Tag Archives: Steve Spellman

Financing Our Own Financial Demise

The government is using your tax dollars against you, financing the campaign for a tax increase.

Last night I attended the Boone County Pachyderms meeting to listen to the debate about the proposed 911 tax hike. The ever-principled and polite Steve Spellman made well-reasoned arguments against the tax increase and against the hastily ill-conceived plan to rebuild the entire 911 department.

Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson and Joel Bullard, member of the Blue Ribbon Panel which devised the plan, both spoke in favor of the plan.

All three speakers made the case that the the Boone County 911 system is in need of a serious overhaul. Where they differed was on how it should be financed and the need for and feasibility of the grandiose plan.

Mr. Bullard gave the usual “it’s for the children” argument, and both he and Thompson cited anecdotes where 911 emergency callers were placed on hold. Bullard also said, “The sheriff came to us and said that he needed 25 employees, so we gave him 25 employees.”

Everyone knows that when a government wants something, it sets up a panel of yes-men (and yes-women) to formulate a plan. When the sheriff asked for 25 employees, did anyone ask if the job could be done by 20 employees?

From the discussion after the presentations it became clear that a privatization option was not explored. Since the Boone County Fairgrounds was mismanaged by the county for decades and only pulled back from jaws of bankruptcy after being turned over to a private company for management, it seems like the privatization option should have been explored. If Ed Robb’s tenure on the commission had not been cut tragically short, I’d bet privatization would have been on the table. Considering that with Ed’s untimely departure we were left with three big-government Democrats on the commission, a tax increase for bureaucratic growth is par for the course.

In fact, no other options were explored. If the county said it needed an $11.3 million building, the Blue Ribbon Panel said, “OK.” There was no out-of-the-box thinking. It seems there was no thinking at all. Like most bad government plans, this deal was rushed through a vetting theater and rushed to the voters with no public input.

As should be clear by now, Keep Columbia Free has mounted official opposition to this new tax. We believe that the city and county should use existing money to fix the problem. Over the past four decades our leadership has squandered our tax money on silly projects while ignoring 911 Emergency Management and Joint Communication. The city and the county have failed to cooperate, each grabbing their proverbial slice of pie and each refusing to fund 911. Instead, our city leaders have spent $22 million on a giant parking garage that sat empty until the city decided to lease spots to its own departments, are building the Short Street garage to serve private developers with an initial cost of $12 million, offered a $3.1 million underwriting package to American Airlines, spent $28 million painting bike lanes that make intersections dangerous, paving unneeded bike paths along Providence, and $3 million of that to market the bike ideas, and are now considering a $500,000 investment in the Blind Boone home. Our local government is like a gambling addict who loses his paycheck at the black jack table and then asks a friend for money to pay his electric bill.

Shouldn’t the 911 service have been funded before these silly plans? Shouldn’t these various local governments find a way to cut the waste and apply those savings to the 911 issue?

As the only official opposition group, our task seems like an uphill climb, especially when we are working against paid government employees who are spending public man-hours actively campaigning in favor of the new tax. How do regular citizens stand a chance against these well-paid officials? Isn’t it ethically questionable for paid employees of the county to campaign to fill their own coffers? All three Boone County Commissioners have been making the rounds speaking in favor of the tax increase and all three commissioners are each paid well over $80,000 per year. Sheriff Carey has also been actively campaigning in favor of the tax. The Sheriff makes well over $100,000 per year.

Since these officials are paid by our tax dollars, dollars that are taken from us by law whether we like it or not, when we pay our county taxes are we not funding the campaign for this tax increase? When the county spends public money campaigning to raise taxes it seems to me to be a clear violation of basic ethics. How in the world can normal people compete with the deep pockets of a government monopoly?

 

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Cicada Ice Cream — it’s Natural, it’s in Demand, and it’s Illegal (by default)

Something is bugging Steve Spellman so it’s time for another installment of Steve Spellman, On Liberty. In this piece, part of which will likely be published in the Columbia Missourian, Steve takes on the pesky city government that seeks to limit the most basic of actions in an attempt to somehow save us from our snacks.

Columbia, Missouri might be famous for many things: the University of Missouri’s flagship campus, the MKT & KATY Trail, the nation’s best state games — the Show-Me State Games, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s boyhood home, and the SWAT raid video showing police shooting dogs last year.  If nothing else, it has now become known the world over for the place where cicada ice cream was produced, that is, until the makers were intimidated away by over-restrictive health code regulations.

“You Want Flies With That, Sir?”

