Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely cautioned against rigid ideologies by saying "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." And so, state lawmakers can be excused for certain inconsistencies.
But one keeps popping up year after year in ways that deserve some explanation.
Quite simply, it is that Utah lawmakers, who react harshly when Washington sends down edicts that infringe on their own decision-making, think nothing of interfering regularly with the decision-making of cities, counties, school districts and other lesser agencies.
This year, lawmakers passed a controversial bill that removes them and the governor from direct oversight over property owned by EnergySolutions in Tooele County. The idea, one presumes, is that it makes little sense for politicians to micromanage something that can be handled competently by state regulators.
And yet, in the same session they voted to overrule the Salt Lake County mayor, who had set up a process to carefully study a proposal to use a share of the county's hotel taxes to help fund a professional soccer stadium. After a lengthy process that resulted in a negative recommendation from an independent analyst and a county panel, the mayor decided to reject the plan. Part of his job, after all, is to operate as a steward over county funds. Lawmakers and the governor decided it was time to stomp on that stewardship and micromanage those funds, instead.
That was one example. Another was a bill that passed, prohibiting cities from changing their form of government until a task force can study the issue. Specifically, it "prohibits the establishment of a manager form of municipal government until May 5, 2008." Traditionally, the residents of a city decide which form of government to use, selecting from a list of choices allowed by state law.
Another bill that didn't pass would have used state law to intervene in an annexation battle between Salt Lake City and North Salt Lake, which is wending its way through courts. In past years, lawmakers have micromanaged public school curricula.
An analyst for the Utah League of Cities and Towns told this newspaper that lawmakers seem more and more interested in very specific local issues. By doing so, they become de facto city council members or county mayors. They also remove the public one large step from the people who serve closest to them.
We understand that cities, counties, school districts and others were created by state law and that lawmakers write those laws. We don't wish to entertain hobgoblins. But it would seem prudent to let local governments run themselves unless an overriding public purpose argues otherwise. Frankly, such a purpose presents itself only rarely.