October 27, 2011 |

Opinion

The Haines Assisted Living variance controversy, the assembly recall and now the junk cars issue underline a chronic reluctance of the Haines Borough to abide by or enforce its own laws.

That’s a problem. A government that only casually regards its own laws makes a mockery of law-making, surrenders its moral authority, and ultimately loses the support of the governed.

Here’s my view and my advice for borough leaders.

Before there were governments, kings made the rules people lived by. As kings created and enforced rules rather arbitrarily, people eventually decided they could make and enforce the rules just as well themselves. They joined together, booted out the kings, and wrote their own rules.

These rules "governed" the behavior of people, and thus were the "government."

Life went on. People multiplied and that led to all kinds of mischief like fluoridation and the space program, and "government" started costing money. Taxes were invented to raise the dough for these add-ons.

Now it’s been hundreds of years since the king-booters, so there’s been lots of add-ons. In fact, most of the things you may think government is for – building your rec center, paying your Tier I retirement, protecting you from the Commies – are actually extras, frills, whipped cream.

At its core, government’s only implicit mandate and its absolute purpose is to make the rules and enforce them fairly.

There are citizens of Haines who grasp this: Mike Denker, Jim Shook and Fred Einspruch come to mind. The Denkers, Shooks and Einspruchs out there can make your jobs miserable if you lose sight of this.

Remembering it will save you a lot of grief.

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An Oct. 9 story in the Juneau Empire reported the launch of a "pumpkin and harvest festival" described by organizers as an alternative to the Southeast Alaska State Fair, including agricultural and craft exhibits and judging. One board member said the Juneau event will "better coincide with actual harvest" than our state fair held in late July.

That news must seem like a cruel joke to fair board members and supporters. For decades the fair was held around harvest time, in mid- to late August.

At that time, the state provided annual operating funds to the fair, in amounts up to $50,000 as recently as the mid-1980s. The state’s interest in the fair was to encourage agriculture, which is also why the state’s extension agents came up, giving workshops, providing advice and meeting with groups like the 4-H Club.

Operating funding from the state was eliminated as "fat" during the late 1980s and the fair was left to fend for itself. Various funding schemes were attempted but time proved that what worked best was generating a variety of attractions, upping the quality of entertainment, selling beer, and maximizing gate receipts.

So the fair – like other fairs – became more of a party and less of a craft and agricultural exhibition. As such, it became more susceptible to foul weather. That concern – and scheduling conflicts with fairs and events in other towns – prompted organizers to push fair dates into sunnier July.

The timing works for bringing crowds to town and for keeping fair finances afloat, but not for a harvest exhibition. Ironically, interest in gardening and home-grown has surged in recent years. Haines, like many Alaska towns, has started summertime "farmer’s markets" as more consumers seek to grow their own or eat locally.

It’s hard to say how – or whether the fair should even try – to remedy this most recent conundrum. But the fair can’t be blamed for it.

-- Tom Morphet