Cicadas are often confused with locusts, but this batch only comes out of the ground every 13 years.  Columbia is one town that has them flying all over the place: in people’s hair, all over trees, etc. Their mating buzz is loud: it’s a combination of annoying and amusing, depending on one’s temperament. 

The novelty of the moment inspired a brainstorm among the staff at Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, a local downtown hipster spot.  So when their creativity became reality, Cicada Ice Cream was born.  Once word of its existence and availability got out, the first (and only) half-batch sold out within an hour.  There’s also been a mixture of stories (now spread around the world) about how the local City of Columbia Health Department put the kibosh on it — only some of which is true. 

“No Ice Cream for you” 

It was reported by the store manager, that the cicadas were fully boiled, in keeping with standard sanitary food preparation – so not just dirty bugs thrown in a tub of Vanilla.  I went and talked with a guy I know who works there, Tony Layson, who clarified that after Sparky’s first made some and sold out of it, the owner became concerned about what the health code might say about using these non-standard ingredients. 

So he proactively called the City Health Department to inquire about the guidelines (if there were any) for preparing cicadas.  The Health Department staffer replied with a chuckle and something like “you know you can’t do that.”  The Health Department official wasn’t overly harsh, but made it clear that: 1.) all ingredients in commercial food must come from a certified source, and 2.) the Health Code does not specifically address how cicadas should be cooked. 

Beware the Naturally-Occuring Ingredients 

So wild, natural ingredients directly harvested from nature, especially natural ingredients not specifically on the government’s list of allowed foods, are not allowed. So by this logic, if a local restaurateur legally shot a deer, or grew his/her own tomatoes or lettuce, etc., and even if the food were fresh, and from a seemingly healthy animal or plant, and the food were fully and safely cooked, the food derived from natural processes could still not be served in a restaurant, unless the restaurateur had the proper certification.  I suppose if there were a certified collector of cicadas that met the food safety and inspection criteria, and then sold it to a restaurant, only then could the restaurant (or ice cream shop, in this case) use that material in its food served to voluntarily paying customers, who knew exactly what they were ingesting—and then only if the letter of the law addressed the lawful method by which the specific critter could be cooked for human consumption.  That’s because you must have permission from the authorities, whose regulations exist to keep you safe.  Hence the Health Department’s, “you can’t do that,” even for food that might be good for you.

So cicada ice cream appears to be illegal, but here’s the thing:  people bought it. Lots of people gladly went out of their way to rush to Sparky’s to purchase it with their own hard-earned money.  And they told their friends, and they were happy about it, and there have been no reports of any resulting sickness.  So the ice cream shop voluntarily made it and sold it, and the customers gladly, voluntarily bought it and ate it.  And it’s against the law.

You Can’t Trust Anybody, Even the Trustworthy 

Can’t we trust a local merchant who obviously cares about serving the members of his/her community with a product they clearly want?  Can’t we trust our fellow citizens to choose what they eat?  If the food were bad, the word would spread quickly and people wouldn’t buy it anymore.  If it actually hurt people, the law is sufficient to bring charges against the food service provider.  If the customer used the product and then went and hurt somebody under the influence of that product, there are already laws in place to handle such situations.

Even if the law could be set up to be responsive enough to accommodate new issues that arise (like how to prepare a specific variety of bug that appears for the first time in over a decade), the bigger issue is why we are so subservient to an authority that has the force of law — the guns of government — to enforce such petty restrictions on human behavior — an authority to which we are so trained to be subservient that even responsible people feel they must first ask for permission to peacefully live their lives and voluntarily interact with their fellow man.

The War on Some Foods

To be clear, the law claims jurisdiction over what food may be sold. If any part of the food product is not specifically detailed in the Health Code, it apparently defaults to being outside the bounds of the law. That is to say that cicada ice cream vendors and purchasers are outlaws.  We are so conditioned to observe this authority, even when it is so obviously unreasonable, that we are just thankful the police aren’t directed to arrest both the store owners and their customers who bought this contraband before its illegality was discovered.

Many people would not buy cicada ice cream.  I’m not sure I would.  People do a lot of things I wouldn’t do.  I surely do things other people might not want to do.  But I don’t support laws that unduly restrict human interaction and creativity, to restrict things I wouldn’t do, or don’t approve of, or don’t understand.  But I don’t believe the Health Code is purposefully sinister; it’s just dumb, or at least parts of it, and altogether is really complex — which might actually be worse. I’m glad Sparky’s at least tried to serve the community and it’s too bad our City government won’t allow them to.

