Part 2: What does ‘essential’ mean locally?
We began a conversation last week about defining the essential functions of local government. I placed as my number one priority public safety.
I have since been challenged online about what “essential” really means. The assertion was that I define “essential” based on my biases. So let’s see if we can come to a common agreement on our terms.
Let me be more precise: I define “essential” as closer to an absolute rather than a relative term.
For example, judge between these two choices:
1. “It is essential that I show up with a wrapped present and thoughtful card for my wife’s birthday party tomorrow if I expect to continue living.”
2. “It is essential that I find and drink some quantity of water sometime within the next three days if I expect to continue living.”
Well, maybe those two are equally essential.
But play along with me here.
Remember Tom Hanks stranded like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island? Suppose his wife’s birthday is tomorrow back in the USA, and suppose that he has on his desert island absolutely nothing available at hand to quench his growing thirst. In that specific case, would those two choices be essentially equivalent?
I think you see my point.
Some things, some services, some activities are relatively essential but are not absolutely essential.
Maybe we can get to some agreement if we pair off the choices that many families now face.
1. “I have $100. I am $100 short of having enough cash to pay my monthly home mortgage. I am three months behind on my mortgage. They will foreclose if I miss this payment and I will eventually lose my home. My home is essential to me and my children.”
2. “I have $100. There is no food in this mortgaged house. My kids are hungry. It is essential that I provide my family with food today. I can feed my family for the next week with this $100.”
Within those narrow parameters, which is more essential? (Yes, I know: The destitute parent could seek food at Fayette Samaritans. And maybe Obama would ’copter in with a rescue mortgage payment. But where’s the next $100 coming from, and the next mortgage payment? Play by the rules here.)
Do you start to see my notion of “essential” as defined in this discussion?
Government — down to and including the smallest units of local governments — is like that mule the farmer strikes full-face with a 2X4 beam. A passerby asks in bewilderment, “Why did you hit that mule? He was just standing there.”
The farmer replies, “He never moves in any direction unless I get his attention first.”
The precipitous decline in local property values and the subsequent drop in local property tax collections have gotten the dazed attention of local governments.
We the people now must take the reins in hand and get that mule moving in the direction we determine is absolutely essential. Not relatively essential. Absolutely essential.
Part 3 will get down to cases.
[Cal Beverly has edited and published The Citizen since its inception in 1993.]