This is a goo-goo alert.
For those who don't know what a goo-goo is, I'll explain.
Among Chicago politicians, an incurable do-gooder or reformer is known as a goo-goo. It is not a term of endearment.
I happen to like some goo-goos. There have even been times when I've been accused of being one. We all have our off days.
But some goo-goos who are so relentless in their pursuit of
goo-gooism that they become a public menace. When that happens, a goo-goo alert should be issued, which is what I'm now doing.
We'll begin at the beginning.
Beverly Schnell is a middle-aged divorced woman who lives alone in a nice old house in Hartford, which is near Milwaukee.
The house needs work. And it has a vacant apartment on the second floor.
So Ms. Schnell decided to try to rent the apartment to someone who could do repairs. In exchange for the work, she would cut the rent.
She placed an ad in a local paper that said: "Apartment for rent, 1 bedroom, electric included, mature Christian handyman."
Then she placed another ad that said: "For rent. 1-bedroom upper flat. Appliances & electric paid. Looking for mature handyman or couple."
Do you see anything wrong with those ads? If you say no, you are not a true goo-goo.
It happens that some genuine goo-goos spotted the ads. They are with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council.
They look through classified ads, trying to find discriminatory rental or sale ads.
And when they spotted Ms. Schnell's ads, they said, "aha,
gotcha," or whatever goo-goos say when they are pouncing on injustice.
Then they ran to a state goo-goo agency and tattled on Ms. Schnell.
For what, you ask? A typical non-goo-goo question.
For starters, sex discrimination. That's because she used the term "handyman." Get it? HandyMAN.
And religious discrimination because in one of the ads she said "mature Christian handyman."
So Ms. Schnell found herself formally accused by the state of violating Wisconsin's fair housing law.
The goo-goo ad-snoops called her up and offered her a deal. They would drop the case. But it would cost her $500 for their lawyer's fees and $50 for their effort.
Ms. Schnell was indignant. She said that all she meant by the ads was that she wanted to rent to some reliable old geezer who could pound a nail. And she didn't think that was a crime that required her to pay some lawyer a fast $500.
Now she knows better. You don't mess with the goo-goos.
The case went through the courts.
She was found guilty, and now she is stuck with about $8,000 in legal fees, court costs and other nonsense.
Her lawyer, Tom McClure, says: "This case is an absurdity. The Fair Housing Council, they comb the papers looking for cases they can call discrimination. Then they call up and say: 'We've located your ad in the Rinky Dink Gazette. It's discriminatory, and we are letting you know it's discriminatory. If you pay $50 for our staff time and $500 for our attorney, we won't prosecute.' I'd call that a shakedown.
"The problem is, there is a fair housing law stating vaguely that a person holding rental property cannot discriminate. But what does the term discriminate mean? . . . Looking for a Christian handyman is discriminatory?
"Ironically, we all agree she is innocent. Lawyers on both sides agree, or stipulate, that she did not intend to discriminate. That she is, in fact, innocent. But because the local fair housing special interest group believes the law still applies, they prosecuted her anyway.
"Her religious beliefs are sincere. She was looking for someone to share her home. She felt this was an extension of her Christian ministry. But she would have taken a good person of any religion. She wanted someone of good values. What she meant in that ad was that she was looking for a quiet, stable type. An old fogy."
But an attorney for the goo-goo organization differs. She said: "What she could have said was, 'A good carpenter with traditional family values.' Then we wouldn't have bothered her. "
Fine? Sounds to me like it would discriminate against mediocre carpenters. Besides, she didn't say she wanted a carpenter. She said "handyman." If she said carpenter, she might have had union problems.
As for "traditional family values," what does that mean? Our two major political parties couldn't agree on what traditional family values are in the last presidential campaign. That phrase could bring cries of outrage from gays, couples who don't believe in marriage, or some loners who have no families.
The case isn't over yet. Now that she's in for $8,000-plus, Ms. Schnell hasn't much choice but to appeal. So it is onward and upward through the court system.
And she still hasn't found someone to pound in a few nails.