Can you safely roast marshmallows without the government’s help?
Are BBQ’s using too much BBQ sauce a fine-able infraction during a burn ban for which surreptitious photographs are taken and mailed – along with the fine – when a courtesy contact might have sufficed?
Are rental inspection programs that sweep into the dustbin all landlord properties – with few exceptions – for later sorting the good from the bad from the ugly – a violation of anything that might have really mattered?
To all three.
“All too often,” wrote Ezra Taft Benson, former Secretary of Agriculture, 1968, in a treatise entitled “The Proper Role of Government,” answers to concerns about the legitimacy of whatever governmental project and proposal is being discussed, “seem to be based, not upon any solid principle, but upon the popularity of the specific government program in question.”
Lakewood’s Rental Inspection Program (RIP), or as the city website changed its reference from RIP to RHSP (Rental Housing Safety Program), is popular – if you can call it that – in eight cities in the entire state, as listed by Lakewood (the 9th): Seattle, Lacey, Pasco, Bremerton, Tukwila, Tacoma, Mountlake Terrace, and Bellingham.
But popularity (the cart) – or even legality (contents of the cart) – so as not to get it before the horse (the people who pull the freight), not to mention save a lot of grief and angst among both the elected and their representatives over what decision to make, it is principle, says Benson, that must be primarily addressed and then the principle’s popularity can in good conscience be promoted.
In that order.
“Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity, and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just,” says Benson.
The question then is not whether RIP has RCW or LMC (Lakewood Municipal Code) authorization, or what other cities are doing, but whether it is principle-based and therefore wise and just.
Benson again: “the early pioneers found that a great deal of their time and energy was being spent defending themselves, their property and their liberty in what properly was called the ‘Lawless West.’ In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attack and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves.”
But with Lakewood’s RIP, good landlords must now ‘fight the sheriff’ or in this case the city council which passed August 1, 2016 Ordinance No. 644 which requires, ‘rounds up’ to continue the Old West analogy, “all rental property owners to register their property with the City every year and have the property inspected once every five years.”
Suppose Landlord “A” (for ‘awful’) does an awful job – in contrast to Landlord “B” (for ‘best’) – of maintaining his rental property. At Landlord A’s property after all, the toilet is backed up, the sewer overflows, the drain field has failed, and thus the tenants are pooping in the yard. But the City shows up at Landlord B’s door with an inspection checklist of Landlord B’s property.
Extrapolating a bit on Benson’s somewhat similar Lawless West scenario for which he poses a question addressing the limits of authority, in our Law-filled West RIP setting:
If “A” is the villain, shall “B” be brought in for questioning?
Even as “it is a firm principle that the smallest or lowest level that can possibly undertake the task is the one that should do so” (Benson), so it is – or should be – a firm principle that the effort put forth to right a wrong should be measured by its finest touch, not its broadest brush.
Otherwise, “what will stay the hand of government from reaching farther and yet farther into our daily lives?”