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Do the right thing

Monday evening I was in Florence for their city council meeting. I enjoy covering the meetings because they cut right to the chase and get us out in an hour or so. They are a good group of folks and it is interesting to see how they handle the challenges of their community.

I am always proud of the number of volunteers we have here in Peabody, but Florence has them crawling out of the woodwork. They stubbornly retain an active chamber of commerce, they have a PRIDE committee, and a historical society. The Labor Day Celebration committee is a stand-alone entity, and there is a community tree farm that is platted, developed, and cared for by interested individuals. There are numerous celebrations and festivities to support those groups and the swimming pool, museum, churches, and parks as well.

In recent years dozens of volunteers showed up for consecutive annual community cleanup days that had the old time feeling of barn raising as everyone pulled together to take care of blight problems, litter, painting, and overgrown vegetation.

Next spring a Florence ranch will host the popular “Symphony in the Flint Hills” concert which will spotlight that community and all of Marion County. That is a tough economic development feather to put in a community’s cap. The designation didn’t just happen. Florence volunteers went out and made it happen. Good for them.

But the folks in Florence also have many of the same concerns that we have. Their swimming pool doesn’t pay its own way. Their streets are in bad shape. They have problems with their sewer and water systems. (And they also are paying off a certain engineering firm that completed a water plant project that never worked and had to be replaced. They make their final payment of $36,000 this month.)

Both towns are trying to keep the mill levy in check, promote themselves, provide their citizens with the services they need, and stop the flow of business dollars to other towns within driving distance.

As someone said recently at a Peabody City Council meeting, “ … you have to WANT to live in Peabody.” And the same is true for Florence. The citizens of both towns have to WANT to be a part of things. It is too easy to be somewhere else.

When you buy into that, there is something else for you to consider. There are rules and regulations for living in any community. The reason we make rules and regulations is for the common good. We all must abide by the same standards in order to meet the needs of the entire community. No one person gets to dictate the rules. Your government entity, the people you elect, establishes the rules to live by. And they should apply across the board.

This is where things can get a little dicey. People say, “Well, it is my property. I should be able to do what I want.” No, that is not necessarily true. You may do what you wish as long as it doesn’t infringe on those rules established for the common good. When you violate your city’s ordinances, zoning regulations, or rules of conduct, you begin to infringe on someone else’s rights and then you have trouble.

So here is the deal: Do what is best for the common good. If the ordinance says don’t blow grass in the street and gutter when you are mowing, don’t do it. If the ordinance says your dog or cat needs a tag, be a responsible citizen and get one. Adding a room to your house? Get a building permit. Installing a private well? Call the city office and make sure you are putting it in the right place. When in doubt about the legality of what you want to do, check the ordinance.

Now here is the really great part. If you have your knickers in a knot because of what I just said, there is something you can do about it. You have the right to go before your elected officials and complain. You have the right to ask them to rescind the law. You get to do that! If you think the ordinance or regulation is restrictive, does not have merit, or infringes on your domestic tranquility, you may lobby to change it. That doesn’t mean you will win that argument, of course, but it is an option.

Consider your obligation as a resident to live by the rules and regulations set out for the common good. We are all in this together and survival of our communities depends on its citizens doing the right thing. That is one of the best volunteer efforts you can make.

— Susan Marshall

Last modified Aug. 6, 2008

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