Snitch, blabbermouth, canary, fink, narc, rat, sneak, squealer, stoolie, stoolpigeon, and tattletale.
No, this is not a litany by a schoolyard bully; it is the new public policy of the City of Portland when it comes to snow removal.
The city's ordinance:
"If you fail to remove the snow from the sidewalk and a complaint is received, the Building Inspections Division will post your property. You will then have 24 hours to clear the sidewalk. If you fail to do so, Public Works will clear the sidewalk and you will be billed for the cost of the removal plus a 10% administrative fee. It is estimated that the cost of removal will be approximately $100 for an average sized sidewalk. In addition to removal costs, the City may also impose civil fines for violating the ordinance."
The magic words here are "a complaint is received."
Enter Frank Turek. He is the guy behind portlandsidewalks.org, a web site encouraging Portland dwellers to post the address of an offending property for all to see. To submit a property for public humiliation, visitors must have already lodged a complaint to the city thereby starting the inspection process rolling. There are links on the website to file complaints and to lookup names to match the offending address.
Turek, who rents an apartment on Munjoy Hill, at first seems like an unlikely character to mount this aggressive snow snitch campaign. A musician and visual artist, Turek was the host of the popular radio show "My Vinyl Recliner" on WMPG, sax man in surf band Shutdown 66 and owner of Ubu Gallery.
He recently remarked about his web site for citizen reporting, "It's no fun being in that role. I don't take pleasure in it, but I think the importance of the issue overrides that."
I am all for citizen involvement. But this reporting requirement smacks of McCarthyism. It is downright un-neighborly in a city that oozes neighborhood pride. Or so I thought. It seems that neighbors are more than ready to rat. Last week the city fielded nearly 400 snow removal complaints, spurring a revision to the ordinance to only apply to the peninsula where pedestrian traffic is higher. Off peninsula is off the hook. Turek is on to something.
Then, in a recent Portland Press Herald, editorial staffer Greg Kesich wrote about how his property was erroneously listed on portlandsidewalks.org by a disgruntled neighbor with a vendetta. Kesich's sidewalks were clear, his good name was not.
So what is a dweller to do? We don't have yards, so there is no place to put the snow. We pay high taxes but are still responsible for clearing snow off sidewalks, which are city property. These same taxes do not cover the cost of inspectors to proactively enforce the snow ordinance so we are left with the tattletale system.
By the time we figure out a better answer, I'm afraid that global warming will have made the question moot.
The list of offenders: www.portlandsidewalks.org/
To look up a property by address:www.portlandassessor.com/
To report an uncleared sidewalk:email@example.com