Here is an amazing example of how far the state will go to protect entrenched competitors from new competition. Because it is far more important to make absolutely, 100% sure (precautionary principle, you know) that no one is competing in the Minneapolis market without a license than it is to encourage volunteer-ism in the wake of a natural disaster.
Tree trimmers who work in Minneapolis need to be licensed with the city. It’s a regulation in place throughout many cities, and something Haege knows all about. He’s licensed in Hastings and several area cities. Since he doesn’t work in Minneapolis, he isn’t licensed there.
All that was moot, of course. He was just going to volunteer and was not charging residents for his services.
He had brought a bucket truck to get high if needed, and he brought a wood chipper to dispose of fallen trees. He and the volunteers got to work on homes where the resident didn’t have insurance.
“We were removing stuff so people could get out of their driveways and out of their doors,” he said. “The place was a pretty big disaster.”
What happened next shocked Haege.
A city inspector arrived at the scene. She told Haege he had to leave. Immediately.
“You have to leave right now,” the inspector told Haege. “You’re not licensed to be here.”
“I said, ‘I’m just a volunteer,’ and she didn’t believe me.”
Haege went back to his truck and got his volunteer paperwork. Still, that did little to get the inspector off his back.
“I don’t want to see you up here,” she told him.
“She just didn’t believe me,” he said.
A volunteer from the Urban Homeworks, who had been with Haege since he signed up to volunteer that morning, did his best to convince the inspector that Haege wasn’t charging for his services.
Residents then came out of their doors in his defense, telling the inspector that he had just performed work at their house and hadn’t charged them a dime. Still, the defense fell on deaf ears.
The inspector told him to get out of the city, so Haege left with the volunteer. As they were on their way back to the volunteer area, residents waved down Haege, pleading for help. He pulled over and helped get a tree out of the way for them.
Haege had no idea police officers were behind him in a sort of unofficial escort out of town. He said they stopped traffic for about two hours while they figured out what to do with him. At one point, officers threatened to throw him in jail, he said.
All the while, residents continued defending him, screaming in his defense.
Officers told him to leave. They told him he was going to receive a “hefty fine” in the mail, and that if he stopped on the way out, the fine would be doubled.