiscal Year

Property Type

Assessed Value *

2006

Residential - One Family

307,200

2005

Residential - One Family

290,300

2004

Residential - One Family

290,300

2003

Residential - One Family

218,300

2002

Residential - One Family

204,000

2001

Residential - One Family

192,200




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