RAMBLINGS • Help Interpreting The Legal Code

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The amount of knowledge one needs to avoid legal entanglements in  our culture is more mind-boggling than I suspected in the first seventy years of my life, and it's not because my mind is missing any cogs. My body may be failing, but that's status quo. (Physically I've been on a downhill slide since I was 22). My knowledge bank keeps growing, though.

In late March a state legislator introduced a bill (HB 2334) to permit parents to leave a child no younger than 12 alone at home unsupervised. Currently the age is 14. My problem? I didn't know any law concerning a "leave at home alone" (or with younger siblings–using kids as babysitters) existed. It's hard to legislate because kids vary so much; some are capable of knowing if, when, and how to call for help in an emergency when they are ten. Others would be pressed to react in an emergency when they are 20. Too, I suspect the length of time the child or children are alone, the time of day, and the reason the parent figure is gone should all come into play.

My father had no problem leaving me alone in a far field to work when I was 12; he had the ultimate learn-by-doing philosophy. He told me to plow a small field once during planting season when my legs were barely long enough to reach the clutch and brake pedals on our Allis Chalmers CA (it also had a hand clutch, which I did know how to use, but a small body with short arms made reaching that iffy). He didn't supply any directions, assuming I'd figure it out, but he wasn't particularly happy when he went to harrow the field the next day and discovered I'd not let the rear wheel nearest the plowed ground drop into the furrow. It made for a rough ride as he prepared the seed bed.

Perhaps he did give instructions but if so, I didn't hear them, and he seldom demonstrated. I suppose Mom sensed why I was so often in trouble with dad, but if she said anything to him, I didn't hear it because–old-school style–they presented a united front. He was the boss, not to have his methods questioned by his children or his spouse. A child raised in a rural area in the 1950s remembers that culture. Because, (or in spite) of his method, I became a relatively responsible person, but I've also always been troubled by some authority figures with whom I've had contact.

High school principals are a prime example. My high school principal in Marion Center Joint High School (Joint because several rural districts formed one bigger district in the early 1950s, not because it was slang for a penal institution) had a big, imposing physical presence, which he needed to have. He dealt with troublemakers immediately and in a fashion that kept me from joining their numbers. I don't know whether he could spell curriculum, and I didn't know what the word meant nor how important the school's curriculum would be to me until years later. I did know that might made right, and he was stronger than I.

As a teacher, I worked for six different principals, respecting most those who would confront both the troublemakers and the plainly troubled (a few of those were faculty members). Kids had a sixth sense of those who were in charge of the building as opposed to those whom they could run. Of the six, at least two were given to hiding in their office when trouble loomed; those I couldn't respect. From my carried-over-from-youth perspective, Larry Ackerman was the best principal I worked for; Doris Enochs and Bill Dagon tie for the best assistant principal. I won't name the worst.

This column, though, deals not with administrators I have known (No, I was never tempted to be one–I felt called to teach, as corny as that may sound to some, and the action was in the classroom). Instead, and I need to ramble back to it, the topic is the complexity of our societies as illustrated by HB 2334. Because we didn't know the law existed, I'm sure Judy and I broke it when the girls were pre-teen, though they fought at times (ask either one of them about the frying pan bottom to the face incident), they were more trustworthy as ten and eight year olds than they were as teens, but I won't explain that observation now either–in the interest of family harmony and my personal safety.

Rather, I decided to see which laws of Hillsboro I and others may violate often because we don't know about them. I am not a scoff-law (there's a term from the last century) on purpose; laws are necessary for those who live in society. However, one law begets another, each seemingly covering a smaller act, until the codes containing them are too extensive to memorize, difficult to read, and tough to understand. 

For example, for this column I spent more time than I could afford reading the 70 pages of the Hillsboro City Zoning Code and another two hours asking questions about it with Zoning and Code Enforcement Officer Gary Satterlee. They were a rather pleasant two hours–his mom provided day care for Dawn and Jenni in their home when the kids were pre-school; his dad and I traveled to football games together shortly after I began covering them for The Journal; Judy was Gary's sixth grade teacher; Gary as a fourth grader played second base for me on Coffeen's junior high baseball team in the fall of 1968; he started for three years on Coffeen's sixth grade basketball team in the Butler Tournament–those were the good old days for me.

A few years ago, during the pre-CTI push for broadband, in the days of the Demuzio Broadband Initiative, I not only bought a laptop from BoscoTech (excellent service) but also internet service from Royell (also excellent service). When Royell installed, they asked if they could put a sign in my yard. They put it on the boulevard (the space between my sidewalk and the street). 

Soon I had a visit from Gary, then the police chief. The location of the sign violated city code, so I moved it onto my yard until Royell picked it up a couple of weeks later. Political signs work the same way; they aren't to be in the boulevard. Neither are for sale signs, yard (or garage) sale, apartment for rent, or any other distracting or line of driver vision signs. It makes sense, but I didn't know. As Officer Satterlee pointed out (with a smile that day), ignorance is no excuse.

Here's another nugget. If I pulled into a driveway–even my own–and park behind other cars already there, I'm breaking the code if the rear of my vehicle is covering the sidewalk. Again, it makes sense, but I didn't know.

If I had a boat, I couldn't legally park it on my lot if I had a travel trailer and another recreational vehicle (a jet ski, a four-wheeler, a self-contained RV, a golf cart, etc.) also parked outside where passersby could see them. The limit is two.

One can't live in a travel trailer on his lot either. Not often, but once or twice a year or so, Judy would suggest the beds in the pull-behind trailer we owned might be a suitable place for me to sleep while it was backed into the driveway, but she always relented–because it was neither heated nor air conditioned, not because I was forgiven for whatever error I had made, so I didn't break that law, though I can see how it could happen. If I were so dumb as to make that lady unhappy, I would have slept in the camper. (We did take it on two legitimate trips, one to Sea World in Cleveland after a stop with the families in PA, and once to Missouri, but it was used most often to camp at the farm in South Fillmore Township after we moved to town–I did have to be weaned from that place.)

Here's one I didn't know: if one has more than three animals in or around his residence, he needs a kennel license. I know as a family we violated that one–always one dog around, and usually we'd feed a stray female cat, who would reward us by 1) staying, and 2) producing multiple litters of kittens until I'd scrape up enough money to have her spayed. Then the stray often committed suicide-by-car on the street near our house. (That happened more than once. One dog, one cat, four kittens should have equalled a kennel license–but I didn't know.) Judy would have said, "Buy the license or head for the camper."

The kids always had rabbits as pets (which I cared for). When they were small, Judy thought guinea pigs would teach them responsibility. We never had farm animals in town, but I wish I had a picture of John Downs' face when someone told him there were goats kept along Seymour Avenue when he was mayor. I no longer have pets on the premises; it's hard enough for me to care for myself.

Thanks to CTI, I no longer have DirecTV, but I did have a dish antenna still attached to the front of my house until the first warm days of April. Mr. Satterlee and I agreed that the code violation for that was a carryover from the early days of satellite television when the receivers were huge and unsightly, but mine came down anyway. It went to e-recycling.

I know I can't use an old railroad car as a storage shed. I'm hillbilly enough to have done that if I could have found a railroad car. Now, out of respect for my neighborhood and the city, I won't do that.

A bit of advice–if anyone intends to change the sight-line of his property with a deck, a pool, extra rooms, a fence, a garage, etc. he or she needs to call city hall before work begins. Mr. Satterlee (and others at city hall) are friendly and helpful, and that call could save hurt feelings and needless expense.

Appreciate the help interpreting the code.

Do not call me.

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