A proposal to make Rhea County government toothier and more aggressive surprised many residents on learning that it will come up at a commission meeting Tuesday.
The proposal by commissioner Bill Hollin intends to target a narrowly defined problem upon which most people would agree: Nuisances.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 92.7
The bill’s teeth are sharp. It would empower the county to “define, prohibit, abate, suppress, prevent and regulate all acts, practices, conduct, businesses, occupations, callings, trades, uses of property and all other things whatsoever detrimental, or liable to be detrimental, to the health, morals, comfort, safety, convenience or welfare *** .”
The proposal seeking a two-thirds vote among nine commissioners short-circuits the county’s system of courts created to settle disputes, right wrongs and establish restitution for torts and injuries among the people. Ignoring the general premise that sessions, chancery and circuit are open to all disputants, it allows inspectors and county officers to settle grievances among neighbors beforehand — administratively and by threat of judicial action.
The proposal comes as Rhea County attains greater status as a commercial center. Nokian Tyres will break ground in early 2018 on a F$360 million plant and will employ 400 people when it begins putting out 4 million tires a year starting in 2020. Mr. Hollin’s bill gives county government more the look of proactive commercial government rather than reactive protective civil government.
The Rhea nuisances plan for new coercive power —
➤ Shifts the ground of the people away from self-government and private settlement of disputes to that of regulation, supervision and inspection by civil authority — to pre-emptive government of the kind made famous by the Great Society and New Deal government in Washington.
➤ Esteems force rather than entreaty and negotiation to ease tensions among neighbors. It uses the tongue of incisor-backed command rather than the linquistics of diplomacy.
➤ Opens the way for violations of the “arbitrary and capricious” standard in law, one that requires all state actors to have clear authority in statute for their activities.
➤ Rejects the biblical teaching that the civil magistrate is to be negative in his function and judicial (waiting for a crime to occur, then seizing the offender), not positive, active and executive.
Pretending the Trump revolt didn’t happen
Mr. Hollin emits his proposal as if to play catchup with recent changes in Tennessee law of which the county has declined to take advantage. But, more likely, he faces a wall of resistance that is the Trump voter revolt. People in the county overwhelmingly went to the polls to put a stop to business as usual in Washington, D.C., favoring Mr. Trump with 8,650 votes, or 79 percent, to 1,942 votes, or 17.7 percent, for Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Trump tapped the huge public anger against politics as usual, against regulation and the standing abuse that to many is the national government itself, if Mr. Hollin didn’t notice.
Mr. Hollin comes from a background of “economic planning” and corporate sales, and shares a fault with many technocrats. For him, the ordinance is just a tool to accomplish a public policy objective — namely, give power to officials to “take care” of problems among the people. For the variegated nuisance problem in Rhea County, he asks not for a Bowie knife, but a Swiss army knife. One blade won’t do. A dozen tools might be needed, and we don’t want an instrument lacking in cutting edges, nail files and screwdrivers. No tool bereft of instruments, no toolbox not full.
Hence the objections from entrepreneurs such as Joe Paige, a contractor in Spring City. He wants residents to contact their commissioners and to attend Tuesday’s work session at 6 p.m. in the Dayton courthouse annex.
Mr. Paige warns about the threat of each verb in the string of powers listed in the ordinance.
“Yes, the resolution would allow cleanup of health hazards,” says Mr. Paige, 60, a refugee from aggressive municipal regulation in Tampa Bay, Fla. “But if you factor in the inevitable government mission creep it could eventually touch every aspect of behavior or economic activity on private property. I do not trust Bill Hollin and other supporters of this measure to use it judiciously. Instead, I picture iron-fisted bureaucrats standing over my wood stove, demanding ‘You vill comply.’”
Unlimited authority, token citations to constitution
The ambitious proposal gives a token of deference to the limits on the exercise of state power. “The board of county commissioners recognizes that the enforcement and exercise of these powers by the county is limited by the provisions of the constitution of the state of Tennessee and the United States constitution.” So sweeping appears the language above this sentence that it might be read as with a sigh of regret, rather than a signal of respect to the free exercise of God-given and constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Mr. Paige and others say that while current board members may be respectful of constitutionally guaranteed rights, who knows what sort of activist do-gooders might be elected 10 years from now, or 20?
An uproar in neighboring Sequatchie County over the past two years came from a purported administrative necessity by Dunlap city hall to “inspect” a beautiful older house long in renovation. Homeowners Carol Gaddy and her husband, Thomas, refused to grant what they understood to be a search without probable cause or a warrant.
The Tennessee constitution guarantees the people the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures (those without a warrant) in the bill of rights, Article 1, section 7.
The couple were right to resist, as the city violated its charter by filing the claim in the wrong court and was making demands criminal in nature without having received anything near a criminal complaint or warrant.
Harmless governmental interest
Is Mr. Hollin worried about the prospect of abuse of power? “Naw, somebody has to report it. We won’t put an officer out here riding around over the community trying to find somebody that’s yucking up their neighbor’s yard or their yard. Neighbor should try to settle it with neighbor. If that don’t work, then he can ask us to step in and help him. And if that don’t work, then we can clean it up and charge him for it.”
The problems with nuisances in Rhea County are real, says Mr. Hollin, who for 12 years was Rhea Economic and Tourism Council director.
“I’ll just give you an example. I had a lady call me. Her mother had died. She had set the flowers out in her yard. And after she’d set ‘em out, she went to the graveyard or somewhere like, you know, out, come back and her neighbor’s chickens had dug up all of ’em. And she had been for years trying to get her neighbor to put up her chickens. Because they’d set out tomato plants, and the chickens’d come and eat the tomatoes. And they had had any success in getting the chickens out of their yard. So, something like this would cause ’em to get ’em out of their yard. Because if they didn’t they’d be fined, or have the expenses of the loss of the neighbor.”
A disarming narrative, for sure. But the colloquial arguments hide an ugly truth. The people of Rhea County are fed up with rules and regulations. They’re fed up with executive government at the national level and at the state level.
They want free markets and freedom, not patronizing rules that will raise the hassle factor and government-caused headache for those living in the county. In the measure to be debated Tuesday they smell something that needs to be put out for the garbage truck, one perhaps riding on Nokian tires.