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Whatever happened to local control?

Posted: March 17, 2015 - 11:10pm

We heard that “local- control” philosophy during the 2002 governor’s race when Sonny Perdue upset incumbent Roy Barnes.

Barnes had signed an education reform law that required local schools and teachers to meet stricter accountability standards. Perdue criticized Barnes for enacting a law that moved so much control of local school matters to the state level.

“Schools should be run from the principal’s office, not the governor’s office,” Perdue would say.

As is often the case in politics, some of the people talking so loudly about the concept of local control didn’t really mean it.

Within four years of becoming governor, Perdue championed a new law that imposed quite a bit of state control over the administration of local schools: it required school boards to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on what the state defined as “classroom expenditures.”

Perdue’s “65 percent law” was the ultimate in micro-management.

The concept of running schools from the governor’s office is still with us in Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal to appoint a superintendent who would take over the operation of low-performing schools around the state.

Deal’s plan, if it becomes law, would result in an Atlanta-based bureaucrat making day-to-day decisions on running rural schools hundreds of miles away. Whatever happened to the idea of local control?

There are state takeovers underway of local responsibilities in other areas as well. The gun carry bill enacted last year took away the power of city councils, school boards and county commissions to adopt regulations or ordinances that would keep firearms out of their public buildings.

In this year’s session, lawmakers are considering bills that would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances to ban specific breeds of dogs – such as pit bulls – that can attack livestock and small children.

One of these dangerous-dog bills was being discussed in a House committee recently, and representatives of local governments attempted to explain to committee members why this erosion of local control was a bad idea.

The bill was opposed by lobbyists from the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), who said the legislation would make it impossible for their governments to deal with local public safety issues.

“What comes next?” asked Todd Edwards of ACCG. “No leash laws? No tethering laws? No laws requiring neutering and spaying?

‘‘You’ve got to let the counties do their jobs.”

“It comes down to a question of who makes the decision?” said Tom Gehl of GMA.

“Should it be the state legislature, or the city and county governments that actually have to deal with the problem?”

That canine bill was ultimately rejected by the House committee, but two days later the state Senate passed a similar bill and sent it over to the House, so the issue is still alive. By the end of this session, your local government may no longer have the authority to deal with the problem of vicious dogs on the loose.

Legislators are considering bills that would prevent local governments from banning the use of plastic bags; move monuments or statues; enforce moratoriums on the erection of cell towers; regulate public swimming pools; or pass ordinances to keep contractors from cutting utility lines.

This goes against everything I ever heard about the advantages of local control – which is obviously an idea that no longer has much appeal in today’s General Assembly.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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Comments (1)

Little Lamb

Liberty

Once again, Tom Crawford misses the mark. The important idea in American government is not whether local or far-away is better, but which one provides more liberty. Make no mistake about it, local governments (including local public school systems) can be despotic.

Look at the examples Crawford uses — local governments attempting to ban law-abiding people from self-defense via firearms. The state then stepped in to say, “No.”

Next the example of local governments attempting to ban certain breeds of dogs.

Then a local government that wants to ban the use of plastic bags.

Do you see a pattern. These local governments want to take away your freedom, and the state wants to allow you more freedom.

Picture a spectrum of government philosophy. On the left side of the spectrum is complete tyranny, dictatorship, high taxes, crushing regulations of every aspect of individuals’ lives. Then on the right side of the spectrum is complete liberty, where governments exist solely to arbitrate disputes between individuals and to use force only to deal with actual violence and fraud. In the real world, we must fashion a society somewhere in between the two extremes. But I favor a point much, much closer to the liberty side of the spectrum than to the side of governmental tyranny.

Banning dog breeds and plastic bags is governmental tyranny.