Archive for the ‘City Hall’ Category

The Grump on Charity Cycling

September 21st, 2008

Who hasn’t known the emotional discomfort or even dread of gift wrap, Tupperware, candy bars, and in recent years, the charity rides and walks? Neighbors, coworkers, relatives, church members, and kids you’ve never seen all have good causes. Maybe Girl Scouts seeded this weedy ground with their cookies  (hey, I’ve been known to eat a Thin Mint, or a dozen).jr_cookiebiz.jpg

When the good cause wears the loud, heavy chains of guilt, compulsion and expectation, most of us cringe. Daughter Cassandra’s school sold great gift wrap at very high prices and bought school stuff. You know it’s the mom who stands bald faced before one coworker after another, holding the order form with many empty lines.

We did end runs with our kids’ schools. I refused to have my guys walk around bothering neighbors and maybe putting themselves at risk peddling crap for fund raisers. We’d do the cowardly but efficient and emotionally unburdened writing of a check to the school instead. Sometimes though, I’d had to face people I knew well or a little with their charity or good-cause clipboard.

When Walk for This and That and The Other became as common as sports pages above the urinals, I learned to transfer my school skills. I’d agree to support the charity directly by writing a check to it, but not pledging for the chest-thumping, righteous ride or walk. We give to churches, politicians, Project Bread, the UU Service Committee and on and on, but I don’t do pledges for chums.

Today was a ruined ride for me. As a serious and regular cyclist, I was crushed to find that the Hub on Wheels ride around Boston has been co-opted with the pretense of charity.  It’s tough for me. I have already pushed for Boston newish bike czarina, Nicole Freedman to re-start the Tour de Graves. Went on maybe six of those tours and dragged my non-cycle-loving wife on one, which she to enjoyed. They were for a cause too — the $10 or $15 registration fee went directly to support upkeep of the city’s historic burying grounds. There were no pledges from startled coworkers and no charity infrastructure bled the proceeds in costs. Also, some company invariably paid for t-shirts so you gave a little, got a little,  and no neighbors were shamed in the process.

Yet, the yuppie types love this charity ride/walk/run shtick. Particularly the competitive and comparative types, the literal ones, want to pile up the pledges and just feel super swell about themselves.hubonweels3.jpg

From a distance, I can believe two things. First, these good causes would not get this level of donation without the special event, that is, they are effective. Second, that really shouldn’t be the case; if the charities are worthy, a word to the wise and generous should be more than sufficient to fill the bank account. This modern ritual in which you can cast all etiquette and kindness aside to hassle people you know little or well is a cruel one.

Generosity for its sake is not the way of the new, devolved Hub on Wheels, nor of the nation right now. For today’s ride, for example, the original idea was to get more folk involved in cycling, particularly as our mayor is a bike convert. It’s good for the environment, reduced noise and pollution, blah blah. Plus, thousands of Bostonians would grok cycling and each other.

Those weren’t sufficient reasons for someone. The goofed up particulars ended up:

  • A base $45 registration fee whether  you wanted the 10, 30 or 50 mile version.
  • A charity aim to buy computers and related stuff for BPS in tough times.
  •  “A $250 pledge commitment is strongly encouraged—think of it as just $25 from ten friends.”
  • Join one of 11 featured corporate teams for tchotchkes or other small bribes.
  • Bike jerseys and similar fancy prices on a competitive basis for the highest fund raisers.

So fostering cycling and the bonhomie of the big ride went under the wheels. I’d like to think I’d be the kind of person whom the HoW folks would want to participate. In fact, they allege that you don’t have to annoy people you know for pledges, just pay the $45 ($55 by event day).

Instead, what they wanted was an event, a mega-event that they could say more than justified itself. You can measure the good in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More than one person has accused me of being cynical. My cynicism today involves thinking that the obvious purposes of promoting cycling in a city that could benefit hugely from fewer cars on the road and more butts in saddles instead of SUV seats is vastly more important. All that got lost today.

I walked to church from JP to Brookline, about 3.5 miles. Clumps of four to 60 cyclists passed, apparently on their way to Forest Hills Cemetery. I saw the routing signs there yesterday, returning from my own long bike ride.

