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  • Last modified 82 days ago (Feb. 24, 2022)

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Invaded by
an army of arrogance

Vladimir Putin and leaders of Marion’s city council apparently have a lot in common. Rather than wait for democracy, diplomacy, and the rule of law to run their course, both took precipitous and perilous actions this week that by rights should — though probably won’t — lead to their ouster.

Whether we’re talking about breakaway enclaves in Ukraine or underused lots in Marion’s industrial park, behaving like a bully and insisting on moving forward before due process has had a chance is a sign not of strong leadership but of cowardly closed-mindedness and distrust. Simply put, it’s un-American.

The issues involved aren’t whether Ukraine should be broken up or portions of the industrial park should be given over to commercial rather than industrial use. We don’t know about the former but tend to think, pending hearing all evidence, that the latter might not be a bad idea.

The problem is, we aren’t going to hear the evidence because our leaders don’t have enough confidence in the basic tenets of democracy to allow full and complete consideration. Instead, they insist, like toddlers throwing tantrums, to have their way and have it now.

With one council member absent and a second comically able to hear only half what was being said, Marion’s council voted 3-1 Monday to ignore what might happen at two already scheduled hearings, just days away, and instead to impose their will by brute force, without allowing procedures required by state statute and municipal ordinances to take place.

They overstepped their authority by failing to give the city’s planning and zoning commission the 60 days it is allowed under law to schedule a hearing. They invoked a twisted and selective interpretation of a statute allowing them to end-run the commission even though the statute says this legally can be invoked only if the commission fails to respond to a document that never was sent. They conveniently discounted a protest petition, calling it merely an open letter, because if they had accepted it as a petition, four votes instead of three would have been required.

Most important, perhaps, they tainted any future consideration by stating they already made up their minds in December, before any inquiries or hearings could occur.

In a case involving Kansas zoning laws, no less an authority than the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that behavior such as that exhibited by Mayor David Mayfield in grilling council member Ruth Herbel about whether she had favored rezoning in December was prima facia evidence of illegal tampering with the required process by which zoning matters are to be considered.

Whether the city will benefit or suffer because of the specific actions taken — including a subsequent incurring of nearly $1 million in potential debt — isn’t the question. The city may well benefit from having commercial establishments where industrial businesses have been reluctant to locate. It may well suffer — and suffer big time — if a challenge to their actions is mounted in court.

But the direct consequences of the specific actions aren’t as important as what they represent: a cavalier disregard for what’s written in law and a dangerous willingness to steamroll over anyone who might dare to question what a select group of bureaucrats and officials privately scheme to move forward.

The council should be ashamed. So, too, should any of us who voted to put into office public officials devoted to wheedling the law and castigating as disrupters of progress any who dare to oppose them.

What happens with the industrial park may not affect many of us, but what protections will be the next to be trampled on? By its action, the council essentially ruled that the city’s planning and zoning commission might as well be disbanded. True, the commission can at times be not unlike an obstacle course. But so, too, are many other rights we depend upon in a society ruled by law rather than the biggest bully.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Feb. 24, 2022

 

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