“Let’s bring this meeting to order,” said the Mayor. “Order, please.” He banged the gavel. Quiet emerged in the packed City Council Chambers. Cameras flashed.
“All right, to begin, this is a highly informal meeting, at the request of a group which calls themselves the Freedom Zone. This group, and the area where they reside, have no legal basis, but the City has agreed to work with them informally, to move this forward and try to come to a resolution.”
In the back, somebody muttered “Windbag.”
“Hush” whispered another.
The Mayor continued. “I’d like to give the floor to our Finance Director, Sasha Baldwin. Sasha.”
Sasha rose. “You can read a summary of our findings up on screen. As you can see, landowners and retail establishments are in arrears on property taxes, sales taxes, and wage taxes. These property taxes are based on assessed values. The sales and wage figures are guesstimates, since the people in arrears have filed no reports; they have not complied with laws which require them to file tax forms. In addition, no fees have been paid for inspections, licensing, and other matters which are deemed vital for public safety.”
After further speechification and verbiage, the Mayor invited Troy Freeman-Li to the stand. An aide made an adjustment to the video projector; a map appeared, showing the informal Freedom Zone, and the words “Speaking: Troy Freeman-Li.”
About 1.9 meters tall, dark haired, athletic in build, wearing a bespoke suit, Troy commanded attention. He introduced himself in strong, confident tones. “Hello, my name is Troy Freeman-Li, of the Freedom Zone. I speak for myself and, by their request, the interests of the others who have been described by the finance minister as ‘in arrears.’ They remain free to speak for themselves or to separate themselves from my informal representation, should I depart from their intentions.” As he spoke, captions appeared, in sync; all of this video generated by Troy’s Interface.
The Mayor had scrawled “A kid?” on his scratch paper. His aide wrote “Owns 1/2 zone. Could buy 1/2 city. Respect.”
“I’d like to address two issues with the property tax. First, the assessed value; the City has raised appraised values by 140%, not because it spends more money on us in the Zone, but because the City believes that we have no choice but to pay; it seeks to charge the highest price that we will tolerate. Second, with respect to school tax: No child in Freedom Zone attends city schools, and some outside this zone have chosen to study within it. Twelve thousand students are educated at our own expense. We see no reason to continue to pay City school taxes, nor to pay these huge increases, simply because of arbitrary increases in assessed value.”
Graphics compared the increases in assessed values and taxes, versus the drop in cost of actual services, since the Zone had begun providing better and cheaper alternatives.
Troy took a sip of water. “Furthermore, I’d like the Police Chief to speak a moment about crime statistics, and demand for police services in this Zone. Chief, please.”
The Police Chief stood. “It may cost my job to say this, but any of my officers will tell you the same story. There is hardly any violent crime in this area; it is a ‘Safe Zone.’ One officer has been killed in the past three years; it was found that he was attempting to rape a woman, who shot him. This was ruled a regrettable but justifiable homicide; no charges were filed. Two officers who were beating a homeless man, and got themselves a bit of a beat-down; they chose to file no charges. A few purses have been snatched; the perpetrators were caught, the property returned. In short, the zone does a great job of policing itself. Furthermore, ambulance services run out of a facility adjacent to ours. They report zero calls from this zone, the past three years. The same for fire services. This zone resolves their own problems.”
The Chief sat down. Troy continued. “To sum up our position, we hardly need the City; the City needs us. We’ve happily paid for and supported city water and sewage, which we do use. We have our own waste disposal firms. We police our streets. We educate our children. We are asking only to keep what is our own, and to put it to better use for our own purposes.”
A Council Member stood up: “You are asking for tax subsidies.”
“No. We are asking to be left alone. We have little need for your ‘services.” And I, personally, have offered to buy your decrepit water treatment facilities, improve them at my expense, and to sell better water to city residents at lower prices than they now pay.”
Another Council Member: “Your 12,000 children don’t seem to go to school at all. They’re in the streets and shops at all hours of the day.”
A boy stood and requested attention. He looked to be about twelve years old. He approached the mike. Troy stepped aside.
