Letter to the Editor: ‘Local control’ is not a virtue

Stock image by Phototreat / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

OPINION — To many Utahns, the idea of “local control” is a self-evident truth — a foundational element of good government. For years, I clung to this theory, repeating it as a tactical talking point to oppose a bloated federal government and uphold the virtue of empowering local governments to do more instead.

This theory clashed starkly with reality when I began observing these local governments consistently advocating against proposals in the Utah Legislature that would protect the rights of their residents by limiting or eliminating a city’s authority to regulate those rights.

After repeated instances of this interaction with local governments, I realized that local control is not about local property rights, local free markets or local personal freedom. Cities do not try and circumvent heavy-handed state laws to provide relief for residents. Instead, they consistently want to regulate more, and more often.

Local control, quite simply, is about just that: control.

A few specific examples may help illustrate this point. For several years, cities fought efforts to minimize the burden on home-based businesses, seeking to retain the over $1 million in fees paid to them. And they nearly went nuclear when the Legislature was looking earlier this year to stop them from overcharging their citizens on fees for city services like water, electricity, or garbage.

Many cities use this excess revenue as a slush fund for general government programs and activities — a convenient, if constitutionally problematic, way to circumvent raising taxes.

Or how about the food truck freedom bill that passed almost unanimously earlier this year? The only vote against it was from a senator who caved to political pressure from a mayor in her district who wanted to continue banning food trucks in the entire city. You can’t get much more controlling than that.

Another example is St. George’s obstinate opposition to the Legislature’s efforts to protect property rights in the area of short-term rentals. Nobody disputes that cities should be able to control against actual nuisances — loud music, congested parking, trash, etc. But heavy restrictions on the peaceful use of property are unnecessary to protect public health and safety.

Despite being completely unaware of — and thus unaffected by — neighbors who had been quietly sharing their basement on Airbnb for quite some time, Mayor Pike and the city attorney spent significant time on Capitol Hill encouraging legislators to oppose a bill that was designed to allow people to share their home as long as they themselves remained in it, to help police bad behavior.

The mayor also implored other city officials to join his cause, noting that while other communities didn’t have any issue (real or perceived) with short-term rentals, they should stand together with St. George in fighting for the right to continue restricting and banning the activity. His passionate plea carried the vote, and city officials statewide mobilized to protect their “local control” of homeowners.

Cities are jealous guardians of their supposed authority, always attempting to stonewall state legislators that look to limit the power these cities were granted in cases where that power is used to violate the rights of their residents. City officials tout the same idea I once did: Local control is best.

I have observed many local government officials who, when objecting to legislative restrictions on their power, point out how legislators object to the federal government telling states what to do. This, they say, is hypocrisy — because if legislators don’t like the federal government telling the state what to do, then how can the state tell cities and counties what to do?

This is a common objection, but it’s simply wrong. The federal government is a creation of the state, and receives its legitimate authority delegated to it by the states.

Similarly, local governments in Utah are classified as political subdivisions of the state, meaning that the state receives its delegated authority from the people, and then subdivides and grants a portion of that authority to local governments. In both cases, the state is first and foremost in charge.

With little to no regard for the property rights of their residents or maintaining a free market or protecting personal freedoms, cities regulate all manner of activity.

Local government often enacts laws based on unlikely edge cases, fear and “model policies” they copy from other governments that copied other governments.

Lost in the fray is the voice of the most local level where the control should reside — individuals and families.

If cities can’t respect that local control, then they can’t cry foul when the state makes them.

Written by CONNOR BOYACK, president of Libertas Institute, a free market think tank based in Lehi.

Letters to the Editor are not the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them.

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9 Comments

  • DRT June 30, 2017 at 7:38 am

    Wonder how much property the writer owns in St. George, that he wants to use for vacation rental income.

  • LocalTourist June 30, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Finally, someone who gets it.
    Control is control, regardless of the level it’s coming from.

    Howard, are you listening?

  • NotSoFast June 30, 2017 at 8:01 am

    A well put together article. I agree.

  • desertgirl June 30, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Bottom line in a Republic: Lost in the fray is the voice of the most local level where the control should reside — individuals and families. Thank you Connor.

  • semantics? June 30, 2017 at 10:38 am

    It is always about power. The question is, do I want the power coming the state whom I have much less input with or with a local city council or county commission? The author is from Lehi and obviously has a political agenda to push, but for whom? Did someone pay for this letter to the editor? Probably. If so, then where is power asserted? The apparent agenda appears to be State Control is better the local control. If State control is almost always better, as hinted at, then why have any city elected officials at all?

    The VRBO, Airbnb issue is a mess. I live across the street from the short term rental from hell. The article speaks of property owners quietly doing something their neighbors don’t even know about. How about advertising for family re-unions, baseball teams, lacrosse teams, etc because the quiet VRBO will sleep 52? The author neglects to mention that St. George has areas where short term rentals are legal. Oh, I forgot they are just quietly enjoying the neighborhood. With the help of the city, two years, and a lot of frustration it was finally shut down. I am sure Representative Knotwell would not come down an help me, and even if he is willing to come down, he would be powerless. He would probably suggest I call local police and deal with a local city or county attorney.

    Yes, there is always a power issue. I prefer to have to a face to face with any of our mayors orcity council members than need to take a trip to Herriman or SLC to address a problem in my neighborhood.

  • flicker June 30, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Thank you Mayor Pike for trying to preserve the concept of single family residential neighborhoods.

  • NickDanger June 30, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Balderdash. Of course local control of regulatory laws is best, for many reasons.

    Local legislators are elected by locals, and live locally. Whatever their agenda, they are still going to have to mingle with the people they are governing every day, and live in the community they create.

    Local residents can participate in local legislative processes. If YOU, a St. George resident, have something you want to accomplish legislatively, you can go to a city council meeting and say so. Maybe you have a friend or relative in the city manager’s office. If you want to get involved, you can get involved.

    People like the author of this letter have only one possible motive to want outside control over local affairs – they are operating at a higher level than you or me. It seems pretty obvious here that this Connor Boyack feels he can move his agenda forward at the state level, but local government is getting in his way.

    Well that’s just too bad, Connor. Very sorry that our elected officials are holding you back. But I’m 100% sure they have a reason for it, and I’m just as certain it is a reason that reflects St. George’s values over whatever illegal business dealings you can’t push through. Maybe you should consider moving to a place that’s more corrupt, or where the people simply don’t care what you do to their city.

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