Natural Disasters

Volunteer Tree-Trimmer Fined $275, Told to Leave Minneapolis, After Helping Tornado Victims Outside His Assigned Area

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Quick! Someone call the licensing department!

Read all about the outrage in the first two-thirds of this Minneapolis Star Tribune column by Jon Tevlin. Then prepare to let the anger turn into despair, when Tevlin opines that the bad guys in this story "actually make some good points." Here they are:

Sgt. Steve McCarty, spokesman for the MPD, said the area was dangerous that day, with downed powerlines and teetering structures. "He was not authorized to be in that zone," McCarty said, explaining that everybody who ignored barricades was cited, regardless of his or her intentions.

McCarty said police were working in a chaotic environment and their first job was to keep people safe. He's sorry [Mike] Haege got a ticket, however, and noted that he might have a good shot at an appeal.

Matt Laible, spokesman for the city, said Haege was doing work in a zone that he hadn't been assigned to, work that should only have been done by a contractor licensed in Minneapolis. Laible said 18 citations were issued to people for working without a permit.

Ben Post works for Urban Homeworks, and sympathizes with Haege. But he said volunteers were given explicit directions to stay out of banned zones, so if Haege was in one, he was on his own.

"People were super ramped up to help, and frankly there wasn't much to do," he said. "The hard part is, I'm sure people were asking volunteers for help in those areas. But if we just released 600 people into the neighborhood, it would have been a nightmare."

Statist vs. decentralized responses to disaster is one of Reason's greatest, if more idiosyncratic, subjects. Thanks to reader Vivek N. Iyer for the tip.

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  1. McCarty said police were working in a chaotic environment and their first job was to keep people safe. He’s sorry [Mike] Haege got a ticket, however, and noted that he might have a good shot at an appeal.

    Of course, I read this as “got shot.”

    1. As did I

  2. As someone who lives in the affected area, it was barricaded and there were looters (still are). He shouldn’t have been there no matter how well intentioned.

    I also work for the electric company and the last thing we need is some guy’s family suing our ass off because his saw hit a hot wire.

    It was fucking chaos around here. It’s still pretty bad.

    1. Northsider,

      I take it you didn’t read the article. He was part of a coordinated volunteer group which had been granted access to a “zone” for helping. Sounds like he strayed outside of the zone and his brand of “helping” involved actions that “contractors” normally have to get “permits” and “licenses” to perform. Nowhere in there did it mentions word one about downed powerlines, unsafe operations or other misdeeds by the person in question.

      As a survivor of numerous hurricanes and their spinoff tornadoes I can unequivocally state that the only reason to obtain a “Permit” to cut downed trees is to line coffers of local government. Volunteers cutting downed trees to clear roadways and EMS paths are the only reason that the Gulf Coast can survive hurricanes year after year.

      1. I did read the article and just because the story didn’t mention downed powerlines didn’t mean they werent down. They had to replace the entire electricity infrastructure right down to digging new holes for new poles and replacing transformers.

        And no matter how well intentioned, he shouldn’t have strayed. But then what do I know? I only live here.

        1. “”I did read the article and just because the story didn’t mention downed powerlines didn’t mean they werent down.”‘

          Anyone who has any experience around tornados, knows powerlines were in fact down. Unless they were below ground to begin with.

      2. “Sgt. Steve McCarty, spokesman for the MPD, said the area was dangerous that day, with downed powerlines and teetering structures. ”

        WTF are you talking about. It mentions power lines in the first line of the quote.

      3. Not only that, but he was a professional who just wasn’t licensed in Minneapolis. If anyone knows how to work safely under various conditions, wouldn’t he?

    2. “I also work for the electric company and the last thing we need is some guy’s family suing our ass off because his saw hit a hot wire.”

      There’s also this,
      “Haege owns Custom Cut, trimming trees and building things for a living”

      I think an experienced tree trimmer knows something about trimming near powerlines, including downed ones. It’s not like he was some yahoo that just so happen to own a chainsaw.

      1. And even if he was just some yahoo who happened to own a chainsaw, he should have been allowed to help anyway. IF he hurt himself, then the courts should just say “tough titties.” He took a risk, and should have to deal with the consequences of that risk.

