Rule of Law?

“A government of laws, not of men.” – John Adams

As Mequon mayor, I need to follow the law. It is hard to imagine anyone differing with that. Lately, however, I have received many emails from residents saying that it is my job to stop the city from “harassing” a popular business that knowingly and flagrantly broke (and continues to break) the law.

I cannot, and should not be able to, assert myself in a way that keeps the law from being followed. I can seek to have the city review whether the current law is good (I have done that and will continue to do so). I can even seek to ask staff to find reasonable approaches to enforcing the law. But I cannot just ignore the law or stop employees from enforcing it. I do not have that authority (they do not report to me), and should not have that authority.

I note, without getting into the details (this is not the right time or place), that city officials have given the aggrieved business owner many months to solve the problem.

I am not a “rules are rules” guy who believes that rules should be reflexively and strictly enforced regardless of the circumstances. Stupid things are done by government too often when government treats everything as black and white.

On the other hand, we are supposed to be law-abiding, and government makes a mockery of the law when it selectively enforces in ways that do not put everyone on an equal footing.

This situation made me think: where do people get the idea that I (or any elected official) can just make the law up as I go?

I think this has become far too prevalent in our country.

Certainly, on a national basis, too many voters have come to believe that the president is all-powerful. One presidential candidate says that “[f]ossil fuel executives should be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have knowingly caused.” He does not seem to much care about whether any laws have been broken. That same candidate proposes to ignore federal laws and “legalize marijuana in the first 100 days with executive action.”

Presidents (and presidential candidates) now believe they make the laws. They believe they are immune from being prosecuted from breaking the law. They believe they are above Congress and the courts.

Sometimes governors and even legislatures seem un-restrained by the law.

I do not want to weigh-in publicly on whether the policies any federal or state candidate or official espouses are good ideas. Or even if they have the authority they claim. That is not my job.

But the idea that government can ignore process and make up the rules outside of the formal law-making process seems to be trickling down from the federal government to the states to local government. And amazingly, too many voters not only accept it but encourage it.

It is a terrible trend. I will not go there as mayor and will do everything I can (within my very limited authority) to ensure that Mequon does not follow that trend.

Leave a Reply