2 July 2008: In Empire, logic, common sense take backseat

In Empire, logic and common sense take a back seat

Disappointing can be one way to describe the antics of Empire’s Planning Commission meeting on June 25. Embarrassing would be a better descriptor.

Twenty-five citizens gathered to participate in it and to give support to the right of Chad and Dianna Sessions to continue having their trailer sit in part on town land.

Planning Commission chair Sue Hauser made it clear from the outset that no such democratic allowances would be entertained and then proceeded to oversee a performance that was marked by shouting matches, finger pointing, and snide comments between the angry audience members and Empire’s finest sequestered at a distance behind oversized tables.

Sophistry, the art of false argumentation, was the rule while decorum, logic, and common sense took a backseat.

With Mayor Rick Sprague riding shotgun, it was obvious that the commission had come to do its duty—don’t back down.

Ordinance 170 has been carved in stone: no expansion in the size of trailer courts. Does that mean no expansion to accommodate additional trailers or the actual physical size of the courts? Being a strict constructionist on this issue, Hauser insists it’s the latter.

The town is insisting the Sessions spend thousands of dollars to move their trailer nine feet for no other reason than to move it. What the town is not insisting upon is for the dozens of other citizens whose properties are encroaching on town property to come into compliance. That seemingly includes Mayor Rick Sprague, Trustee Rob Morris, and Hauser, owner of Jenny’s Restaurant.

Double standards, hypocrisy, and hidden agenda: the Empire version of the hat trick.

The injunction can be found in Matthew: “Ye without encroachments cast the first stones at those that do.” One would think that injunction would be the one carved in stone.

Mistake number one for Chad and Dianna was buying a trailer, a classic tale of buyer beware. Mistake number two was buying one in Empire where the idea of justice—equal protection under the law—is but a quaint anachronism of the Constitution.

Under duress, the commission voted in the end to ask the Trustees for a 30-day extension of the drop-dead date for Session to vacate town property—30 more days for Chad and Dianna to ominously stare at the Damocles Sword hanging over their heads: potential eviction and the loss of their investment.

The bottom line is that it is not a matter of encroachment violation, although that’s their story and they are sticking to it. Town officials are using it as a ruse as part of a strategy in a long simmering feud between the town and Mark and Sandi Cucinella over their management of the court. Their goal is to force the Cucinellas to reduce the number of occupants in his court.

One wonder if this is the opening salvo of a discreet plan to ultimately rid the town of trailer homes, which suggests a second and more disturbing impetus: a deep-seated, underlying resentment of trailers and those that live in them.

A dark stain on American egalitarianism that we prefer not to admit to goes like this: Our national myth holds that we’re all equal, but in reality America is a class-tiered society. For many, that sense of their inferiority causes them to create in turn a sub social status in relationship to them.

That’s the reason Chad Session’s home is expendable, while other select properties, commercial and private, get a by.

Should they get their way, what have the town leaders gotten? A chink in Cucinella’s armor, a heady elixir of power, and the loss of revenue from one or two water taps. That’s all. No more, no less, except for perhaps a warning shot across the bow of trailer home owners.

When asked to comment, Hauser declined saying that Cucinella has put forth a plan and if everyone avoided getting emotional, it will get worked out. The problem is the only plan the town seems willing to accept is one that calls a reduction in the number of trailers—read, people—in the court. So, that might stir up some emotions if you’re the one facing the loss of your home, don’t you think?

Perhaps Cucinella could hold a lottery such as is held in Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery. In it, the unfortunate winner forfeits her life. And it is fictional.

This story is for real and the winner would lose his/her home and investment, while those fortunate to survive would only deal with thousands of dollars in costs to move their trailer and possibly to perform required upgrades.

After all the sophistry it still comes down to why—why this at all? And why isn’t justice being served in Empire?

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