The first amendment guarantees to all citizens the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Our freedom of speech, encapsulated in that same amendment, protects each citizens' ability to speak out on issues of interest.
But just as using a bullhorn at the dinner-table is a rotten way to carry on a conversation, posting hundreds of flyers with a government employee's office extension is a bad way to build public support.
That's what Hollis Key did last week. The Martinez man says he walked through nine neighborhoods, taping up flyers that asked residents to call Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker if they want a total ban on outdoor burning.
However well-intended, the stunt had a couple of problems: First, no such ban is under consideration. And even if it were, implementing it isn't Tucker's decision to make; that's what elected officials are for. Despite her high profile, Tucker is a county employee, hired to carry out policies those officials enact.
Because of the flyer, Tucker's office extension unexpectedly was inundated with calls, forcing her to drop everything to respond. (She even had to defend her spelling ability: The flyer fumbled the word call.)
Key was well within his rights, and certainly displayed conviction and energy, in advocating the burning ban. But just like folks who light up a smoky pile of leaves next to their neighbor's house, Key wasn't very considerate about it.
Tucker's phone can't be unrung, however. So what about Key's quest? Should outdoor burning be outlawed in Columbia County, where cigarette smoking already is banned inside buildings?
Proponents of a burn ban are largely from densely developed areas, but much of Columbia County is rural. In fact, County Commission District 4 encompasses just more than half of the county's land mass, yet holds fewer than 25 percent of the county's residents. Conversely, Commission District 2, the one in which Key and his neighbors live, has roughly the same number of citizens as District 4, packed into a district less than one-tenth the size.
Augusta's government enforces a ban on outdoor burning within 100 feet of a residential structure. That is a good rule, and one that Columbia County should adopt.
A total ban on outdoor burning is already in place in the county from May 1 to Sept. 30; expanding it year-round might make sense in densely populated areas of the county, but it is unrealistic in rural areas.
The county's Fire and EMS Advisory Board will discuss the 100-foot limit a week from Thursday, and likely will advise county commissioners to adopt it.
Then? If Mr. Key or other county residents want that rule - or an even tougher one - made into county law, then they should contact those elected county commissioners.
But please, give the hired help a break.
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