The schools will benefit, even after expenses. I remain a cyclist and think less kindly about mixing messages. Yeah, yeah, it’s possible to do both at the same time, but honestly, the environment, exercise, and trying to shift to a cycling culture are important. Self-satisfaction by charity fund-riders is not so significant.

Biking for Donuts

July 25th, 2008

bpjolly.jpgPastries and swag are okay rewards for a little extra cycling. Boston had one Bike Friday today and will do it again August 22. Check the city cycling area for details, maps, skeds and such.

I confess twice:

  1. I was attracted by the promise of a police escort to the convoy of cyclist (a flash of a sports team parade into town, ha).
  1. A couple of us missed the connection at Forest Hills when the local convoy either bypassed us or came pretty early.

Sets came from West Roxbury, lower Dorchester, Newton and Lexington. They all left around 7 a.m. for Boston city hall plaza. It looked like maybe 150 or so eventually arrived.

bluelight.jpgIn fact, it was a police escort, but bike cops. My vision of lights and sirens were accurate and inaccurate. The BPD-issue mountain bikes do come equipped. A 6’4″ cop showed me the stealth equipment on the handle bars. There’s a pair of bright lights that can be set to flash. A double sunglasses style blue lens can flip over them to created the familiar, dreaded flashing blue lights in miniature form. There’s a button to activate a kind of tinny police siren.

That officer looked at my raised brows when he activated the siren and said, “Yeah, I usually just yell instead.”

Pix tricks: Click a thumbnail of the plaza or police for a little larger image. Use your back button to return.

plaza.jpgThe plaza had a series of tents. Wheelworks folk were tweaking bikes. They brought a stand, full set of tools and several mechanics. MassBike, the city and others had their cycle-related forms and flyers. WZLX was blaring boomer rock. Boston cycling czarina Nicole Friedman and some of her lackeys were walking about handing out free water bottles. Even Zipcar and some sporting goods folk were there with raffles and discounts.

However, the big draw was the coffee and pastry tables. There’s nothing like a short bike ride to justify huge empty calorie intake, eh?

Unfortunately, I can’t say what it was like to roll with the black bikes with lights and sirens. I was at Forest Hills by 7:12. The scheduled convoy time there was 7:20. A nice cyclist, Marco, arrived by 7:20 and we waited until 7:35, figuring between cyclists and cops, they were sure to be late.

In fact, they must have been early. I tore down to Roslindale Square, where the officer in the blue and white said that was the first he had heard of the event and no bikes had come by him.

I headed in on my own, had a nice time, and must wonder how it feels to ride the convoy. If you decide to do the next one, I suggest going to the start or arriving early at intermediate points. Rest assured though, there’ll be plenty of goodies to carry away or eat no matter how you do it.

Boston Bikes, Love and Hate ’em

June 2nd, 2008

bikegeek.jpg$10 gas would do it. Meanwhile, we who are fonder of bicycles than cars must content ourselves with moderated increased pedalers in Boston.

Not long ago, an adult on a cycle meant either a fitness junkie or a struggling college student or someone paying the consequences of DUI convictions. Now even the trend-trailing Boston Globe has noticed more bikers. (Even the left coast is seeing such.)

We’re not ready.

Our new believer and new enabler (bike convert Mayor Tom Menino and bike czarina Nicole Freedman) are chugging along trying to get out of granny gears. There are bike lanes to be painted, public education to design and promote, racks for parking and bus transport, and even cops to be dope slapped.

If we were suddenly to quadruple our street cycling load, everyone from motorists to pedestrians to police would be making motorboat noises with their lips. We know from the billion or more in China and India, and the 100 million or so in Europe and the U.K. that streets full of cycles can work. We also know that if we don’t have systems and education in place, they can be nearly as unpleasant as motor vehicle traffic.

Actually the latter isn’t accurate. For all the commentary about every cyclist being a homicidal madman, few are an dangerous as the average motorist. Also, a 30 pound plus cyclist bike is a relative powder puff contrasted with 3,000 pounds of speeding metal, glass and plastic.

It is worth reading some of the newspaper, magazine and blog chatter about cyclists. Such commentary illustrates what people face in trying to get more bikes and fewer cars and trucks in urban areas. We can all agree on the pollution, noise, safety and other benefits, but the emotional issues are another matter.