PART II: RELATED EXAMPLES OF GOOD BEHAVIOR WHICH ARE ALSO AGAINST THE LAW 

“Normal” Organic Produce is OK to Sell, Just Not Where It’s Grown

Though, this is not the first limit on reasonable (even desirable) economic interactions here in Columbia in recent times, a local ordinance has limited where a local group can sell fresh produce.  The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture is a local not-for-profit coalition that advocates for local gardening of fresh produce while the group maintains a small urban farm and several community gardens around town. On one of several urban garden plots near the city center, they operate a simple street-side stand a few days a week, selling corn and tomatoes and radishes, etc.  I’ve bought a few things there myself.  This spring, it came to their attention that their urban farm was zoned for residential use only and did not allow for “commercial” selling of their produce.  In keeping with the demands of city government, the group relocated their stand a block or so away where a nearby business allowed them to set up in a (commercially-zoned) parking lot.  So they moved to be within the bounds of the law, but the rules are obviously outside the bounds of common-sense.  Hopefully they can get permission to sell on their own land in the near future. Desirable behavior is unduly restricted by red tape.  I’m glad they found a work-around to this over-regulation.

Downtown Redevelopment Welcomed, Except When It’s Not 

Just last January, a respected local developer submitted plans to the City Planning and Zoning Commission for permission to rezone a parcel for their “College and Walnut” apartment building project.  This would be an infill project to redevelop a surface parking lot and 4 older homes.  The plans looked great, and seemed to be exactly what many residents, college students, and even city planners have said for some time they wished developers would produce in the community.  But the Commission turned them down, in a close vote.  Former P&Z commissioner (and now elected City Council member) Helen Anthony was quoted as explaining, “the building itself was perfect for downtown — just the innovative development that we need. It was beautiful and multi-use. My issue was that they were asking for open zoning.”  I understand the zoning the commission desired would have given the City government more control over how the property is used. 

So the commission wanted to have additional control over the requested standard commercial zoning before allowing the builders to use their own money to build a very desirable building on their own land that would, of course, be constructed to the latest building codes.  And, unlike a number of other local downtown developers lately, they were not asking for any subsidies or tax discounts. 

Read the Missourian story HERE

The developers were trying to make a living by serving their community with an apartment building, but the system wouldn’t allow them to because it didn’t fit the established rules, or the preferences of the authorities.  At least Councilwoman Anthony admits, “We need to go back and change some of the ways we do zoning.”  The City Council wisely chose to override the Planning and Zoning Commission and grant the reasonable rezoning request, so this desirable improvement to the community can go forward.   I’m glad the standard government response did not scare them away, and they were allowed to improve the community.

Low-Income  Residential In-Fill OK, If You Jump Through The Hoops… And Wait a Few Years

A few years ago a local photographer, Amir Ziv, got an idea for an in-fill redevelopment near the city center.  He applied to the City to build three “cottage” homes on two adjacent vacant lots in a low-income neighborhood.  Though one City Commissioner said they “would like to give a developer who’s trying to do something outside of the box some leeway,” they didn’t likethe way he had the modest garages pointed.  The project also got classified as an apartment building, so he needed to pay tens of thousands of dollars to unnecessarily upgrade the sewer lines, etc.   Mr. Ziv responded that the extra sewer cost would break his budget — even responding that if the city requires it, the city should pay for it themselves.  The result was a 2 year standoff, until the City Council, though not making an exception from the rules for this case, ended up approving to blow $15,000of taxpayer money for a wasteful upgrade to a sewer line.  But that’s the rules.  What’s that again about “job creation?”  I’m glad Mr. Ziv was resilient enough to be allowed to provide more innovative low income housing in our community, in spite of an illogical authority that greatly delayed the project and added additional costs to be borne by the tax payer.

But It’s Not Really About The Cicadas 

Government exists to protect our rights and to bring to justice people who unfortunately choose to kill, steal, defraud, or poison their fellow citizens.  But when the law seeks to protect us from each other in so many complex ways, even with benevolent intentions, the collateral damage is often the stifling of human creativity, otherwise peaceful interactions, and diverse activities.  I admit the fact that cicada ice cream is not specifically provided for in the local Health Code, therefore you can’t put the things in ice cream, may seem trivial.  The story is silly, except that this case is so representative of endless other liberties – both in the civil and economic sense – that we have lost over time. 

Our individual and collective freedoms are subtlety lost to the endless laws and regulations on the books that no human can possibly keep track of.  These are regulations on autopilot – that assume to take our freedoms by default (even if in order to “protect” us) and are held up as seemingly gracious to give us at least some of the freedoms that were ours to begin with.  Therefore we are trained to feel compelled to ask for permission from authorities before living our lives peacefully and voluntarily with each other.  “Am I allowed to do that?” – well, you know you better ask for permission first. 

