I think I have commented on a number of occasions that I believe I am fortunate to be living in the very best of times. The world has many problems, but our part of it has so many wonderful blessings that I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming back to an earlier time in history. Despite my generally sunny view of present day things, there are elements of the past I find appealing.
Marilyn Smith, our Public Information Officer, passed along news today from a website that described efforts by the city attorney in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to repeal some outdated laws. I understand the need to get rid of a law that prohibits horseback riding on sidewalks, but I can’t imagine why they want to do away with the ordinance that states, “no person shall willfully annoy another person.” Aside from a few small constitutional issues, this could be among the most useful revenue generators in the history of local government. I am reasonably confident our police could cite large numbers of people every day for annoying the heck out of neighbors, fellow drivers, shoppers, and diners, to name a few. Bogging down municipal court would be a small price to pay for dramatically reducing irritation in the community.
I was also saddened to learn of Grand Rapids’ plan to eliminate jail sentences for failure to return library books. In my case, I’m not sure a jail sentence for abusing my library privileges would be much of a threat as long as I could take my overdue books into the cell with me. I might finally get the time to read as much as I’d like. I thought the idea was so good that I passed it along to Ed Gallagher, our Library Director, who responded by sending me a copy of an old Albany ordinance prescribing a jail sentence of up to six months for failing to return books. I wonder if anyone really ever had to serve time for that offense.
Many of those who decry regulation today don’t realize that our forefathers and mothers were once willing to pass laws on just about any subject. Spitting, cohabitating, and even chewing gum have all been the subjects of municipal ordinances in times past, not to mention whole sections of codes regulating horses.
My bias is that we probably try to solve too many problems by passing laws, but I don’t think that is a recent phenomenon. I have looked at enough old city records to know that city leaders today are probably less likely to pass regulations than those who preceded them. We often forget that the good old days are only appealing in our imaginations.