Archived Story

It would be funny if it weren’t sad

Published 11:31am Friday, August 17, 2012

Some of the news we report here at the Herald is tragic, some is humorous. A lot of it, though, falls into the category that could be labeled, “Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry.”

Stories about people being arrested for assault-via-burrito fit that category, as do a fair number of other minor crime reports. They all tend to be miniature commentaries on human nature.

A paragraph deep within a story about the most recent city council meeting was another of those. As council members talked about whether Austin needs a new employee to enforce zoning laws, they were told that the city gets between 600 and 800 complaints a year from people reporting “junk, illegally stored vehicles and swimming pools that don’t conform to city ordinance.”

It was that last item, swimming pools, that particularly caught my attention.

Who, I wonder, are the people with the time, energy and inclination to complain to the city that their neighbors’ swimming pools don’t meet code?

Opportunities to be non-compliant increased in 2010 when Austin adopted new requirements for fencing around pools.

So who’s complaining? I suppose some people truly have nothing better to do. Others may be looking to stick it to a neighbor due to some feud or other. And some may be parents concerned that their children could wander down the street and get into mischief in an unfenced pool.

Whatever the reason, the interesting piece is that people expect the city to take care of the problem. This is a growing trend in our society. Rather than walk down the street and have a friendly discussion with the neighbor, people ask the government to “do something.” Rather than train their children to stay out of other people’s swimming pools, parents expect the city to handle the matter.

So now every property owner may have to help pay for a city worker to tell residents to keep their pools safe.

The council was also told that hiring someone to enforce junk and swimming pool rules, plus add an employee for the Parks and Recreation Department, would add about 1.4 percent to the city tax levy. That would be a couple bucks a year for every property in the city – the exact amount depending on how valuable the property is.

Cost of enforcing ordinances is something the council rarely appears to consider. They ought to, however, because it is inevitable – as any parent could explain – that whenever there’s a new rule someone has to be on the spot to enforce it. Would the council have gotten involved in swimming pool fence rules back in 2010 if someone had said, “You know, this is going to contribute to a tax increase in a couple of years?”

Swimming pool complaints are of course only a piece of the city tax increase puzzle, and undoubtedly a rather small one. And in any case, the real issue is not the lack of foresight. The interesting question is whether there is any limit to the minutiae of life that Americans expect someone else – anyone else – to resolve for them.


Disappointing race

This year, more than at any time I can recall, I have heard from readers and others around the area that they are disappointed in their choices for president. “Disappointed” is a euphemism, but I don’t want to print what many have had to say about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama’s term has been a disappointment to many who hoped he would be markedly different than his predecessor; instead, the president has offered only a slight variation on the themes of the previous administration. And Romney does not seem to be particularly inspiring, particularly because his mega-rich lifestyle leaves him disconnected from most Americans.

Because the presidential race is the big ticket at the polls, the risk of two weak candidates is that turnout in general will suffer. So perhaps instead of letting apathy keep them from the polls, Americans might dig a little deeper into the presidential poll and consider one of the so-called minor party candidates – Independent, Green, Libertarian, etc.

A vote for a minor party sends a clearer message about dissatisfaction with the big parties’ candidates than does no vote at all.


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