Any laws that prevent us from living as naturally and peacefully as we desire, are themselves unnatural laws. 

Steve Spellman is a life-long Boone County citizen and (among other things) hosts the Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum,” exploring the diverse concepts of human freedom each Tuesday 5:00PM-6:00PM, on local community radio station 89.5FM KOPN (streaming at www.kopn.org/listen) in beautiful downtown Columbia, Missouri.

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Four Things for a Better 2011 – A Personal Resolution

Let’s start 2011 off right with the first installment of Steve Spellman’s On Liberty column. Steve has agreed to become a regular contributor to the KCF site and we couldn’t be more excited!

 

 

 

 

Four Things for a Better 2011 – A Personal Resolution

by Steve Spellman

It’s been a whole two years ago now that I had the opportunity to have a guest op-ed published in the Columbia Missourian newspaper, in which I proposed my personal wishes for 2009:

1. End the “Out of Control Government Spending”

2. Make government more accountable to the people

3. Not allow contentious topics to personally divide people  

4. Get bikes and cars and pedestrians to “just get along.” 

We saw limited success with any of those, I’d say…

So… I could still list those same things, but my outlook has changed /grown since 2009, the world is different, and someone writing something feels an obligation to come up with fresh stuff…so here goes… my wish list for 2011.

 

1. Let’s Break Free of the Left/Right Political Paradigm — So our last Republican president more than doubled the national debt, said things like “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system”, defending the bailouts “to make sure the economy doesn’t collapse.” – is that conservative?  And our current Democratic President has expanded his War Powers –expanded the Drug War and signed a Health Care bill that actually ended up subsidizing the very Medical and Pharmaceutical Industries he said he aimed to punish. Are these liberal/progressive attributes? 

So you love or hate Sarah Palin or Obama or Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow or whoever, and you pick your side and dislike the other side.  And there’s conformity and peer pressure to follow the party line on whatever issue your side is running with. If you cross sides, you are suspect.  If you notice that war at least kills people, breaks things and is really expensive, well, you must be some hippie, tree-hugging commie-pinko.  Or, if you consider that maybe there wouldn’t have been a BP oil spill if we hadn’t restricted coastal drilling, thereby pushing oil drillers out into the riskier deep-water regions, well, you are some right-wing environment hating misanthrope.  Huh?  Are we still on the: “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mantra?

Expecting everybody to get along in a diverse country is indeed too much to ask, and maybe it is hard to know who to trust, but can’t we look beyond the old broken labels and teams and think for ourselves?

 

 

2. State Sovereignty – We may have forgotten, but we have this thing called the U.S. Constitution, or so I’ve heard.  When this country started, we had individual States that were sovereign political jurisdictions that voluntarily joined together to form a “Union.” And the Constitution forming that union delegates to the Feds only the powers Enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of that founding document.  They even added a Bill of Rights right away to specifically protect personal freedoms, including the 9th and 10th amendments, which basically say that if they missed some protection here, even that power defaults to the People, or to the States making of the union. This was designed to keep the Feds from having Carte Blanc to do whatever the devil they want. 

But the Feds now collect our tax money, then we send our members of Congress up to Washington to try to get some of it back, under certain conditions, with strings attached, and after administrative fees are deducted.   And many Federal Agencies tell States and Municipalities (and the people in them) what to do, even though the Constitution allows them to do no such thing.  And it becomes more imperative to get your guy elected (which logically attracts big money to do so), as the stakes for control of Washington are that much greater, as more things are determined there.

Therefore, I believe State Sovereignty is the #1 Liberty issue for 2011, as it is so over-arching to many of today’s problems:

Health Care legislation – the recent federal Health Care bill claims to help people, but where is this constitutionally authorized?  States already have the power to implement universal health care systems if they choose to (like Massachusetts) or not (like Missouri’s Health Care Freedom Act, considered to be an act of Nullification). 

Endless Wars & Military Spending – under a Constitutional military set-up there is no standing army and all service is voluntary.  If the President wants to call up the military, he needs Congress to declare war (originally with Senators appointed by the State governments), and the individual States had to be convinced to provide troops, via their state militias.  Peace advocates should consider states rights as a solution to their concerns.  Security advocates should too: the Feds failed to prevent 9/11, the TSA is a joke, and Arizona now has to secure its own borders.

