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Editorial April 15, 2010

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April 18, 2010 by wcobserver

Who Needs Rules Anyway?

It’s a beautiful spring evening at Carter Park in West Fork. The batter hits a highfly ball to center field.  The fielder fades back, back, back.  The runner is rounding second heading for third. The center fielder is under it – he reaches – the ball thuds on the ground in front of him.  The umpires come together for a conference and declare the runner out anyway.   After all, they reason, the fielder almost caught the ball.  A few fans grumble, most just shrug their shoulders.  After all the game’s being played in a small town.  They do things different in small towns. 

Of course, this is ridiculous; the rules of baseball are applied consistently.  Rules are what give the game a sense of fairness; they make the game worth playing.  Without rules there is no game.  Sports rules flow from an ancient principal concerned with how we govern ourselves.  That principle is the basis of all civilized life – “The Rule of Law.”  This deeply embedded democratic ideal was discussed by Ancient Greek philosophers. Around 350 BCE, Plato wrote:

Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.

 Laws at the local government level are referred to as ordinances and become the municipal code.  The municipal code establishs rules for such activities as issuing permits, regulating signs, zoning, establishing and defining duties of commissions. It regulates such activities as traffic, fiscal affairs, public sanitation and safety, water and sewer, recreation, development and a long list of other activities where regulation helps insure the orderly and peaceful functioning of the city.

After pestering the “custodian of public records” for copies of various ordinances for research on news topics, the Observer finally broke down and paid the $25 to have a copy of the entire code book. It’s an inch thick and looks a little scary at first.  But on closer examination it seems much less formidable. The pages are printed on one side, some are double spaced; there are lists and definitions.  It’s written in a simple style comprehensible by a high school student. The average reader could probably get through it in a couple of hours.  

While reading it we were perplexed by the seeming disconnection between the code and the practices and policies of the city administration.  There are many instances of discrepancies between code and action; here’s one small example:  the ordinance says the planning commission has 7 members, none can hold another city appointment and the commission is required to meet at least quarterly.  In fact the planning commission has 6 members, one is on another commission and it hasn’t had a meeting since August 28, 2008.

Many of us have had jobs that required our signature on company policy and regulation statements.  The boss wants us to read the company rules and regulations so we can’t use the excuse we didn’t know.  Many licensed occupations in medicine and education, for example, require continued updating of knowledge of regulations about the job.

We can’t help but wonder if the West Fork elected officials have read the code book.  Perhaps some have.  If they haven’t, they should.  If they have, why aren’t the city’s actions more consistent with the ordinances?  Is the rule of law at work  here or are we subject to some other authority?

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