July 10, 2012 10:08:56 AM
The advantage leading has over pushing is that you are a lot less likely to get kicked when you lead.
Over the past few months, it has sometimes been hard to determine where the Starkville Board of Aldermen have been in front of the issues or behind them.
Sometimes, they even have appeared to be on both sides at once.
From sidewalks to bicycle helmets and from how to drain a ditch to how to fund a new jail, the Aldermen have grappled with issues, real and imagined. More often than not, they've met with opposition during public hearings and there are signs that the criticism is beginning to weigh on a few of the Board's more progressive (aggressive) members.
Whatever wounds the Board has suffered, it must be acknowledged that some were self-inflicted. This is particularly true in cases like the city's bicycle helmet ordinance. Two years ago, the Board passed an ordinance requiring that all bicycle riders wear a helmet that would go into effect a year later. Almost as soon as the ordinance went into effect, the matter was back before the Board with a proposed amendment that you make the ordinance apply only to those ages 16 and younger. It did not seem to register with the Board that the arguments they used to justify the original ordinance were still in play when considering an amendment. The appeal to change the ordinance was pretty much of a case of "it's a good rule, as long as it doesn't apply to me.''
Ultimately, the Board left the ordinance as it was originally written, correctly reasoning "if it ain't broke, don't break it.''
Likewise, the Board's vacillation over issues such as the Carver ditch problem and its aggressive sidewalk ordinance have only served to unnecessarily arouse some of the citizens.
Then there is the latest issue, an effort by the Board, which is considering an ordinance that would to regulate outdoor displays, storage and sales, and to reduce the number of yard sales allowed a year.
On its face, the ordinance seems reasonable: The city has a right and obligation to regulate commercial businesses, which is what some "yard sales'' have become. This is not an attempt by the city to prevent somebody from selling the stuff they've cleaned out of the garage on a Saturday morning. Rather, it's a reasonable attempt to regulate what is, essentially a commercial enterprise that pays no taxes, adheres to no regulations and holds no licenses or permits while competing directly with second-hand stores and thrift stores (many of which fund charities) that are required to meet all those obligations.
There is some talk, however, that the city will require folks to get a permit to hold a yard sale, which seems a bit like swatting a fly with a sledge hammer.
Whether it's yard sales or bicycle helmets or sidewalks, there is little doubt that the city of Starkville has a progressive board, one that is determined to make Starkville a new city. The Board has certainly achieved many things that have make Starkville a better place to live and its vision of a modern, energy-efficient, pedestrian and cyclist-friendly city is a worthy goal.
But you can only push so much, so fast. It seems that if there is a Board meeting, there is also an ordinance on the table. If folks get the feeling that they are being over-regulated.
"I feel like it's death by paper cuts here with all these ordinances,'' noted one citizen during the last Board meeting. Even one of the Board members agreed.
"Every time we come in here, an ordinance is being made or one is being amended,'' Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn noted.
It is commendable that the Board is aggressive in its attempts to improve the city. But there is some wisdom, too, in realizing that not all problems rise to the level of official action.
Better then, to focus on the major issues and leave the lesser issues for another time or another solution.
More leading, less pushing. Nobody gets kicked.
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4. Editorial cartoon for 12-12-18 NATIONAL COLUMNS
5. Robert Koehler: The lost and the entitled NATIONAL COLUMNS