        Likewise, he’d be responsible if he did something stupid to harm someone else.

        1. IF he hurt himself, then the courts should just say “tough titties.” He took a risk, and should have to deal with the consequences of that risk.

          Except we’re talking about America.

    3. I hope the looters had all their permits.

    4. This whole thing probably could have been avoided if authorities had checked the tornado’s permits before it started doing all kinds of unlicensed damage.

      1. Yes, yes, let’s license Tornadoes! No unlicensed Tornadoes permitted.

    5. Personally, if I’d have been part of any group providing aid, and heard about this, I would have left and encouraged all the other volunteers to do so. Don’t want help? Fine. Want help, but have ridiculous barriers? DIY.

      1. Easy for you to write. People wanted help, and it’s not as if the barriers were imposed by the people who wanted help.

        1. The people who want help could also make that clearer by removing the barriers and inviting people in.

  3. But if we just released 600 people into the neighborhood, it would have been a nightmare.

    All that work being done! All those people being helped! And all without a single government employee cashing in! Its, its, its . . . I just have no words.

    1. I’m as libertarian / anti-government as anyone here and you really are missing the point.

      1. “”I’m as libertarian / anti-government as anyone here””

        Either your not as libertarian as you claim, or you’re not aware of the postions of the people here. Maybe a little of both. Not condeming, just sayin.

        Most, maybe all libertarians here would say the government shouldn’t interfere and if the guy doesn’t watch for hot wires, or take the proper safeguards, it’s on him.

        1. But in reality it’s not on him as his family would most certainly sue.

          1. “”But in reality it’s not on him “”

            How so?

            There’s not a very libertarian answer to that.

          2. They could try, but in libertarian land the answer would be “tough titties, deal with it.”

            1. The courts in this city are not libertarian in the least. The family would sue and they would win.

              1. It would never make it to court. Your company would settle.

              2. Besides, in most cases, a jury decides not the court. If you want to make the arugment that most the people of Minneapolis are not libertarian, you’re probably right.

                1. Keith Ellison is our congressman.

              3. The government officials aren’t libertarian either, so he wouldn’t sue, because he wouldn’t be there, because he would get kicked out because he was undermining business for friends of politicians.

          3. So it’s OK for the government to use its power to prevent people from doing things that might somehow lead to them suing private companies?

            1. Commerce Clause, bitches.

          4. What’s that? You’re saying that someone might hypothetically sue somebody if something bad were to maybe happen to them? Game over man! Game over!

            I get your point: It’s a dangerous situation and careless people might get hurt. That’s true, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go as far as you seem to think it does.

      2. Then what is the point?

        Other than interfering with emergency services, which shouldn’t have been s problem by this point, what is the problem with a few hundred volunteers showing up to help?

        Is it the potential for more looting? The liability to your company?

        This is a serious question – I was a “volunteer” when I showed up 2 hours after the tornado to help my sister in law whose house got damaged. We helped her family to pack some basics so they could stay with us a few nights and gave them a ride since one of their cars was blocked in by falling trees.

    1. Looks like an area in need of some serious cleanup. Since the local authorities are too busy writing tickets to people trying to help, who do you suggest should do it?

      1. Be the victim until daddy government arrives?

        1. Really, what else can one think after the government–time and time again–interferes with private relief efforts? They want people to look to one place and one place only for help.

  4. Working without a permit.

    Give

    me

    a

    fucking

    break.

    1. Posting without a permit again, comrade?

  5. So now you need special permission to help people in disaster-stricken areas. Got it.

  6. Next up: Ministry of Plenty fines, imprisons farmer for exceeding statutory yield per acre.

    1. Poor bastard should’ve just accepted the subsidies and been done with it.

    2. Too late, the Roosevelt administration already did this to my farmer grandfather.

  7. I also work for the electric company and the last thing we need is some guy’s family suing our ass off because his saw hit a hot wire. scab labor coming in here and fucking up our sweet overtime pay.

    1. I work at corporate, salary exempt.

  8. Yeah Northsider, not buying it. For heaven’s sake, yeah, if 600 volunteers with chainsaws had been let loose, stuff might have gotten cleaned and cleared before really good TV footage might have been taken.