Spend an hour or so with the Boulder, Colorado, Daily Camera for a compilation of offense and defense on this. The laws there are pretty much the same as here too. Bikers have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers, but are also supposed to ride single file and stay to the right as far as safety allows.

The Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden is fairly anti-bicycle, in a keep-the-kids-off-my-lawn kind of way. He started a furious dialog recently with his column on this. He likes to cite the laws implying that cyclists need to get the hell out of the way of motorists. However, he neglects to cite the same types of statutes we have here in that any driver overtaking any other vehicle, including bicycles, must slow or stop and yield to traffic ahead. That’s common sense. That’s courtesy. That’s the law.

The many pages of pro-cycle, bike hating, calls to reason and more follow the article in the Daily Camera. Some of anti-bike ones are astonishing. Some motorists seem to claim the right to mow down anyone who slows their headlong race to wherever.

This is where cops need to get involved. Here in Beantown, cyclists are generally amused to hear outraged motorists talking about the lawless biking community. As a cyclist, T rider and driver, I too have a strong experiential knowledge of who’s breaking the laws and putting people at risk. For example, decades ago, I learned to watch after a change of light before I followed proceeded on green — on foot, in car or on bike. Two to five cars running the red light are normal. If cyclists were anywhere near as reckless, the number of pedestrian/bike collisions would be in the thousands instead of singles or tens.

Until his recent enlightenment, Menino too spoke of the fear of inconveniencing motorists by adding cycles to the street mix. Despite existing laws that accommodate both in town and on most highways, it is a little different. For the betterment of all of us, motorists might have to obey the laws and even keep to the speed limits in town.

For the police, many get it and a few don’t. I am sure not all understand the laws and city, state and park cops often tend to favor the bigger vehicle over the one with the right of way. It shouldn’t be hard for BPD Commissioner Edward F. Davis III to tell the cops to put cyclists in the mix. Those who run lights should get tickets, as they do sometimes in Cambridge. Likewise, any motorist who menaces or endangers a cyclist needs to face the ticket, charges, fines, points and whatever else comes with it. You can be sure the public would catch on pretty quickly and brag about how wonderful their cops are.

Anyone who would like bicycles to disappear is due for continued culture shock. There are and will be more bikes on Boston streets.

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Blowy Bike Week in Boston

May 13th, 2008

notgrumpySnark first…

The cycling convert, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, needs to dump the UMASS Boston jock suit. It’s a preschooler’s color that gives him the look of Grumpy Bear. That’s doubly unfortunate in that he was doing something vaguely athletic and he was quite jolly at the time.

Yesterday, Da Mare led the gentle pedal down Tremont to Sudbury to Congress on the way from City Hall Plaza to Post Office Square. His posse included bout 50 cyclists — not a single other one dressed like one of the Care Bears™. The occasion was the opening day of Bay State Bike Week announcements.

That gives you a full six days to get your well-intentioned rear onto a cycle saddle and into the street. To further dash excuses, the skies want you out. Yesterday was the big wind and with the possible exception of a few passing showers on Thursday, the weather will be dandy all week.

carasYesterday was indeed windy, blow-over-bike windy. I’ll include an image of Cara Seideman (without the helmet) to show what the folk at the podium who had removed their gear faced. The helmeted woman below is Boston’s cycle czarina, Nicole Freedman.

The celebration is a variation on a theme that has run well over a decade, from single Boston Bike Day events in the 1990s into a combined Boston/Cambridge one expanding into a week into the second year of the optimistically named current incarnation. This has not always been linear, as Menino used to be hostile to inconveniencing motorists (voters) in any way, even to share the road, obey state laws and city regulations, and cut down on noise, congestion and pollution.

Celebrations shrank. The marvelous Tour de Graves rides halted. By bad timing or personality or whatever, the previous bike czar ended up with little to show for his tenure, as the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee suddenly disappeared from the budget. The city continued to have terrible ratings as a place for bike commuters and recreational cyclists. Yet, the advocates in City Hall, the dogged cyclists, and the successes in such outliers as Cambridge seem to have slowly worked resurrection magic on the events. (I have quite a few Tour de Graves shirts and would love for that to return. I’ve led one ride in that series and would do another gladly.)

The mayor decidedly gets it now. Apparently, that includes enabling Freedman’s programs.

