Whose Hole Is Looped?

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The headline created a definite impression: "Businessman with political connections may have found a way to get around county law." Sounds like a sneaky fellow, doesn’t he? Well, he’s a "businessman," and, at least in the local rag, businessmen are tricky scoundrels, not to be trusted. And he’s found a way to "get around county law," which can only mean that he’s planning something unlawful, right? And "political connections?" That suggests that he’s bribed one or more of the rulers, or promised them some benefit if they turn a blind eye to his nefarious scheme.

But, in fact, none of the above! The businessman of the headline plans to "get around the law" by utilizing the law. His plan is to develop some property he owns in a resort area by Lake of the Ozarks. County officials there have, for undisclosed reasons, refused his previous requests to develop "his" property. But now comes a new law, by which any landowner can petition the county to incorporate — regardless of the size of the land, or the number of inhabitants. The petition must be signed by 15% of the voters in the area seeking incorporation. In the case of the land owned by the businessman, that means as few as a dozen people, renting from him, would vote on the issue of incorporation. Apparently, once incorporated, county zoning laws are circumvented, and county permission to develop is not required.

Well, so what? This is a case of a landowner seeking to develop "his" own land. What he plans to do with it is not known, but there have been suggestions that he might build a botanical garden, a hotel, condos, or perhaps a theater.

And the reaction of the rulers? Horror, revulsion! A commissioner of the county that includes the land is aghast. "The negative impact this law could have on every county is limitless." Imagine: people doing as they please with their own land! The rulers tremble with indignation. "It scares us to death," says a commissioner of an adjacent county. Other commissioners worry that industrial development might result in pollution. "You could just think of a hundred different activities that discharge material into our municipal watershed," said one of them. (You could think of a Martian invasion, too, but no doubt the rulers would protect us in that event.) But surely incorporation doesn’t provide exemption from pollution laws. And, in any event, people damaged by pollution are free to sue the polluter, regardless of the site of the plant.

Another official waxes indignant: "This is a flagrant effort to evade the county’s planning zoning laws." But wait: this "flagrant effort" is simply the utilization of a law passed by the legislators. If they hold their offices to protect the public from such dangers as possible pollution, and violation of zoning laws, why did they pass this law? Well, it seems they didn’t know what they were doing. "This little change was put in there without debate. I am sure others, even the people in the Senate, didn’t catch it," lamented a Representative from the area involved. It’s hinted that a friend of the businessman, the House Speaker in the Missouri legislature, slipped the bill into another bill dealing with various local government issues. "It smacks of cronyism," says the mayor of a local town. Imagine: cronyism in government! Shades of Bechtel and Halliburton! Could such things happen in Missouri?

It’s amusing to see people who piously insist upon the sanctity of the law bemoaning a law that, to some slight and as yet non-existent degree, diminishes their authority to regulate how people handle their own property. Especially when they themselves passed the law! Add bungling incompetence to their other qualities.

It’s a perfect example of government at work.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is author of All Work & No Pay, which is out of print, but may occasionally be obtained on eBay.

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