Government Needs to Know Its Place

Perhaps the biggest temptation for government on any level is to butt in where it does not belong. This habit is pervasive.The federal government usurps states’ responsibilities. The state imposes obligations on local governments and school districts. Local governments involve themselves in things that have nothing to do with their missions.

Why?  Sometimes it is because government officials do not like how another level of government is handling something. So, they take on the issue. Other times, it is because of the voters. Elected officials receive pressure from voters to do something about voters’ problems, concerns and interests. Voters are happy when their elected officials care enough to do something (even though voters then think that government, cumulatively, is too big). Often, government officials respond because they want to be important and relevant. The more a government entity expands its sphere of responsibilities, the more important and relevant it becomes.

As a result, we now have every level of government involved in education, environmental protection. local transportation, law enforcement and just about everything else.  It is wasteful, inefficient and contradictory, and government just keeps getting bigger.  Yet, so do society’s problems.

Why am I raising this point now?

On Tuesday, the Regional Coordinator of the NOAA Office of the National Marine Sanctuaries (that’s a mouthful of bureaucracy) made a presentation to the Mequon Common Council regarding a proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan Marine Sanctuary.  The NOAA wants to “conserve nationally-significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources.”

The Mequon City Administrator followed the presentation by stating that the Common Council would be taking up a resolution supporting this preservation effort.

This sanctuary is interesting. Sounds like a good idea.

The resolution would be rather benign. But what in the world does this issue have to do with the government of the City of Mequon?  The sanctuary is not within the Mequon city limits. It does not affect our shoreline. It has nothing to do with local law enforcement or keeping the peace within Mequon. It has nothing to do with local services provided by the city. Mequon does not even have a marina.

Yes, there are Mequon residents who are interested in the marine sanctuary.  I am one of them. I have a boat on Lake Michigan. I am interested in all things having to do with the lake. But is that enough for this level of government to go outside of its own mission?

If the City takes a position on this, why wouldn’t it take a position on other, meatier issues?  Global warming?  Protection of the rights of the unborn, or protection of reproductive rights? The war against ISIS? Common cause?  The wall along the Mexican border? Why wouldn’t the City interject itself in the operations of our school district?

Do we really want our local government involved  in all political issues?  Do we want local government to be partisan?

Mequon has steadfastly avoided taking an official position on issues that have no direct bearing on city responsibilities. We should not open this Pandora’s box.

If and when the Common Council is asked to support the Lake Michigan sanctuary, I will try to table the effort, not because I oppose the policy (I do not), but because it has nothing to do with the City’s mission. I hope my colleagues on the Common Council agree.

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