Some of those are cheap, quick and simple. Bike lanes are among those. It’s a few thousand dollars per mile to paint these. In two months, we’ll get some of those on Commonwealth between the BU bridge and Kenmore. While some cycling groups insist these can be more dangerous to cyclists that riding with traffic, everyone acknowledges that they subtly but insistently raise motorist awareness that they are sharing the road.

I have mixed feelings about these lanes. We have a few in Boston, largely cruel jokes. I think of the one at Ruggles Street, headed west past the T station. A bike lane suddenly appears for less than a block. It abruptly ends as the road narrows slightly, so cyclists have to steer into the tiny traffic lane with buses, trucks and cars. It’s chicken on wheels. The cars would win.

Likewise, in Cambridge, police seem to have stopped enforcing bike lane restrictions on Mass Ave. Those lanes are more like UPS and FedEx parking lots, forcing cyclists to veer back into the most crowded lanes in the town.

nicolefBack in gusty Post Office Square, we jammed wheels and all onto the vest pocket park to hear promises I believe will be delivered. Menino said he intends for Boston to become a great place to bike. Freedman is seeing that the city gets several hundred more bike racks (the MBTA is already adding rack to hundreds of buses to accommodate bikes on long routes).

I’ve attended the commonwealth’s Moving Together car/bike/pedestrian conferences for years. I’ve heard about the improvements in various towns and cities. As the east/west and north/south bike paths continue to expand, pockets of bike-friendly projects are slowly doing the good work.

It appears as though Freedman is the right person on this side of the Charles. While I’m impatient, she is incessantly nibbling away at the tasks. Moreover, she has the screwdriver-in-the-socket alertness and energy level this requires.

The big piece, acceptance by motorists, will be the last in place. That’s my judgment, not Freedman or Seideman’s. Our infamous drivers fill newspaper letters pages or blog comments about how much they hate cyclists and how all of us are reckless scofflaws. They hate being inconvenienced by sharing the road. However, we have to keep the perspective that they think every other driver is an idiot whose sole role is to do stupid things that anger them.

In countries and cities where cycling is common, drivers become accustomed to, to return to that phrase, moving together. Yet, it does take familiarity, seeing cyclists, being reminded (maybe by a cop) that commonwealth law gives bikers the same privileges and demands the same adherence to traffic law as motorists.

I came back yesterday with a bit of windburn, a water bottle and a tasteless KICK GAS shirt. I also returned with a reinforced sense that we can make this work. It’s a bit like gay rights, except it’s not out of the closet, but bring the bike out of the garage.

Da Mare noted that most (maybe 90%) trips in this area are under two miles. That’s perfect for a bike and may take less time than driving. He swears he’s up for it and he wants the city to be also.

Cross-posting note: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

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Boston Trash Elite

March 6th, 2008

Hoi polloi, bow before us! We are the big-cart recyclers.Menio and recycle bin

First, let us note that someone in the City of Boston Recycling Program has brass ‘nads and is not afraid of ridiculing his mayorality, The Thomas Menino. Our flyer today has the accompanying image (click for larger, more risible size). If Tony Soprano were advertising his waste-management companies, he might include such a picture with one of his lieutenants. Here Tommy Shoulder Pads makes you an offal you can’t refuse.

The flyer headline is THANK YOU, BIG-CART RECYCLERS. That would be we, in our case the elite Jamaica Plain newspaper sorters, jar rinsers, and cardboard box folders. Stand in awe, you wasteful wastrels.

Our 14-year-old rolls this grumbling omnivore to the curb from the back of the house every Wednesday evening. The big-cart is, well, big, many more cubic feet than he has and two-thirds as tall. You can see how high it is on Da Mare. If he had a bellybutton, it would be that high.

We can plug most non-organic stuff in it. Being UUs in JP, we, of course, have a compost bin in the back to turn plant matter into soil. So there.

We’ve gone from three cans of trash a week to one or fewer. We still have the supermarket packaging, like foam meat packaging that can’t go into the big cart.


That’s good. I’m pretty sure the big cart is not recyclable.

Anyway, they measured mid-May to mid-November —recycling up 52% from 2006 to 2007, and trash for the same period down 20%. Those figures are illogical, but what the heck? More important, of the 2,300 households in the big-cart elite, we recycled more, had less trash, found recycling easier, our streets cleaner and the cart was the right size.

