I sometimes sit back and wonder if elected legislators feel a need to propose and write new laws as a means of job security.
Every year, I receive lists of new laws being proposed along with summaries of how those proposed laws may impact my business and/or the City of Neosho. Depending on the proposal, I may make a phone call or send a letter to my elected officials voicing concerns or support. Luckily for me, when compared to Jeff City and Washington, D.C., our city government doesn't write many "new" laws. That makes my life a lot simpler.
But as elected officials, legislators in Jeff City and D.C. are the ones charged with and responsible for writing the laws that impact all of us. As citizens, and as a municipality, we have a general obligation to follow those laws. We can't pick and choose just the ones we like. And depending on how the laws are written, they can be very restrictive on how things are done or what "can" be done (as well as the process we must follow). Sometimes, after laws are written, we quickly learn that they may not be what we originally were promised (the Affordable Care Act comes to mind). But even in that case, until they are fixed by the legislature or clarified by the courts, they are the law: good, bad, or indifferent.
Sometimes, laws written by others can become problems for us at the local level. And it's when those laws cause controversy at the local level — particularly when they put me or the city council in the cross hairs — that I become frustrated. Why is it "we" get the blame when "they" are the ones who set the rules we are charged to follow? I hate being on the receiving end of something I didn't do. But such is life in politics. Let me give you a couple of examples.
In 2010, the city, after almost 20 years, stopped paying annual fees to the Neosho Chamber of Commerce. Why? Well, it's a pretty simple reason. If you look at the statute that allows the city of Neosho to collect the so-called "economic development" sales tax, seven words provide the limitations on what that tax can be used for. Those seven words are "shall be used solely for capital improvements." In statutory terms, "shall" and "solely" are pretty straight forward (and limiting) terms. "Capital improvements" are also easily defined. Bottom line: paying "fees" to support the chamber from this tax, regardless of our desire to do so or its benefit to us, DOES NOT fit within the allowable uses for those taxpayer funds. No spin. No parsing of words. It's very simply a restriction we don't control, but certainly must follow.
Another example comes from the Neosho TDD fiasco. The main issue to me revolves around four simple words: "any persons residing therein." Those four words are used in the statute to define the "voters" for any proposed tax by the Neosho TDD. In other words, it says specifically who is allowed to "vote" for imposing any tax. The voters must be "persons" — that easy. And they must "resid[e] therein" — meaning they must live inside the TDD's boundaries. So what's the problem? Well, when the boundaries of the Neosho TDD were formed, they specifically excluded any residences. As I've been told, that was done by design with the plan being landowners would then step in and be the voters. But under that law that established the Neosho TDD, landowners are not given permission to vote (remember those four words?!) And given that no one "resides" inside the TDD's boundaries, you wind up with no one being "allowed" to vote for a tax. Yet again another restriction we didn't write and we don't control.
Page 2 of 2 - There are many things that make our country special. Being a nation of laws is one of them. And laws exist for a reason. If they are too restrictive, get rid of them. If they are broken, fix them. If they aren't doing what was originally intended, revise them. But for the most part, those of us serving locally don't have the "power" to fix, revise or get rid of them. We do, however, have the obligation to follow them.
To those who continue with the spin of "you're against economic growth" or "you want to block progress," I respectfully continue to disagree. It's not about the project. It's not about the people behind it. It's simply the desire and duty to abide by the rules that others wrote — rules that we're obligated to follow.
Until next time: stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho!
Richard Davidson is mayor of the city of Neosho.