“Hello everyone. My name is Isaac Kaplan. I don’t go to school, because I want to learn all the time, every day. I learn when I read at the library; I learn when I play with my friends; I learn when I visit with Rabbi Small; I learn when I work in my Aunt Tilda’s book store. I’m learning right now, and I don’t need somebody to make this an ‘assignment’, nor to tell me to write a report. I’ll write my own report in a newsletter for my paying customers, and the better I write, the more I get paid. I write for incentives which are real to me, not for gold stars.”
Audience members applauded.
Another Council Member rose. “What about drugs and prostitution?”
Troy answered. “Both are openly available, of high quality, offered under conditions which are safe for both customers and providers.”
“What about licensing and code enforcement?”
“Were somebody to explain the benefits of specific programs, we would be more than happy to find ways to provide better services at lower cost. In fact, as a landlord, I fund inspectors who examine every property I own, and fix problems so that my tenants and I can have a good working relationship in a safe and healthy environment. This is how we do things in the Zone.”
The audience ooohed. The Mayor called for order. “Anything further, Mr. Freeman-Li?”
“To sum up, the City has broken faith with us. It collects taxes under false pretenses. These taxes, we have been told, are merely the ‘price we pay for civilization’; the price for safe street, for good schools, for paved roads, and so forth. By any honest assessment, the City has hardly ever delivered on its promises. Any contract between equal parties would be voided by such egregious non-performance, but the City claims special status – the power to demand taxes without actually having to deliver on its side of the bargain. I ask that a new bargain be struck, a bargain which more fairly reflects the interests of those who carry the burden and bear the costs.”
“We choose to protect our neighbors because we want to live in a clean and safe neighborhood. We provide food, health, and lodging for the indigent because they are our neighbors, and when we help them, we help all of our neighbors. And we are able to do this because we have refused to been pay millions of dollars in unjust taxes for services which the City is actually not providing. I’d be happy to sit down and talk with the folks in your city who provide services which we do use – such as water and sewage – and find ways to pay a reasonable price for reasonable service. But the attitude of the city is not based upon service, nor upon voluntary exchange; it is based upon their determination to use law suits and the threat of police action and account seizures to pick a price – your price, not ours – and to demand it, whether or not we even wish to be included with what you have decided is the “right” package of goods and services.”
“As I said earlier, we do not use your schools. If your city had to pay for the 12,000 children within our boundaries, you’d have even worse financial problems – and both parents and children would be deeply unhappy with your services.”
“This young man” – Troy put an arm around Isaac – “can run rings around most of your high school graduates, and he is six years younger than they. Neither he, nor his parents, nor I wish to pay top-drawer prices for bottom-drawer goods.”
“So I conclude. Please let me know when we can negotiate terms which respect our needs and wants, where you and we are not enemies, nor master and subjects, but voluntary, equitable partners. Until this happens, we will not send a dime to the City, except for the water and sewage.”
“Is that an ultimatum?” asked the Mayor.
“It is what it is – a reasonable position which we hope that any reasonable person would at least consider.”
“Or else, we will leave. You can have your empty property. We will take ourselves away. You’ll not be bothered by our presence. You’ll have empty land and buildings, and nothing to show for it.”
Behind Troy, people began to disappear, one by one. Seats emptied. Only Troy and Isaac remained, calmly gazing at the Mayor and City Council.
An Aide to the Mayor spoke in a stage whisper. “I wasn’t kidding about Wallenberg. Troy Li-Freeman is the brother of the girl who invented the teleporters, and their father helped to organize the evacuation of Wallenberg, the Rapture.”
“I thought that was a tabloid story.”
“My dad was there, sir.”
The Mayor stood. “I take your point, sir. My council and I will withdraw and consult among ourselves. Thank you for your time.”
“One more thing, please.”
Isaac walked up to the Mayor, and hung a bright golden sun amulet around the Mayor’s neck, and proceeded down the line, one for each councilor.
“This State has a Sunshine Law. In the interests of Sunshine, I’ve made it easy for you to keep a transparent and open record of all your conversations. Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to our next meeting.”
The Mayor looked at the amulet with some distaste. But he did not remove it. He nodded his head, and watched soberly as Troy and Isaac winked out.