    Keep that attitiude, and the reaction may shift from what you wish, that they ‘ask permission’ to ‘wait for engraved invitation’.

    Just for safety’s sake, of course.

    1. There’s also the point of not fining the guy. He could’ve been redirected or told to go back to his legally mandated space without fining him.

      Putting all libertarian notions aside, since volunteers are needed for disaster recovery, why would any rational actor fine one, creating a disincentive to help?

      1. My chainsaw would be back in its case and on the way home. “You’re on your own, Minneapolis.”

        1. He should’ve disguised himself as Mary Tyler Moore.

  9. who do you suggest should do it?

    It won’t be anybody who doesn’t have an AFSCME card in his wallet.

    1. See, that’s just stupid. He WAS allowed to work unpermitted, he strayed into an area that was off-limits.

      1. The only reason it was off limits is because daddy (government) decided it was too dangerous for the children (citizens).

        You what was more dangerous than the downed powerlines, the tornados. Being that the people had to deal with that, the aftermath should be cake.

        The people should always be free to fix their community after disaster strikes.

        1. The people should always be free to fix their community after disaster strikes.

          Yeah, and they should have ownership of their bodies, and not be forced to buy products from private companies, and should be secure in their homes, BUT THIS IS AMERICA, GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE MULTIVERSE. We don’t cotton to that sort of hijinx.

  10. There’s also the point of not fining the guy.

    He probably paid out of pocket for travel, housing and other expenses, but none of *that* ended up at City Hall.

  11. All that work being done! All those people being helped! And all without a single government employee cashing in! Its, its, its . . .

    SOMALIA!!!!!!

  12. If he was on private property and had the consent of that property owner, what could he possibly be charged with?

    If he was on public property and removing an immediate hazard from a right of way, he would be covered by the good samaritan law.

    Basically, WTF?

    1. Because your rights become a casualty after a disaster too. They figure you can sue later and let the courts figure it out.

      1. They figure you can sue later and let the courts figure it out.

        You sound like you would be a great candidate for a position on the court. Have you ever thought of law school?

        1. Law School? That doesn’t seem like a requirement in Indiana?

    2. I live on the north side as well, and spoke with Henry Reimer. He could not point me to a law that had been broken. His explanation was that, in last year’s tornado, a number of contractors came along to bilk the elderly, and that this guy was advertising his tree service.

      I asked if Mr. Haege had been distributing fliers or passing out business cards. No, but his company name was “all over” his trucks and equipment.

      The safety/liability thing seems to be a new tack, since the other ones don’t make any sense.

      Northsider, as a libertarian, you are surely award the Minneapolis City Inspections is an incompetent organization that is drunk with it’s own power. Right?

      1. Kevin,

        I live in Maple Grove (a suburb of Mpls) and after a huge hail storm three years ago, I was amazed at how fast the “contractors” showed up to give us cards and beg to fix our roof.

        I had to shoo them all away because I already had a good friend who was a contractor and knew how to help me bilk the insurance company out of as much money as possible.

        * The plan backfired because my buddy who has been building houses for 20 years had to explain to the Maple Grove city inspector (literally 20 years old, we checked) why his initial failure of my roof inspection actually put him in violation of several state/city codes.

  13. But think how much it would stimulate the economy if 600 people died. Someone has to pick up the dead bodies.

  14. I have to say that, when I read Welch’s blurb, I imagined there could be credible reasons why they would want some kind of order in the emergency response process. I further imagined that the author would point out such credible reasons, and that while reading it I would think, “Yeah, I still think the guy got jobbed, but I can at least understand why they would have such a policy even if I disagree with it.”

    Then I read the article. It was even LESS sympathetic to the city than I would have imagined in a worst-case scenario. “What? A tornado hit? Better send the inspectors out to make sure everybody’s up to code!”

  15. Reminds of all the shenanigans after the BP spill, with the Coast Guard keeping cleanup barges in the dock, workers being barred from working more than 45 minutes at a time by OSHA, etc.

  16. sorta off topic here…

    I’m curious about what you guys think about donations to organizations that help clean up after a disaster.

