Nearly every day, I find myself involved in a regulatory issue. This week, a citizen in North Albany is upset about signs that violate the Municipal Code, while last week another North Albany resident complained about the condition of his neighbor’s property. Yesterday, I had a discussion with Chief Bradner about weed abatement and, shortly after, wrote to the Council about collecting assessments from property owners who haven’t paid for abatements done last summer. On March 23, the Council will return to a discussion of regulating dogs.
I take some consolation from the knowledge that the City of Salem is currently engaged in an earnest debate over whether to allow chickens in residential neighborhoods. We had a similar controversy over bees awhile back, and I clearly recall the potbellied pig epidemic that broke out around the nation about 20 years ago. Some people might regard these issues as trivial; but my experience is that more often than not, a great deal of passion is associated with almost any attempt to regulate.
Every police officer, building inspector, fire marshal, or code enforcement officer has stories to tell about the enraged citizen who chooses to blame the messenger for the bad news that he or she is in violation of a city regulation. I have no data to support the belief that more obscenities have crept into these conversations, although I’m fairly confident they have. I find it a distressing indicator of the decline of western civilization that our attempts to verbalize rage are so lacking in creativity and civility.
Patience and tolerance are also often victims during the regulatory process. I think it’s a good idea to try some gentle persuasion with someone who is violating a code before resorting to the death penalty. Sadly, aggrieved neighbors are often less tolerant. A pile of debris or an old, unlicensed vehicle on a nearby property can lead to violence between neighbors. I truly cannot count the number of times I’ve been told by a citizen that their neighbor’s junk, weeds, cars, kids, animals, lights, or peeling paint prevented the sale of their home. The most extreme case I’ve seen involved a lady picketing City Hall in Oakridge because of a perceived lack of action against the junk in her neighbor’s yard.
The brutal truth about regulating human behavior is that it is a disagreeable job that requires good judgment, patience, and a thick skin. Few people recognize that the passion they feel for or against a regulation has been meted out in equal measure to someone with an opposing view. Those of us who confront this passion receive, in addition to our paychecks, the opportunity to resolve problems before they escalate into something truly ugly and the satisfaction of making the community a little safer or more attractive.
I greatly appreciate the good work of all City employees involved in enforcement and recognize the difficulty of the work. Feel free to stop by if you have a story to share or a frustration to vent.