Good government officials are a bit like good officials in the sporting world.
The best referees are the ones you barely notice.
They do not get in the way of play.
The do not change outcomes.
They are not obtrusive.
Government exists to serve and not be served.
On the local level city and county governments have grown to the point that no longer are communities governed by a representative form of government made up of popularly elected legislators, a judiciary and an executive branch.
Rather, paid government staff, who do not answer to the voters, end up being in control of local government operations.
It seems as a society we regard this as ordinary and simply the way things operate, but it was never the intention of the framers and founders for the daily lives of citizens to be regulated by local, state or federally hired professionals.
The architects of the republic could have never envisioned government becoming the largest employer in the nation, state, county or city.
Both Republicans and Democrats readily admit the big business of government is way too big.
They disagree on where and how government can and should be downsized and that is a debate for another day.
For now, we are concerned about over-regulation, not on the federal level, but on the local level.
This week’s debate in the City of Morrow regarding whether a church should have to pay an $80 permit fee to host a children’s “Trunk or Treat” Halloween event, raises questions about the role of local government.
It seems that government assesses fees, fines and posts regulations for just about anything and everything.
We create government bureaucracy then levy fees to pay for the bureaucracy that has been created. It is self-perpetuating.
Rather than being defensive, we would hope that those who both sit in the seats of elected office and those hired by elected officials as city and county professionals, pause for just a moment, allow themselves to be reflective, consider this from a detached, academic point of view and think about the role of government in the lives of people.
One of the great challenges of the governing is the balancing of laws, regulations and stipulations with their humanity.
Governing with compassion and understanding is not weakness. It is great strength.
When former Morrow Mayor Earnest Duffy asked that his city show some humanity, make an exception and be a bit more understanding and flexible in its decision-making, he was not being unreasonable.
In fact, his voice was a voice of reason. His voice was the voice of ordinary citizens. His voice was the voice of a community. His voice was the voice of the governed who believe the governing work for them and not the other way around. Sadly, his voice was the voice of the past, it seems.
In our quest to be more big city, be more modern, be more professional, we have opted to be less human.
Officials become more interested in abiding by the rules they have imposed than they are in serving the people who they are elected to serve.
This is not merely about the City of Morrow. This is what citizens face from their local governments everywhere.
To their credit, it does look like Morrow city leaders will revisit and maybe reconsider these fees that treat churches and nonprofits just the same as for-profit businesses. We hope they do the right thing.
The opinion that granting an exception, or a waiver, sets a legal precedent, opens the city up to litigation and is poor governing is not a good opinion for responsive government.
By very definition, an “exception,” is not a “precedent.”
In fact, an exception is the opposite of a precedent.
That is why it is called an exception.
Granting the First Baptist Church an exception, a waiver, or even city officials and paid professionals going around the room and paying this government-mandated $80 permit fee out of their own pockets would have sent a strong message to the citizens of Morrow that city leaders understand their role is to serve and not be served.
Non-profit organizations, churches and civic groups do a great deal to improve the quality of life in a community. Most people feel a lot better about their church, a non-profit organization or the civic club they choose to be a member of, than they do about their government.
Permits and fees are yet another form of taxation on overtaxed citizens.
Perhaps rather than levying fees on citizens doing good things to improve quality of life, local government would be better advised to consider how much public money is being spent collecting, managing and administrating the fines, fees and permits.
Perhaps yet another study, visioning session, survey or a plethora of meetings for planning purposes should be conducted on the taxpayers’ dime. In fact, maybe it is time to have a meeting about having more meetings to plan for more planning.
Or, maybe not.
— Editor Jim Zachary