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  • Last modified 2309 days ago (July 26, 2012)

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Towering stupidity

Quite a few people — from prominent citizens to notorious complainers — have complimented us in recent weeks for “really getting” one official or another, typically prefacing the official’s name with “that,” followed by some profanity.

Our goal has never been to contribute to the long-standing animus that name-callers seem to feel for nearly everyone in positions of authority, most of whom are good and dedicated public servants.

Rather, we have tried to point out that, when people in government do things without regard for democratic procedures designed to ensure vigorous public discussion, they end up generating the type of distrust and name-calling that has held Marion hostage for far too long.

Marion’s school superintendent is a case in point. He seems to be a fine, hard-working fellow. If only the school board had said from the start that it really liked his work, wanted to give him a big raise to show appreciation, and then offered anyone who might disagree a chance to express his or her views, a lot of anxiety could have been avoided.

Instead, it sneaked his raise onto an agenda, conducted all discussions behind closed doors, cited as a key reason data that it wouldn’t release until forced to, then had to back-peddle when the data didn’t clearly show what was claimed. Having demonstrated little faith that the public, if brought into the discussion, might go along, the board ended up creating backlash it hoped to avoid.

The same pattern is playing out with Marion’s city administrator, first on trash pickup, where he was a key player, and now on a radio tower for the new jail, where he appears to be little more than a pawn for other interests.

We still question his math regarding twice-weekly trash pickup. Even if it took three workers two days to pick up what two workers can in four, three times two is still less than two times four, meaning labor costs could be saved by once-weekly pickup like that in neighboring communities. Then again, this presumes that the laws of math and logic actually apply when considering reducing rather expanding government.

The radio tower represents a far more dangerous precedent.

For reasons we still cannot fathom, the county, having neglected to deal with its desire for a new tower in a timely manner, has been digging in its heels and insisting that emergency communications will go silent unless it can get exactly what it wants — a taller tower a few feet away from its old one.

Dismissing scores of alternatives, including unconfirmed rumors that conduit already has been laid between the new jail and the current tower, the county has behaved like a spoiled child, demanding that the city ignore its zoning merely because that’s what the county wants.

The latest move has been to bring in a hired gun — a supposed zoning expert, who actually is a bureaucrat from another county, getting fat off moonlighting as a consultant.

The fact that he’s paid by both the city and county poses the mother of all conflicts of interest. Still, he and the county attorney, who in another conflict is also the city attorney, were tasked with dreaming up a twisted set of logic, reminiscent of Nixon era power grabs, allowing the tower to be approved by bureaucratic edict.

The city administrator’s role apparently was to take the fall, and he played it to the hilt, not only issuing a unilateral decree allowing the tower but also abruptly canceling a meeting of a zoning board at which the topic was to be discussed.

As things now stand, unless someone — perhaps the ignored zoning commission itself — appeals the edict, Marion will have established precedent that its administrator can do whatever he wants, without review by any elected or appointed body, without even formal notification to any affected party.

The only oversight would be if someone somehow found out and went through the considerable hassle and expense of filing an appeal — which the hire gun and administrator tried to make even more cumbersome Monday with a proposed new form that the council failed to adopt.

Ironically, if an appeal is made, it will put the matter into the hands of a board presided over by the nearest landowner to the new jail — a person who admittedly likes to stir the pot of public debate and has been somewhat of a thorn in the county’s side throughout the process. This is the precise destination the county wanted to avoid because the only appeal from that body is to district court.

In bizarre recognition of the circular logic of the county’s position, the hired gun admitted Monday that the appeals board, which also would be the body to consider a zoning variance, probably would not be able to grant such a variance because the county would be hard pressed to prove that the new tower, as planned, was the only viable option.

If that’s true and there are other options, the public should demand that they be followed rather than establish a precedent that bureaucrats can do whatever they want, regardless of the law, unless someone challenges them.

What good is a new law enforcement radio tower if the only way to get it is by playing games with the law? Legalistic tricks, political bullying, and opportunistic power grabs are beneath the dignity this community deserves.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 26, 2012

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