It’s a miracle of modern trash…proven right here in JP. Plus, who’d argue with a tough guy mayor hiding behind his big cart? You’ll recycle and you’ll like it!

Battle with the Parking Ticket Orks

November 8th, 2007

Nothing, absolutely nothing snuffs the smoldering ember and ready tinder like agreement. Today, down in the hearing r0om of Boston’s Office of the Parking Clerk, Lou ground out my fire — quickly and pleasantly.

Southbourne not a sidewalkFirst, I confess that it was only a $15 ticket. On the other hand, it clearly had a handwritten (sidewalk) by the OTHER box, the traffic enforcer had checked. Expediency said to pay the damned $15 and go about my business. However, as you see in the accompanying picture, I had a case.

We arrived home at dusk to find the city paving bullies had posted sudden notices on the lamp posts that our cars had to be gone from 7 a.m. the next morning or they’d be towed. That’s not the way paving notifications are supposed to work, but the paving guys had been goofing on us for months.

We moved the sedan and the van and parked on Southbourne, next to the incredibly steep hill. That line on top is the sidewalk. The tiny strip at the bottom is what the road folk apparently call a pavement edging. It’s not a full curb. It just sort of keeps the dirt and rocks from tumbling onto the asphalt.

That sidewalk is about six to seven feet high and five or six feet north of the street. The ticket clearly had a handwritten (sidewalk). Cue indignation.

I took a couple of digital pix like this illustrating:

  • That the sidewalk was inaccessible, particularly to my wife’s Dodge Caravan. A V-8 Hummer might be able to go up a 40-degree or steeper hill, but…
  • The stone edging she allegedly parked on wasn’t even a full curb. In fact most of it was also largely covered by plants and dirt. In most places, the exposed stone on top was from 0 to 1.5 inches wide.

The ticket for an expired meter is $25, blocking a hydrant is $75, parking in an HP-DV plate zone is $120. This was $15, but I just couldn’t do it.

Hidden Horror

I went to the city site and found the well-hidden PDF file of parking regulations. Then, I composed a two-page letter (four with the two most illustrative pictures) and sent it in as an appeal with the ticket.

A month and change passed and I heard nothing. Penalties kick in for tickets not paid in 21 days, so I called. The clerk looked it up and said I’d get a form letter soon saying it was being “held administratively.” That meant they were denying my brilliant defense. Egad.

When it came, it set a 9:30 a.m. appeal time today. Bring evidence to convince them.

I was in for far more than a penny and armed for harrumphing battle. Plus, I revisited my letter, looked at all my related images, and rechecked both the city regulations and the state definitions.

Fascinatingly enough for those who park in Boston:

  • There is no fine or violation for parking on a pavement edging or even a full curb.
  • The fine for parking on a sidewalk is on the city ticket form at the rate of $40.
  • The regs define sidewalk on page 3, as That portion of a street or highway set aside for pedestrian travel.
  • At the bottom of page 32 of the regulations with all the BOSTON PARKING FINE STRUCTURE (in order of severity) is All Other $15.
  • The regulations do not mention pavement edging, but do cite curbs. However, there is no fine for parking on just a curb, unless it also obstructs a handicap ramp ($50).

I knew I was still in the right, but I had to shine even brighter in my presentation. That overly vague All Other is bureaucratic brilliance. Depending on who’s writing the tickets and who’s hearing any appeals, that could pretty much mean anything they wanted. I suppose they couldn’t get away with fining you $15 for parking on a discarded loaf of bread, but maybe they could.

Crackpot note: I’ll send a letter to the mayor and John Tobin, my district councilor. That line has to go. I’m sure it would not stand a challenge but it is too nasty and indefinite as is. Define those other types of violations!

I was ready to lose this one, but still make my statement. My ember was glowing.

I arrived with my manila folder. I had a scanned copy of the ticket, printouts of the eight relevant pages of the regulations, my letter with the two best images to illustrate how terribly wronged I had been, and the notice of the rejection and my shot at appeal.

Previous Battle

About 15 years ago, I had gone to court over a traffic ticket and was kind of experienced.

