HARBESON: Are services really being rendered?
In his hysterical response to the State Board of Accounts audit for Clark County Superior Court No. 3, covering the years 2008-10, now-retired Judge Steven Fleece resorted to a typical defense of government actions — focusing on the so-called services provided rather than the coercion necessary to fund them. This tactic is particularly intriguing here because one of the primary points of contention between the SBOA and Fleece is whether or not a service even exists in the first place.
This issue of services concerns the Clark County Alcohol and Drug Program, the troubled entity that has been mentioned in previous SBOA reports for other Clark County government departments. The county has been charging an alcohol and drug fee to every driver charged with a moving traffic violation, even if the violation had nothing at all to do with drugs or alcohol and those charged did not receive alcohol and drug program services.
The SBOA claims that no alcohol and drug program service was provided to the people who were forced to pay this fee, but Fleece, who was in control of this program for years, disagrees. He says they did provide a service to these people — a pamphlet discussing the dangers of drugs and alcohol and “offering” a professional alcohol and drug assessment.
It doesn’t matter to Fleece if these people actually take advantage of and use this assessment service — the pamphlet itself is considered the service that justifies the user fee extorted from the people unlucky enough to commit a moving traffic violation in Clark County.
Fleece works very hard in his response to prove that this pamphlet is the service and therefore justifies the extra fees charged on nonalcohol and drug related moving traffic violations. As a matter of fact, Fleece is so determined that he spends nearly two full pages discussing the definition of the word “service.”
He settles on two definitions. One is from the Oxford English Dictionary of 1971: “The action of serving, helping or benefiting; conduct tending to the welfare or advantage of another.” The second is from the American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition: “An act of assistance or benefit to another or others; a favor.”
Do you think the people pulled over for speeding felt like the government did them a favor when the officer handed over a pamphlet that would cost them up to $50?
Further attempting to defend the pamphlets as a legitimate service, Fleece goes on to say that services people provide can vary in degree and the relative importance of a given service does not matter. To illustrate this, Fleece uses heart transplants and shoe polishing as examples.
It’s interesting to note here that since these service providers interact with others on a voluntary basis, they would never consider it proper to hand out pamphlets about their services to others and then after doing so, charge people $50 for the pamphlet. Instead, they simply charge people who actually use the service offered.
Can you imagine what would happen if a surgeon or shoe polisher did try to charge for pamphlets they handed out about their services? People would laugh in their faces if they arrogantly proposed that just the offer of the service is a provision of a service. Yet this is exactly the defense Fleece is offering to justify collecting what has amounted to more than $2.5 million in these so-called user fees since 2006.
For now, it appears that this has stopped because current Judge Joseph Weber has been following the SBOA recommendations. However, that doesn’t mean he’s exactly on board with what the SBOA says either because his response to the SBOA report says he is of the opinion that “there is a legitimate argument that the offer of services does itself constitute the provision of services.”
Weber’s letter also states that county officials, along with their attorneys, are interested in finding a way around this problem. Who knows what that means but wouldn’t it be nice if they’d do everyone a favor and stop charging people user fees for this service they don’t use?
— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is available to write for you. Now that you’ve read this offer, you owe her $50. Email her at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com to find out where to send payment.