    The reason I ask is because I volunteered with the Red Cross in Miami after hurricane Andrew and things went pretty much the same way as in this story. We had huge stacks of lumber and other building supplies waiting around to rebuild people’s homes, but the local building contractor cartel colluding with the county government meant virtually no one could repair a roof without being fined silly. As a result, a lot of those building materials were either looted by the Red Cross volunteers or rotted away in the weather. We repaired literally ONE roof in the 6 months I was there. As a result, I won’t give the Red Cross a thin dime after any disaster since I don’t think it will go to actually helping anyone.

    1. As far as emergency relief charities go, last one I donated to was Mercy Corps. I did some research about dollars getting to the victims, and they ranked high. That was a few years ago, though.

    2. I wouldn’t refer to them as “looted”, but “salvaged”. Better than letting them rot, and not worthwhile to ship back.

      But congratulations for volunteering, even if it did turn out to be basically just a winter vacation. Did you manage to get any other volunteer work done in that time, or were you there specially for repairs?

      1. No, I’m not kidding when I say looted. The guy running the effort left about 2 months after I got there. We had several storage sheds filled with donated power tools. A few hundred pounds of brand new tools went into the back of his pickup when he went home. Another person asked me to deliver a brand new water heater to an address she gave me. I showed up with the water heater and dropped it off at a house that had no apparent storm damage….right next door to the person who asked me to deliver it. And the ONE evening in 6 months I wasn’t there for night security we had a break in and lost two full sheds worth of tools. How convenient. The whole thing was nothing but a giveaway to the volunteers and a make-work program for the people running the place. The place, by the way, was in the parking lot of a local church, and the bulk of the volunteers and organizers were church members. Good, upstanding, bunch of fucking hypocrites.

        The experience really soured me on giving to any sort of charity after a natural disaster. We didn’t get shit done, but we managed to spend an awful lot of money not doing it.

        1. Reminds me of when a local church announced a clothing and food drive for Christmas by their youth auxiliary. Turned out that was a feel-good anmt, the kids were never alloted the space or vehicles necessary.

    3. Reminds me of “All Star Survivor” in Panama, where they had the local bldg. inspector judge their shelters.

  17. HARRY TUTTLE WHERE ARE YOU?

    1. Sure you don’t mean Buttle?

  18. But if we just released 600 people into the neighborhood, it would have been a nightmare.

    I hate the assumption that just because 600 people might have been allowed in, it necessarily would have been the case that they would have just all shown up right there, and it would necessarily have been a nightmare.

    I don’t get why people don’t understand that people largely do act rationally and safely, even more so in situations like this than in normal situations, and if the place started filling up with too many volunteers, newly arrived volunteers would have steered clear realizing they couldn’t be of help, would have been told off by the people present, would have found some way to contribute meaningfully without causing a nightmare, etc.

    There’s no reason to believe that just because there isn’t some elected or appointed overlord in every situation in life, every situation without the overlord must necessarily devolve into madness, chaos, and suffering for the masses.

    1. It’s only in NYC where rescue personnel get into fights with each other, like Popey & Bluto, and then they’re city employees. Hint: Don’t bring an ax to a gun fight.

      1. “like Popey & Bluto”

        He’s Popey the Pontiff Man!
        He lives in the Vatican!
        With his own Holy See,
        And God’s Twitter ID,
        He’s Popey the Pontiff Man!

  19. This is why I live in the country and take my survival seriously. I am well stocked to live out through an emergency.

    Unless you are willing to help (as about 90% of my neighbors are), stay the fuck out. You don’t want to get hurt interfering with the effort.

    1. stay the fuck out

      But how will we get our heartwarming stories of simple folk lending a hand to one another while singing country music and praising Jesus and the military?

  20. Shit was so fucking chaotic that the po-po had the time to write people citations for people working in the wrong zone.

  21. Because, of course, government dictates what you do with your time and resources, and who and who you can’t help.

  22. The other day, a tree from our HOA common area fell onto a public road. I got my chainsaw, cut it up, and moved the pieces off the road. I confess that I have done this many times over the years. I suppose that I could have called CalTrans but why bother them?

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