Once a Reporter, Always a Reporter

Once I was a straight reporter. Then my husband became a politician. That made me a political spouse with bad habits, some of which are exposed here. Others are located at www.VIKIVOLK.com

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Location: St. George Island, Maryland

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Freddie Krueger and the Slaughterhouse Next Door

I attended a free-form citizen zoning meeting the other night. Yawning yet? Some newspaper editors claim the word "zoning" in a headline forces readers to turn the page. It’s a given, then, that the headline about this meeting would include the word "Slaughterhouse." If zoning procedures were horror shows, slaughterhouses would be Freddy Krueger.

The compensation for a zoning reporter failing to entice broad readership is the intense and protracted readership a really juicy zoning procedure creates. When zoning procedures are in your back yard it isn't a yawn, it's a replay of the War of the Worlds when radio listeners believed the nation was under siege from Mars. Zoning proceedings, for those wrapped inside them, feel like a siege from Mars. And it goes on for years.

For about 80 folks this was their first zoning proceedings meeting about the Martians targeting their neighborhood for a landing. They were scared and frenzied which adds up to angry and mean. Zoning procedures are cathartic but safe, vigilante-ism without the danger of guns. Money is the primary weapon. Because the proceedings are in zoning-ese (Martian by any other name) Money is called Property Rights.

Another dozen folks at the meeting were elected, appointed and hired government officials. This was not their first Freddy Krueger zoning proceeding. They expected and received a routine exercise in participatory democracy where a single misspoken word could cost them their jobs. They anticipated the yelling and scorn thrown at them and the accusations of wrongdoing and incompetence.

And there were about a half-dozen folks sitting with the farmer who launched this siege by asking county staff if he could build a slaughterhouse on a parcel of land near these 80 folks.

Staff said it looked unlikely but since this was America the famer had the right to seek approval from the proper zoning board.

At this point, facing staff discouragement and neighborhood outrage the farmer is rumored to have made the typical applicant decision: Fight, if for nothing else the principle of Property Rights.

Property Rights are not the same kind of rights that extend down your arm and through your fist but end at my nose. Property rights cross boundaries. That's why there are zoning procedures and zoning boards and citizen hearings and a lucrative business in land-use law.

People not believing in Property Rights are -- and how obvious can it get -- Communists.

Property Rights are, however, mercurial. Logic suggests these same 80 folks would have supported the farmer's Property Rights to carve his cornfields into building lots for their homes -- even though the elected, appointed and hired government officials at the time would have tried to explain that cornfields are a net gain in the public coffers and building lots a significant and continual loss.

The citizens would have yelled and scorned them, accused them of wrongdoing and incompetence. The government people would have claimed allegiance to Property Rights and blended a residential and agricultural zone.

This leaves these 80 citizens worried about a slaughterhouse. Clearly, their homes stand as testimonial, Property Rights can trump the common good.

Perhaps pure force of old habit raised my hand. Thankfully I saw a staffer's incredulous look before my hand was noted. My hand dropped. "I thought I could just explain it," I said to her and started suddenly to giggle, and not in the good way, in the bad way like when you see Freddy Krueger walking in the door.

"I don't think they would hear it," the staffer said.

I left the hearing to wait in the car for my government official husband who -- as I had been once -- is paid to endure these encounters.

I accept my departure could be considered avoidance, abandonment. But I prefer to consider it an exercise in self-control, something that needs to be given a lot more play in these free-form citizen zoning meetings.

It leaves me wondering what would happen if you just invited Freddy in for a cup of tea. Or a Budweiser. But then that giggling starts again.


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