There's a Bureaucrat in Your Trash
by Stephanie R. Murphy
by Stephanie R. Murphy
Once again, my hometown is raising the bar for nanny statism. Hopkinton, Massachusetts, home of the starting line for the Boston Marathon, apparently is very concerned about what its residents are throwing away.
Hopkinton made headlines in 2001, when the principal of my high school attempted to implement a tough new anti-smoking policy. It would have given teachers the power to suspend students for smoking — without catching them in the act — simply by testifying that the students smelled of smoke.
I hope that I needn't explain why this is a bad idea. I can just imagine a non-smoking kid getting on the bad side of a teacher; is that a hint of cigarette smoke the teacher just detected on her pupil's jacket? How about a non-smoking student with parents or siblings who smoke, whose clothes have all been permeated with smoke in his home environment? He, too, could be suspended under this policy.
Hey, the Supreme Court had it all wrong in Tinker v. Des Moines. Students do leave their constitutional rights at the door when they enter the school house, at least in Hopkinton!
Even though I was a student at Hopkinton High School at the time, I found out about this new smoking crackdown when a friend from Louisiana called to inform me that Rush Limbaugh had somehow found out about it, and was proceeding to have a field day making fun of my hometown.
(I'm not really a fan of Rush, but I do have him to thank for nipping this draconian smoking policy in the bud when I was in high school. After he called my school principal a Nazi on his nationally syndicated radio show, she decided it was time to get a different job.)
Now, upon arriving home for the holidays, I was greeted with the news that Hopkinton now employs an Official Trash Bureaucrat! That's right, the Hopkinton Board of Selectpeople is very concerned. Hopkinton has mandatory curbside recycling. But the town government still worries that you might be throwing away things that you should be placing into that oh-so-earth-friendly green bin. So to address this pressing issue, they have commissioned the Hopkinton Recycling Officer to pick through your trash, just to make sure you're on the straight and narrow. What's the problem with that? You don't have anything to hide, now do you?
A little bit of history: originally, the recycling program in Hopkinton was a voluntary one. Residents voted to make curbside recycling services available along with their trash pickup, and were told it would only cost each household an extra $1 per year. "Great idea!" they exclaimed, and enthusiastically adopted the new service. Little did they know that the program would eventually become mandatory, with its own enforcer to give the ordinance some teeth!
According to a police report I found online:
Thursday, August 24, 2006
7:19 am A caller from B Street reported that an older white male was going through her trash and when he was questioned he stated that he was the town recycling inspector and then left in a maroon Jeep Liberty. Officer Patrick O'Brien stopped the vehicle on Cedar Street and he was the town recycling monitor.
I'm left with some burning questions. How exactly did this ordinance get passed? Were people just oblivious as to what their town government was doing, or was it approved by Hopkinton's governors at some closed-door, midnight session, as congress is so fond of doing? Do those who appointed the recycling enforcer get their trash scrutinized, too? How much does it cost the townspeople in property taxes (putting aside, for a moment, the cost in personal liberty) to employ the trash police? And if this is a volunteer position, who would seek out this type of job? I think the B Street resident above was rightly worried about privacy, especially given the prevalence of identity theft.
It seems that Hopkinton wants to keep its trashpicking bureaucrat hush-hush. Looking through this eleven-page list of town officials, I can't find a listing for Chief Trashpicker.
Something smells rotten about this whole situation, but please, refrain from looking in any trash cans to find the source of the odor. Maybe you should instead turn your attention toward the Hopkinton town hall.
December 26, 2006
Stephanie R. Murphy [send her mail] is an MD/PhD student living in New Hampshire. The baseball says, "Anything is possible in life."
Copyright 2006 Stephanie R. Murphy