Are We Losing Our Independence?

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A very good and kind friend of mine from New York City once came to visit. As we were sitting casually in the sun overlooking my front yard, he turns to me and says, “Chris, that open space is a terrible waste of good space. You should pave it for more parking, maybe put up a shed or two. You’ll get more use out of it.”

I tried to explain the fine nuance of local zoning laws, the joys of smelling freshly cut grass, and the pleasant soft coolness an expansive lawn offers, especially on hot summer days.

He would have none of these arguments. He saw only the sterile utility of the land, not the culture spawned by this vast vista of rolling green. It was the old “city folk vs. country folk” dilemma. We agreed to disagree.

More important we each continued to live in the environment of our own choosing. Me on my modest plot of manicured grass and random trees. He beneath his perfectly canyons of glass and steel. That’s America. That’s why we love it. That’s why we defend it so earnestly.

Nearly a quarter of a millennia ago, our Founding Fathers set forth on this continent a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Today, two hundred and twenty-one years later, we may be on the verge of giving away the very freedom they so altruistically bequeathed to us.

This is something Democrats and Republicans do agree upon. Well, actually, hyper-partisan folks don’t. Those are the folks who don’t acknowledge your right to choose but, instead, seek to force you to accept their “wisdom” as the only true path. Quite frankly, these people need to learn how to stay within their box and not stray into other boxes where people are otherwise happy.

On the other hand, those folks – no matter which party they’re registered with – interested in sustaining the good will and independence of their communities and their neighbors do embrace a spirit of rugged independence. It’s a live and let live attitude. It’s why communities of like-minded people form apart from other communities. It stands at the very roots of our country, our philosophy, and our mission.

There’s a reason America’s true origin story doesn’t start with the 1607 business venture of Jamestown in what would eventually become the Colony of Virginia. No, it starts with the Pilgrims of 1620 who, as a group of common believers, sought something more important than profits: the unifying vision of a “shining city on a hill.”

The Pilgrims, unlike their Jamestown counterparts, quickly learned the value of “live and let live” with their tribal neighbors, culminating in the first Thanksgiving.

It is this thread of independence and self-determination that ran like a strong backbone throughout the founding documents of the United States, from the Declaration of Independence through the Constitution and beyond. It was woven into and reiterated in state charters, in organizational papers of civic associations, and within the fabric of all aspects of our once-new country.

It remains an ideal that captivates us to this day.

But are we taking it for granted? Are we so used to this vital spine of our democracy that we can’t imagine it being taken from us? Or are we simply too naïve and believe so much in the value of compromise and delegation that we are building the very walls that will box us into giving away our freedom?

The pages of this edition of our paper reflect this ominous trend. We thought we dodged a bullet in the Spring when New York State removed language from its annual budget which would have taken away the ability of local towns and villages (and cities and counties) to zone its land as its citizens (remember “of, by, and for” the people) deem fit.

But that was just a feint.

The State had already established, in a very direct but limited manner, the ability to usurp local laws, otherwise known as “Home Rule Authority.”

Article IX of the New York State Constitution contains a section entitled “Powers and duties of legislature; home rule powers of local governments; statute of local governments.” Among other things, it says the State shall enact, “a statute of local governments granting to local governments powers including but not limited to those of local legislation and administration in addition to the powers vested in them by this article. A power granted in such statute may be repealed, diminished, impaired or suspended only by enactment of a statute by the legislature with the approval of the governor at its regular session in one calendar year and the re-enactment and approval of such statute in the following calendar year.”

It is that last part this is most troublesome, for it implies what the State giveth, the State can taketh away. But it’s not easy, for item (2) of this section says the State “Shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs or government of any local government only by general law, or by special law only (a) on request of two-thirds of the total membership of its legislative body or on request of its chief executive officer concurred in by a majority of such membership.”

The “Emergency Executive Powers” granted to Andrew Cuomo during the early phase of Covid opened a lot of eyes as to just how fragile our freedom is in New York State.

The same 2020/21 budget that yielded those broad executive powers also brought in a number of other questionable laws. Among them was the 94-c process (administrated by ORES) which replaced the former Article 10 process. 94-c eliminated any vestige of local involvement on the citing review committee.

What’s happened in Rush and Caledonia is a result of that. Other communities throughout the Greater Western New York Region (and other regions in our State) have taken notice, and they’re worried.

And you should be too.

Because it can happen to you.

Now is the time for all our municipal groups – whether they’re controlled by Republicans or Democrats – to come together in support of our neighbors. I don’t know how it can be done, but I do know there are smarter people than me who can.

We can all agree. We don’t want some outsider to demand we pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Trackbacks

  1. […] New York State pave paradise and put up a parking lot? See this week’s The Carosa Commentary “Are We Losing Our Independence?” File […]

  2. […] Will lack of awareness cause us to relinquish our freedoms? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Are We Losing Our Independence?” and learn how New York State is slyly taking away that which you thought was always […]

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