Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Congress Making Sausage : Buring Trash

Many years ago I served my little community here as a Township Supervisor. Supervisors are elected officials and tasked with “running” the day to day activity of each of the many political subdivisions known here as Townships. Most of the people in the state of PA live in one of three classes of Townships. There are also Cities (there are only 3 in the whole state by the way) and Boro’s or Broughs as well.

My county alone (Montgomery) has 62 such subdivisions of various sizes and shapes. Within each the Supervisors are charged with hiring and firing of the Municipal staff, organizing and monitoring the various departments such as the Road Crew, Police, Administrative staff and the Sewer Plant if you are lucky enough to have one of those.
It is a daunting task and very underappreciated by the residents who go about their lives not realizing that 5 members of their community decide on virtually everything that makes their little community different from the next one down the road. Issues like Zoning, Subdivision and Land Development, construction standards for their roads, sidewalks and street light placement to tasking of the Police to patrol one area over another. There are standing committees that help with some of this; we had a Sewer Board, a Planning Commission for land development issues, Parks and Open Space committee, a Recreation committee and an Environmental Advisory Board.

One of the interesting aspects is that the make-up of the Board is by lay citizens from within the community. Our Board was made up of 5 unique individuals. One was a truck driver/mechanic, another was a retired State Trooper, another was a Butcher and yet another owned and operated a junkyard. Consensus building was sometimes a struggle, getting an idea sold across the diverse backgrounds of all the Supervisors were a challenge. An example was one effort I championed was to buy and install for our office staff (there were 9 Administrative staffers) a modern office computer system complete with laser printers and an actual office network. We had the money and the need. The staff was using clunker IBM workstations on an arcnet. It took some work, comparing different computers to models of trucks to convince the truck driver or likening an Ethernet to the turnpike and other roads for the Trooper to understand. It was but only item in what were a universe of needs that we addressed.

Another interesting aspect was everything a person in that position gets exposed to. I never knew anything about how a Municipal Sewer system worked but today, I can tell you the difference between an Circular Anaerobic digestion system and an Oxidation ditch system. The same with how roads are built and maintained or how a tract of farm land is turned into a single family housing development. It was always a learning experience and then of course applying some decision making skills.

To gain some structured knowledge and to help spread the experience around the Association that represented Township Supervisors all across the state of PA held training courses and seminars that we could attend. Many of the seminars related the changing of environmental laws or federal laws that are passed and then flowed down onto the Townships for us to figure out how to implement (like curb cuts into sidewalks after the ADA was passed). Some of the seminars were designed to teach the newbie how a road is built and how to go out and buy those large trucks that push the snow around in the winter or how to conduct a negotiate a contract with your Police union or even how to hold an effective meeting.

They were all helpful and I attended as many as I could. One I remember well and recent news items have pushed that one lesson to the fore.

It was a seminar on making Law. Yes folks, we as Township Supervisors are tasked with making laws. It was a necessary evil I assure you and none were done lightly. From the training seminal was one important lesson, which was has stuck with me. It was a discussion on consistent application of the law. The concept that all valid laws have to apply to all persons falling under its jurisdiction in exactly the same way. There can be no equivocation, no shade of grey, no waiver or exemptions. Laws that sustain challenge contain no ambiguity and are applied the same way in each happenstance. Laws are struck down if they are judged “capricious or arbitrary”.
Let us examine this a bit more:

Legal Dictionary:
1: depending on individual discretion and not fixed by standards, rules or law; founded on or subject to personal whims, prejudices, etc; having only relative application or relevance; not absolute

1; governed or characterized by impulse or whim; lacking a rational basis; not supported by the weight of evidence or established rules of law

Why has this struck me at this time? Well it was this: Waivers for Favors: Big Labor’s Obamacare escape hatch

This is an article by Michelle Malkin on waivers granted by the department of HHS to companies and Unions requesting exemption from the Patient Protection and the Affordable Health Care Act (PPAHCA) commonly known as Obamacare. It’s a huge number; almost 1 million Union members are exempt from Obamacare (list here) despite their hard work lobbying to get it passed.

There are almost 800 companies (story here) with active waivers granting exemption to more than 2 million people.

HHS reports that 50 applicants have been denied and no one knows how one group or plan is approved for exemption and another is denied. Do they grant them based on who has contributed money to their favorite Democrat cause? Is approval contingent on how “friendly” you are to the Administration?

You see, this is the problem when you invite exemption from a law you worked so very hard to get passed. Once you start exempting people, especially without that exemption process being spelled out in the same law, you get questions about the Law itself. How much of a “whim” is the law? How capricious is the law? It is applied in an arbitrary fashion? How consistent is it against the population it is to govern?

By virtue of the fact that the exemption process is a secret and not public, that so many are being exempted out and especially their own supporters want out this bill should be junked. It is capricious or arbitrary and not enforceable on the rest of us. It should be repealed or struck down altogether.

Once during my 7-years as a Township Supervisor I had to vote on a law banning the open burning of trash in the backyards of homes here in the Swamp area. Sounds like an easy piece of legislation to draft and vote on, makes sense in this modern age all that health and clean air stuff. But you would not believe the blow back. So many people came in asking what the hell were we thinking, banning the burning of trash! The meeting room was filled the next regularly scheduled meeting night, standing room only in fact (more 70 people came out). This was a big deal, we normally only get 4 or 5 folks out when we raised taxes or jacked up the sewer fee. Hell, when we laid off a Police Officer we only got three people in there to complain. What the hell were we thinking, banning the burning of trash!

They all wanted exemptions. They all wanted to keep their burn barrels. They wanted no part in the mandatory curb side service mandated by state law (the State recycling law forced municipalities that reached a certain population density to go to the curb with their trash).

We said no. I said no. If the law applied to one of us, it was going to apply to us all. And so it was, and is today here in the Swamp.

That one law may have been why I was a one term Supervisor. You take a stand and you take your lumps. We can only hope this will be true of PresBO as well.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

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