Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A Small Victory for the People

“I don't make jokes--I just watch the government and report the facts.”--Will Rogers

For the second time in the last year Emporians have voted “no.” In March, 2003 the Kansas legislature voted to: “remove its statewide ban on Sunday (liquor) sales, leaving the issue to be decided individually by smaller city and county governments.” Then, in April’s general election the people of Emporia voted down a ballot proposal that would have allowed Sunday sales of alcohol. The final tally was close, with the measure losing by 125 votes. In July, the Emporia city commissioners, in a four to one vote, decided to overturn the election results and allow Sunday liquor sales. The issue was finally brought to a head when a group of community activists, led by Jim Telfer, a mathematics professor at Emporia State University, circulated a petition to get the measure before the voters once more. The petition got more than twice the number of signatures required for consideration and a special election was held. Yesterday, by a sixty-one to thirty-nine percent plurality, the Sunday liquor sales measure was defeated.

Why it even came to this in the first place is beyond me. I spoke to one of the commission’s admin folks today and was told that the commissioners, after discussions with the city attorney, decided that the closeness of the original vote somehow gave them room to overturn the will of the people. I was told that I could speak with the city attorney about it, but I declined. I didn’t see any point in it. Any lawyer who could assume that a close vote gave the commissioners the right to overturn the results of the April election had to have been someone doubling as an ambulance chaser or related in some way to Al Gore and his legal team.

Now I could understand it all better if the people had committed a mortal sin when they voted in April. But, they didn’t. They just decided that six days of liquor sales were more than enough in a week’s time. It wasn’t as if the people had voted that Newman Memorial Hospital down the road was going to be required to euthanize inconvenient elders. Nor were the good people of Emporia voting in fascism. They were simply saying that they didn’t want Sunday liquor sales.

Lest you think that sixty-one percent of us are tea-totaling abolitionists, carrying axes a la Carrie Nation, let me disabuse you of the notion. I just had a birthday which I celebrated with a glass of Heineken and a good steak. And, I have an occasional glass of wine, for the stomach. In the summer, right after a hot afternoon of mowing my lawn, I’ve been known to sit down with a pint of the bitters. So do many of the sixty-one percent who voted against Sunday sales, I suspect.

What this was about government abuse of power as much as it was about Sunday sales, as far as I’m concerned. What right did four commissioners have to overturn the voice of the people? I suppose I could ask them and their attorney, but I suspect I’d find them reaching into the bottom right drawers of the roll-top desks to take an occasional nip from a flask of demon rum. It would be a bit like asking a drunk at the wheel why he felt the need to drive likkerred up. His answer, if he had one, wouldn’t make sense anyway.

There’s no logic that could account for what the commissioners did. I suppose, with the issue finally decided, I should just be thankful that the people have won out. But there’s a part of me that wonders what might have happened if the people had voted “no” to compulsory euthanasia for old folks at Newman Memorial and the council, in its wisdom, had decided that they had the right to overturn the vote. I suppose it could be argued that my point is based on a hypothetical, but the logic the commissioners used was the same. They somehow have come to believe, with some convoluted legal justification, that they can push the people of Emporia around. That’s what this is really all about.

I’d like to think that the Gazette is concerned about what’s going on down at 522 Mechanic. A good investigative journalist might be curious, given the state of the city and the way the commission pushes people around. But, based on their track record, I doubt it. Patrick Kelley, who fancies himself a New York cosmopolitan, has taken to writing about the troubles in France and other cosmic issues. Scott Rochat and Gwendolyn Larson are relentlessly hunting down “Emporia’s Most Wanted.” Lynn Bonney is lamenting the latest Harris poll which found journalists a notch or two below scurvy knaves. And, the White-Walkers are desperately clinging to an eighty-three year old Pulitzer Prize.

Meanwhile, here in the traffic, the rest of us are feeling the impact of the commission’s work. There are slum lords galore, plying their trade with impunity. Oh, they get fined occasionally, but that’s about it. Little or nothing is done about the problem. The really galling thing about it is that we all pay for the planned neglect. The poor, especially minorities pay. Some college students pay. Emporians who take care of their property pay. About the only people who don’t are the slum lords. In fact, they profit handsomely.

The downtown is becoming a mess. Every time I make my morning rounds I have to dodge the puke that has been deposited on the sidewalks outside the many downtown drinking establishments. Businesses are shutting down. The pawn shops make the city look like crap. But, apparently that’s alright.

And, while all this is going on, - a commission circumventing the will of the people, slum lords running free and easy, the downtown falling apart - the Gazette staff is blithely reaching for the bottom right drawer, looking for the stuff that will insulate them from what’s really happening around here.

Less than a week ago I tried a subtle hint on them. I mentioned Lincoln Steffens, hoping it would spur some ancient spark of community journalism. I doubt that it worked. The commission will, I’m sure, continue to poke sharp sticks in our eyes. The slum lords will continue to take full advantage of the government neglect. The downtown will continue to run down. And, the Gazette will continue to ignore it all.

The people of Emporia won a small victory today. Even with that, though, little else will change. The local governors aren’t responsive. Neither are the journalists. That’s one of the sad truths here in idyllic Kansas.


Gone Away said...

I can remember a time when anyone employed by government was called a civil servant. In other words, they served the "civis", a Latin word meaning "the people".

I can also remember the days when common sense really was common. I wonder what happened while my back was turned?

dog1net said...

I'm surprised not by the fact that they were able to overturn the vote, but that they actually got away with it.