One night, I was driving with my family and got pulled just north of the Casey overpass (Rte.203 by Forest Hills). My elementary school son was in the front seat. The cop said I had run the red light. I never do. I didn’t that time. My son constantly monitored my wife and my driving and he also announced to me and then to the cop that I had not. The cop wrote the ticket anyway and similarly to this parking ticket, I was not about to accept that.

I showed up at the West Roxbury Court, which is in JP and has been for a long time, with sheaves of paper, including a detailed hand-drawn map to illustrate how the officer came from an angle that would have made it impossible for him to have seen the traffic light.

The court scene was like the military triage in Alice’s Restaurant with “all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly-lookin’ people on the bench there” — DUI of alcohol and other drugs, slugging cops, concealed weapons and on and on.

I wheeled in with our baby in a stroller, and carrying a briefcase of documents. They called me and I stepped to the table and began unloading my supporting papers. The judge spoke before the proceedings formally began to ask what the papers were. I said that I intended to show that the officer could not have seen the location, that I had maps and related material, and that I was sure that because the location was perhaps 100 yards away, the judge himself was likely already familiar with the site.

He paused, smiled…”Case dismissed.”

I can’t know whether my preparation was actually wasted. I’m sure that he was in no mood to hear a long-ranting middle-aged guy with more serious tickets and charges pending. I have to wonder if I had shown up with any 60 pages of paper and said the same, I would have won.

In Tom’s Palace

Today, that All Other still had me nervous, but I was counting on the sidewalk in question being high and wide away, there being no fine for parking on a curb or pavement edging, the spirit of the sidewalk parking regulation being to keep pedestrian walkways clear. Even if they somehow wanted to argue that this dirt and plant covered edging was part of a sidewalk system, the narrowness of it coupled with the precipitous hill meant it was not suited for feet, wheelchairs or strollers anyway. I thought I was clean in letter and spirit.

However, with years of dealing with petty bureaucrats and other literalists in Boston, Manhattan and other cities, I thought they could arbitrarily make up a violation and I’d lose anyway.

The train in was much faster than I figured, so I arrived at 9 for the 9:30 hearing. I checked in with the clerk at window 224-K (she looked disturbingly like a much younger, much less weathered Maura Hennigan). It must have been a slow day. She looked at my letter and said to have a seat, I would be number 1.

Maybe two minutes later, a 20-something man opened the door and called “Number 1.” He led me to room 3.

He said he was Lou. The “informal” hearing as he described it was still pretty formal, but mercifully brief. I signed my rights document, raised my hand to the simple “Do you promise to tell the truth?” oath, and heard that if I didn’t like his decision, I had to file a civil suit to appeal.

The hearing took less time than the prologue. I was out of there within 10 minutes from “Number 1.” I showed him the photos, explained where the van was, and made my multi-point pitch.

Not only was it quickly obvious that he believed me, but he also said that he couldn’t figure out why the officer would write (sidewalk) on the ticket. There was a place for that with a checkbox. In other words, an illogical ticket that showed the officer was not thinking clearly was all that would have been necessary. Say it with me, overprepared again.

When it became clear he as dismissing the ticket, I did the social thing and said that I knew it was only $15 and didn’t want to be a jerk about it. Then he made my morning by saying, “You’re not being a jerk. He was being a jerk.”

He handed me a one-page report with an Action Code 83, dismissal, with the comment, “Respondent convinced me ticked was invalidly issued.”

It was a lot of time and effort over a little bit of money, but the parking orks I figured on meeting weren’t there. I felt a lot better walking out than into City Hall.

Tips from the Recently Victorious

I’m not a lawyer and don’t even play on in community theater. However, I think I have learned:

  • If a parking ticket is crazy, you have a good shot at getting it dismissed.
  • It is a pain in the neck or other body part to do this.
  • A detailed, well argued letter may or may not get it dismissed.
  • If you have to go into a hearing, it’s your wits on trail along with the facts.
  • The ticketing officer does not show and the only prosecution is the information on the ticket.
  • You are presumed guilty of the regulation violation.
  • You should look at the regulations, which may convince you that the ticket is invalid or you blew it and should pay the fine.
  • If you simply like contention, this is good, cheap sport, and at worst you don’t have to pay more if you lose the hearing.
  • Visuals can help — relevant photos and drawings.
  • The hearing officer is certain to have a highly tuned B.S. detector. Don’t try to fake it.

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