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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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home : opinions : opinions
August 17, 2019

7/20/2019 7:30:00 AM
Our View
Oneida County should listen to its bureaucrats*
Gregg Walker and Richard Moore
Publisher and Columnist

No, we haven't gone crazy - readers will notice that there is an asterisk on the headline. The asterisk is: As a general rule, that's a terribly bad idea.

However, in reading surveys about the county's fiscal future turned in by Oneida County department heads, it turns out they have some good ideas, here and there.

Oneida County should listen.

Most of these ideas have to do with efficiently running their own departments, and a few are no-brainers. The county is apparently letting Fred Flintstone run its technology, for example, when it should have long ago enabled credit card payments for property taxes, permits, camp reservations, and more, as multiple department heads have suggested.

And a few of these department heads have implemented best practices for taxpayers and customers in their own departments, too. Linda Conlon deserves kudos for her performance management system in public health, and Mary Rideout over in social services does, too, in billing indirect costs to grants.

These two, in fact, have long impressed us as good public servants doing terrific work in areas that are indeed the core responsibilities of government.

One official, zoning director Karl Jennrich, had the courage to point out that most of his department could just be shut down. Because we know Jennrich loves regulations, that likely wasn't courage so much as he knew the county will never repeal its general zoning code, which isn't state mandated.

At least he pointed out it could be done, and that is an important point.

The worst part of big government's pervasiveness these days is the belief, even by many conservatives, that big government is necessary beyond its core functions.

To wit, in a recent state Supreme Court decision in which the majority ruled that the state Department of Public Instruction cannot just make up its own administrative rules willy-nilly, the conservative majority still asserted the legitimacy and necessity of a massive administrative state.

Justice Rebecca Bradley rightly called them out, pointing out that there is no provision for such a government behemoth in the constitution, and that it really wasn't necessary and, in fact, was dangerous.

Likewise, Jennrich is pointing out a truth that is inconvenient for liberals: County zoning isn't required. Shoreland zoning is, but not general zoning. And, taking his observation to the next level, it's actually quite dangerous, especially for poor people.

On the local level - and liberals love local control these days - why should the Barons On High of Rhinelander tell people in Minocqua how to organize their neighborhoods?

If Minocqua, or any other town, wants zoning, let them enact zoning. The county should take a hike. As we know, some towns in Oneida County have rejected zoning altogether, and, last we heard, they had not gone to hell.

On the larger question, it's becoming indisputably clear that zoning is the enemy of social justice.

Even the Left - except for the environmentalist fringe - is acknowledging that single-family zoning districts are little more than class- and race-based barriers that effectively fence out people of color and the poor.

Just try and suggest an apartment building on a lake, and you'll see just how progressive the "progressives" are.

These restrictions don't just fence out people; they drive housing costs through the roof throughout the county, and make affordable housing all but impossible.

Chief deputy Dan Hess was also feeling his oats by pointing out how much the county could save by cutting out such programs as the UW-Extension and land and water conservation, not to mention the tourism council.

Who except the most die-hard liberals believe that the UW-Extension is a core function of government? It is nothing but a Progressive-era relic that should be sold at a garage sale, if anybody would have it.

Sure, the 4-H and Master Gardener programs are cool, but is it really the government's responsibility to facilitate and pay for them?

The reality is, there are lots of cool programs out there funded privately by the constituencies that believe in them, and that should be the case with the UW-Extension programs. Master Gardeners had 20 people in the program last year - why should taxpayers pay for this?

Hess also pointed out that Oneida County could jettison the North Central Regional Planning Commission. He's right.

That's another big government scheme to regulate our lives and take away local control of our destinies. If you want to find the source of the lack of economic development in the Northwoods, you have to look no further than the land-use regulations enacted under the guise of "comprehensive planning."

In sum, the state wants the Northwoods to be a poverty-stricken undeveloped wilderness with no ability to sustain ourselves economically, and through comprehensive planning they have made it so. Conveniently, it remains a playground for the bureaucratic environmentalist elite.

Notably in the surveys, with a few exceptions, department heads stayed away from the "T" word. Maybe that's just because they were scared to advocate for higher taxes.

But maybe, deep down, there's something else going on.

Maybe, deep down, they know government is bloated and too regulating and should be downsized.

Maybe, just maybe - and we know this is too much to ask for - the bureaucrats should listen to their inner selves, or at least to the truth tellers among them.

What a wonderful world it could be.





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