Friday, August 17, 2012

Column for August 16, 2012

When considering the role of government and the different levels of government in place, perhaps the most basic, most flexible, and most important is that at the municipal level.  Town and city governments are perhaps the closest to their citizens and can affect the citizens more favorably or adversely than any other.  I once discussed this concept with a representative of the National Rifle Association.  I was informed that the NRA didn’t want to get involved in advocacy at the municipal level because gun rights issues were usually being debated at the national and state government levels.  The irony was that during this period of time, the NRA was relocating their annual convention because of Cincinnati’s (the proposed host city) anti-gun ordinances.  Local governments can affect your roads, garbage removal, property tax rates, your fire protection and insurance rates, where you can locate your business, and a host of other issues.  In our area, towns even affect electricity rates.

In Smithfield, the local town council seems to have forgotten about their recent history of personnel and administrative issues.  That elected body is standing by the decision by their town manager, Paul Sabiston, to hire Tim Kerigan of Gulf County, Florida as their new Human Resources Director.  Apparently, Misters Sabiston and Kerigan knew each other while working in Florida.  Though I can appreciate hiring someone you know, I have seen that concept go horribly awry before.  When I worked for the state, I saw a dean at NCSU hire a police chief with whom he used to work at a much smaller college.  I served on the committee to screen and interview candidates for police chief, and the new chief selected by that dean was at the bottom of the committee’s preference list.  That was a horrible hiring decision that ended in misuse of state funds, careers being adversely affected, and a lot of negative publicity.  I watched the news stories on television about the utter shame and scandal in that department years after I left.

One would think that the last thing that Smithfield would want is negative publicity.  However, I have read plenty of it over the hiring of Tim Kerigan.  After so many scandals in Smithfield Town Hall over pay raises, abuse of town policies, and misuse of town funds, you would think that the town leaders would not allow the hire of a man who was fired from his last government job for misuse of county funding and inappropriately funneling government business to his brother’s company.  To top it off, he has never held a job as a human resources director before.  Other applicants were turned down for having only private industry HR experience whereas Mr. Kerigan has none.  Importing a “good ol’ boy” with a record of financial misdealings and ethical problems into a town government that has been plagued with financial misdealings and ethical problems does not seem like a good idea to me.

On to a different town we go.  One of the reasons I decided not to seek another term on the Selma Planning Board was that I believed more in freedom and property rights than the town council did.  Often my vote was contrary to their decisions and those of my fellow board members.  In Selma, the town is considering placing restrictions on daycare businesses in the downtown area.  Apparently, two businesses have applied to operate daycare centers in the downtown business district and have been denied.  This is ostensibly for reasons of safety and traffic.

Let’s be honest.  The only traffic jams we have in Selma is when a train is coming through town.  Downtown Selma is not exactly a major metropolitan center.  We don’t have a problem with an overabundance of vehicles at any time.  I can’t really buy the concept of safety being the issue.  It seems to be more of an issue of control than one of safety to me.

I understand systematic citywide planning.  Heck, it was part of one of my college courses and as I said, I was on the town’s planning board.  However, when we have ordinances that hinder rather than encourage business, we are not necessarily helping the town.  Zoning laws can easily become just as much a form of a soft tyranny as federal regulations in the name of safety, environmental protection, or public health.  If the town keeps getting harder to deal with for business, we won’t see the town expanding; it will continue to shrink.

Municipal governments can be a great boon to its citizens.  Unfortunately, it can also be a source of scandal, control, and frustration.

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