By Dennis Minich
Prejudice is a word in the English language which has been hijacked to have a very narrow definition instead of the much broader meaning intended. When we hear prejudice, we think in racial or ethnic terms and know the word is a badth ing. But in reality, prejudice means simply what is says, to prejudge something.
Prejudice can be a good or bad thing. If you think about walking through a dark alley late at night, your logic, or prejudice can tell you it might not be a good idea. But prejudging can also leave you lacking knowledge. For example, the idea of coffee-flavored ice cream sounds totally disgusting to me. I know there are people who love it, but I know I won’t. However, since I have never tried coffee-flavored ice cream, my disgust is based on a prejudice not on any fact.
Prejudice can lead us to not see what we are being shown, hear what is being said or understand what is being explained. I witnessed such an event Saturday morning when I attended a city-sponsored town hall meeting at the Methodist Church.
The topic of conversation was ideas for a program called “Rental Ready.” The first words out of the mouth of every presenter were something to the effect of, nothing has been decided and we don’t know how this will work. Mayor Judy Bowman, Codes Director Chris Arthur, Police Chief John Hofer, City Administrator Brad Ratliff and everyone else who spoke on the city’s behalf emphasized this is a working idea and ideas from the public, including landlords, will be included in any plan which might come down the pike.
Unfortunately, they were speaking to a crowd which had prejudged the city’s intent. At least 95 percent of the crowd were local landlords or rental agents who had been fired up with misinformation. They came in thinking the city was announcing a new plan which would allow the city unabated access to property and carry a fee of $300 or $400 per. Needless to say, nearly everyone in attendance had predetermined this was all a bad idea and the best place for the city government was out of their business.
Most listened politely for the first 90 minutes or so, but then one made some remarks which brought applause from the audience. It opened the flood gates for everyone to pipe in on why every idea was bad.
I understand the lack of trust in government and I appreciate folks hoping to protect their turf, but honestly those in attendance didn’t listen to what was being said. It was repeatedly said the city is hoping to develop a policy and want everyone’s input. The city recently did the same thing with developers, talking about what would make things work easier and the result has been reworking connection fees, licensing and various other changes, all of which are thought to improve the development environment.
Ironically, some of the complaints from the landowners could be remedied in the city’s policies.
Currently, if a renter moves out and leaves a water bill, the landlord can be left on the hook. It isn’t fair, but neither is expecting the entire customer base to pick up the deadbeats’ tab. Ratliff said if landlords could give the city a list of renters, the landlords could be alerted if bills were not being paid. Likewise, when it comes to city tree work or other issues, if the city knows the landlords, contacts could be easily made if rental property was on file, rather than the city having to determine which were privately owned and which were rentals. The city also offered to help in background checks of potential renters.
From a safety standpoint, police would like to know if the doors to the house lock, if there are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and that outdoor foliage is maintained so police can observe the area. They note local vagrancy issues prompt this need.
The crowd heard virtually none of this information, but believed only what they had heard through the rumor mill. Ratliff made it clear if there was a fee, it would be no more than $30 per landlord, not per house. This is not a revenue generating
The audience heard none of these things and took turns hammering every idea. After an hour or so of complaints, one person said since the audience had been so decisive, if anyone in the room supported the city proceeding, they should stand up. I stood up.
About 40 percent of the homes in Harrisonville are rentals. Most of the landlords are good conscientious owners and take care of their property. But what about the ones who aren’t. Every other business in the city has to have licenses, including motels, why do rentals get an exception? If what the city officials said is the real intent, why all of the angst? It would seem some of the ideas might be helpful.
There were landlords in the audience who I consider good friends. One is my business partner. I appreciate the difficulty the business presents. I also understand that many have had a bad year because of COVID-19 issues. I also appreciate their concerns and if they turn out to be warranted, I will lead the parade of protest against the city’s plan. But at this point, it seems like it might be a good time to talk less and listen more and see if is possible plans can be developed to benefit both sides.
One final note, two of the more vocal opponents in the crowd were not wearing masks, even though it was noted at the beginning the Methodist Church requires everyone to wear one. I appreciate folks wanting their freedom of choice, but a guest should honor the wishes of their host. If they want others to stay out of their business, they should observe the rights of others as well.