Marietta councilman Roger Kalter submitted a "Special Opinion Piece" to The Anchor (Nov. 20, 2013) applauding council for unanimously passing the 2012 update to the International Property Maintenance Code, along with an enforcement official to give it "teeth," as the headline put it. So far, so good. The piece began objectively, as expected of any competent reporter, but it ended by referring to those challenging such legislation as the "lunatic fringe." Earlier, councilman Kalter denigrated his opposition, having referred to them in committee as "tin foil hat wearers." So much for tolerance of differing viewpoints. Such descriptions do not foster the free exchange of ideas and opinions.
Some feel the solution to most if not all of our societal problems can be found in more expansive government. Ever heard the expression, "There otta be a law"? Indeed, we have created laws to cover most of life's foibles. The outcome is not a more law-abiding citizenry but the criminalization of much of what we do, resulting in loss of personal liberty and property rights. No reasonable person advocates that anyone not maintain their property, but if it is declared blighted, who makes that determination and for what purpose? The end result? We have myriad examples. Through misapplication of eminent domain, for instance, private property is wrested from its owners and delivered to powerful interests, from developers to regional governments or planning commissions; or to local governments for permanent green space, with the permanent loss of our tax base, often for "the public good."
The councilman stated that the opposition believes "... property code management is an effort by government to take over the world." He misconstrues the underlying truth. Some are not, as he avers, using government for this purpose. They are, rather, using their worldview to take over government. The operative term is "governance." We see this repeatedly as an adjunct to government, through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), regional governments and private-public partnerships. This diminishes the autonomy of local government, blurred with such seemingly lofty objectives as sustainability and social justice and replaced with non-elected, non-accountable bureaucrats; an extra- Constitutional, ersatz government bypassing the citizenry, leaving the populace no redress.
Facilitators ask for public input, but they often give us predetermined outcomes and then belittle us for not acquiescing. The implication is the dissenting populace isn't qualified to negotiate. In fairness, in the instance of this legislation, the past council president stated they had debated this issue for six months yet no one came forward to object until the final vote (although opposition at one committee meeting prompted Kalter's "tin foil hat" comment). We the people must be more involved with our local government. We will not be heard if we fail to show up and speak and we cannot speak with authority without first educating ourselves.
Yes, there are global movements, often unwittingly implemented by local officials who can be tempted with "free" money and prestigious designations as model communities, under whatever title. The mistake is thinking we can create Utopia on earth even if it requires Draconian agencies and policies for its implementation. Stifling opposition marginalizes and disenfranchises it. If we fail our civic duty to know our precious freedoms and to become active in their preservation, we have only ourselves to blame.
Is the problem the codes themselves? Not necessarily. Codes are essential and proper. They can promote or sustain an orderly society through establishment of community standards. They can provide for and protect personal and public safety. They can also become intrusive and oppressive. Who is at fault here? Each of us is culpable for the abridgment of property rights because we have not been accountable for our individual responsibilities, thereby allowing others to legislate what should be our own moral responses and abdicating our authority to outside interests. Failing to know and understand our rights, we allow these interests to, like foreign pathogens, infect our body politic, nullifying those rights.
Why is this a threat to our property rights? Isn't this just a property maintenance issue? Apparently, but it is actually symptomatic of a more pernicious malady. Many areas in Ohio and elsewhere are suffering the ramifications of the politics of intrusion. In addition to restrictive laws, a proliferation of land banks, conservation easements and watershed regulations are some of its manifestations. In almost every instance, it results in a wrenching transformation of our communities. It is coming here and we will not be immune from it. But it can be stopped.
Suppose the individual is at the bottom of the societal food chain. What can we do? By relinquishing our individual sovereignty, we become fodder for the next level up the chain: Local government, who defers its autonomy to the state, which offers its birthright to the Federal. At worst, it should stop there but it doesn't. There are those who believe international law trumps all and if it can't be enacted by law it can be promulgated by fiat. Usurp individual sovereignty and the outcome is the loss of national sovereignty. (Let's invert the food chain, as our founders did, with the individual at the top; i.e. government serves the people).
Along the chain are foreign bodies eager for power, often with a distorted sense of justice or an agenda to fulfill. Their motives are not always noble. As we decry the growing intrusions befalling us, we must remember our greatest power: To protect and preserve our liberty by standing for it here, now, locally. It begins with one who says, "Enough!"
"... there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison
Jon Eells lives in Marietta.