Education – Again, the Federal Dept of Education is nowhere authorized in the Constitution.  Liberal/Progressives (and lots of other folks) didn’t like Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative. Conservatives (and others) are leery of Obama’s “Race to the Top.” People of all sorts should be looking for more local control (State, local, family) of education.  Testing standards, school accreditation, and a million other criteria are all arguable issues, but at least let States determine this, instead of the Feds who brutally politicize the classroom.

War on Drugs – Whether you think Drugs are good or bad, where in the Constitution is Drug Prohibition authorized?  At least alcohol prohibition was implemented by the amendment process and after it proved to be a disaster, was wisely repealed.  Some Californians are trying to get some marijuana prohibitions removed (more Nullification).  Even Christian Conservative Pat Robertson recently observed how the War on Drugs is tearing families apart and destroying lives (see video)

Sure, States aren’t perfect, and often do things they shouldn’t; but at least those decisions, for good or for bad, are made as close as possible to the people they effect.  I need to elaborate on this more in the future…

 

3. “Think Globally, Act Locally” — Cliché, yes, but I do care about people in other parts of the world.  At the same time, what to do about it?  So many issues seem so Global or National in scale that it can make one person feel so small and insignificant, and powerless. 

But you are significant to people you interact with on a regular basis, in person and in your own community.  I feel Washington is so lost (and far away), but Jeff City is less than an hour’s drive away, and I travel by the county government buildings most every day, same with City Hall.  I know people there, and they live in the same community as me. The stuff they decide affects me – in some ways more directly than the decisions made in far away capitols. 

So I resolve to focus more on State and Local political matters in 2011 than ever before.  The State government does and should determine a lot of things (see point #2 above).  The new Boone County Presiding Commissioner, Ed Robb, could surely use an additional observer as could the Columbia City Council as they search for a new City Manager, or see what tax-incentivized business is brought to town next, or the next camera on some street corner.  See, items of local interest abound!

 

4. I’m tired of Playing Defense – Oh there’s a real plethora of things to keep government accountable for.  Like Food Bills, and TSA agents molesting people in airports, and huge Parking Garages built to largely sit empty — the list is endless…  But don’t you get tired of just playing defense all the time?

Like in football (sports analogies are popular), if the other team always has ball possession, well, you’re defense is gonna get worn out – that’s a losing proposition.  Athough I’m all for personal responsibility, we do need political leaders to protect our freedoms and it would be nice to have more leaders who consistently make GOOD policy, or provide oratory to inspire folks.  Somebody to cheer for, or feel good about getting behind would sure be nice. 

On November 27th, I posted on my Facebook page, in conjunction with a video link of Congressman Ron Paul proposing on the House floor a bill to remedy the TSA insanity that the whole country was outraged about at the time:

“You know what I want for Christmas? For there to develop a suitable peer to Ron Paul in Congress so I could watch somebody else’s video clips from the House floor that I could stand to listen to regularly. Which strikes me why Ron Paul supporters can seem cult-like: Ron Paul this, Ron Paul that. If the guy had somebody that knew [their] stuff near as well and was as articulate and passionate, well great, because (not that Dr. Paul is so unpleasant, but) I’d love to look at somebody else for a while, other than this elderly fellow, to get good speeches from inside the Federal Government.”

Well, his son, Rand has been elected from Kentucky to the Senate (Cheers, Breck!), and many of the new guys in both chambers are more liberty-oriented than every before –we’ll see what becomes of all that. Or, closer to home, our “Liberty Pal,” Tracy Ward, is running for City Council over in Kansas City and now Mitch Richards, one of our own local activists (& KCF organizing member), is throwing his hat into the ring running for 1st Ward City Council here in Columbia. What if we could influence and support local candidates for office?

I’d subscribe to these guys’ You-Tube Channels if I were you.

And local politics is more personable.  In fact, I have been friends for several years with Fred Schmidt , also a 1st Ward Candidate; a fair-dealing, smart guy in his own right.  See, that’s positive.

 

Overall, I found it far too easy to be negative in 2010.  So in 2011, I will be more positive, think for myself in the swim against the mainstream left/right tide, stand up for Missouri, clarify my local focus, and proactively take it to the streets.

That’s my take.  I respect your right to have your own priorities, but thanks for your consideration, nonetheless. 

 

Happy New Year,

Steve

 

Steve Spellman is a life-long Boone County citizen and (among other things) hosts the “Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum,” exploring the diverse concepts of human freedom each Tuesday 5:00PM-6:00PM, on local community radio station 89.5FM KOPN (streaming at www.kopn.org/listen) in beautiful downtown Columbia, Missouri.

* The title is a take on the classic 1859 work “On Liberty” by English philosopher John Stuart Mill, to whom Steve admittedly does not hold a candle.

 

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