Saturday, August 18, 2012

Politics and the honey bee

The honey bee plays a vital role in putting food in our grocery stores and in producing better and more vegetables and fruit in the family garden. All aware people know about the threats to the honey bee which include bee-specific diseases and parasites, large-scale migratory commercial beekeeping which move those diseases and parasites around the country, and large-scale mono-culture farming which use heavy doses of toxins and genetically-modified crops.

I am convinced that the survival of the honey bee rests on the shoulders of small-scale urban and suburban hobby beekeepers because their bees don't face the level of threat as do commercially-kept bees. But, urban and suburban bees now face a new deadly threat -- local city councils.

Even here in the "Beehive State," cities and home-owners' associations are restricting urban beekeeping. Those restrictions are based on paranoia and emotion -- both stemming from good old-fashioned ignorance. Fellow beekeepers, in some cases, were unaware of the City Council actions and let the restrictions fall in to place. In other cases, beekeepers tried, with little success, to educate their city councils.

Saratoga Springs, in Utah County, seems to be the next likely "Beehive State" county to ban bees. Their city attorney reportedly seems to believe that anything that is not excitedly allowed is by default, prohibited. He should know better. That is something I would expect a third-world dictator to say.

The way our Common-Law-based system works is that we all have a right to do anything that is not explicitly restricted or that infringes the rights of others. In our nation, law does not "allow" us to do anything. It only prohibits whatever is deemed to be bad. Our nation's founders established our government on the concept that we have a God-given ("endowed by their Creator") right to do anything that is not prohibited or which infringes the rights of others. The Saratoga Springs city attorney knows that. He just doesn't care.

Regardless of what the Saratoga Springs city attorney reportedly thinks, if beekeeping -- or any other activity -- is not specifically prohibited, it is legal by default. (A new ordinance would certainly establish that prohibition.) I don't think Saratoga Springs City Council and its attorney can effectively base their case on the current open-ended "No land shall be used or occupied except as specifically permitted in the regulations for the land use zones in which it is located." The question of raising tomatoes by one beekeeper is good example. Does their land-use law specifically allow one to have children? A wife? A car? A goldfish? How far do the dukes and duchesses of Saratoga Springs think their power over the behavior of their subjects goes?

Everyone frets about the damage Congress and the Whitehouse do to the nation. Politicians in both major political parties are culpable -- the Democrats are evil; the Republicans are stupid. It really doesn't matter which of the two parties is in control. But, most of the damage to our nation is happening right in our neighborhoods -- in our City Councils, County Commissions, and local School Boards. And that is where our future State and federal politicians get their political feet wet. That is where we must weed out the ones who threaten our freedom and pocketbooks.

Few people ever attend these local meetings -- and then only when they are specifically affected. By then, it is far too late. Your local politicians have already established substantial momentum against your pocketbook and your liberty. How many Saratoga Springs beekeepers went to a City Council meeting before this issue came up? These meetings are usually so sparsely attended that a frequent attendee really stands out -- even if he only sits and watches. If they see your face in their meetings 3 or 4 times a year, they will immediately recognize you when you eventually stand at the microphone with an opinion. You will have a lot more authority than if you only show up when they finally hit a nerve.

Your city attorney and the other unelected employees in City Hall have a lot of power over what your City Council does. They steer the agenda. They advise the Council on "facts" as they want the City Council to see them. They have a lot more control over the outcome than do even a crowd of citizens they've never seen before.

The fact that few ever attend these meetings equates to open public meetings effectively conducting secret business -- in the open! Don't ever count on your local "news" reporter to tell you everything that the City Council is doing. They won't. They will protect your local politicians in every agenda item the reporter agrees with. Go to your School Board, County Commission, and City Council Meetings even when the items on the agenda don't obviously affect you because in the end, it will -- and it now has for beekeepers.

Beekeepers and gardeners in Saratoga Springs must unite to put beekeepers (or at least people very sympathetic to beekeeping) on the City Council and in the Mayor's office. The current lot must not be allowed to remain.

Utah desperately needs the State Legislature to pass strong legislation that severely restricts the authority of local governments to regulate beekeeping. I am told that Florida has such legislation in place. My legislators here in Iron County know how I feel about this. Do yours? I believe that anyone who hasn't yet written his State Representative and State Senator on this issue is a part of the problem. If you are required to give up your bees, don't blame City Hall. Look in the mirror.

While this commentary focuses on suburban beekeeping, the principles apply to every political attack on our pocketbook and our liberty. We need smarter voters!

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