Get It in Writing

Looking over the details of the New School case as reported in this news article, one point in particular stands out:
According to New School Director Sue Miller-Hurst, she went to the county initially. “When we looked at this site in 2004, we sent a school architect to the county for a conditional use permit and he was told we did not need one because we were a public school. When we wanted to change a classroom, the owner’s contractor went to the county for a building permit and was again told, ‘You are a state school; we have no jurisdiction to issue you a permit.’ When I went to Supervisor Horn regarding a piece of land that had been pre-approved by the Division of State Architects for a school site, he said, ‘You are a public school. Stop asking and go forward.’ I asked him to put it in a letter and he said, ‘That would be asking. You are a public school and you do not have to ask.’ Then they show up in force the second day of school with no notice or warning and shut our kids out of their classroom [for alleged lack of permits]. At some point we have a reliance issue. We should be able to rely on the answers we are given from the county."
Governments, and large organizations generally, run on documentation. It is their lifeblood. When a government official gives an assurance regarding the application (or lack of same) of government regulations that he is unwilling to put into writing, the wise man will immediately become suspicious.

This case has all the elements in it that have collectively made for tyrannical government in the modern sense: the capricious application of inexplicable regulations, the diffusion of responsibility across a faceless bureaucracy, the decision that the parties involved are guilty until proven innocent (after spending a great deal of their own money), the total lack of regard for the real-world consequences of regulatory mandates. Plus, it surely cannot be an accident that the target in this case is a charter school, i.e. a novel institution that is free from much of the government's raft of regulations.

How did it happen that the power to make law is most in evidence not in the various legislatures, but rather in the faceless regulatory bodies? We have no easy recourse; we have no way to punish those who overreach. The regulators have no incentive to regulate well, only to regulate heavily; they are America's greatest bastion of corruption and graft, simply because of their untrammeled power and protection from consequences. (Not to accuse the principles in this case of corruption; there has so far been no evidence of same. But the point still stands.)

I will give the final word here to the recently-deceased champion for freedom, Dr. Milton Friedman:
Given our monstrous, overgrown government structure, any three letters chosen at random would probably designate an agency or part of a department that could be profitably abolished.


Quote of the Day

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
—George Washington


A Democratic Congress

[Apologies for not posting much lately. Since Nov. 1, I have been participating in National Novel Writing Month, which has utterly monopolized my capacity for stringing sentences together. However, I would be remiss if I did not say something about the most recent election.]

Well, the Democrats have control. Let's see what they do with it.

That was my overriding reaction to the election results, by early Wednesday. I am not sure yet whether I should consider the results to be a good or bad thing. I have said many times that it is harmful for the country to have one political party that is corrupt and incompetent, and another that is corrupt and insane. Well, now that the Democrats are faced with the responsibility for setting policy again, it is my profound hope that they give up their insanities and actually do a decent job of it.

One worry is that the committee appointments do not look promising. In particular, if Rep. Jane Harmon is passed over for the chairmanship of the Intelligence Committee for being insufficiently partisan, in favor of Alcee Hastings (a former judge impeached for accepting bribes), it cannot say good things for the state of Democratic governance. Nor will it say much about the Democratic commitment to taming the "culture of corruption" that they so lamented, especially if Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson remains in office even after he was found accepting bribes.

I do not expect to enjoy the Democratic policy preferences during the next two years on the domestic front. But I can accept that, if they finally get serious about the wider conflict with Islamist tyranny in its many hostile forms. Lieberman's victory over Lamont may cool the ardor of the leadership to vacate the field of battle; but it is troubling that many news reports have Democratic leaders taking counsel with George McGovern of all people.

I only hope that we do not abandon the Iraqis to anarchy and tyranny, like we did the South Vietnamese. Recall that the SVA had already repelled a full conventional invasion by the North, with the help of American air cover and resupply only. But then the Democratic Congress cut all funding for the South; before long, the South fell, and Cambodia after it. That cannot happen again. Before, the blood of millions flowed thanks to our war-weariness; if we make the same mistake now, who can say how many innocents will die? Far more than the number of soldiers who might die to prevent such a fate, in any event.

The Democrats have two years to show what they can be trusted to do with power. I hope, for all of our sakes, that they treat that power with the care and seriousness that the times demand. The danger did not begin with Iraq; it will not end with Iraq. I fear that the wider struggle will continue for a generation at least, and we cannot dare to mix policy with fantasy.

The Democrats have control. Let's see what they do with it.


An Attack on Charter Schools

[Note: I originally had a post up dealing with an attempt by a government bureaucrat to make trouble for a charter school. People involved in the case have asked me to pull the post for the time being; I have archived the original and will hopefully add more details later.]

[UPDATE 11/18: It's later. The original post follows; here is a link to a news article covering the case.]

On Friday, I received an email from a relative which was so disturbing that I ask for, and received, permission to reprint most of it here:
The New School is being targeted like no other charter school in the state's history, according to the school's attorneys. These attorneys have represented at least 2/3 of the charter schools in CA, so they have a good idea of the level of harassment we are getting.

I have lots of details, but suffice it to say, that there is a man in the DPLU (Dept of Planning & Land Use) in San Diego County that absolutely refuses to let the school "be" anywhere. We're trying to find a new location, and he has shut down all directions starting with "our current location is suddenly not compliant with zoning" to "being treated like a private school for purposes of finding a new location." The law is on our side in every area. We are compliant with the zoning, and we are a public school, so we are supposed to be able to pick any site we want and move there. When presented with all of the law behind us, his response is, "I don't care." We apparently need his permission to move forward, but for some reason, he won't let us...maybe, simply, because he can! He's trying to drain us of our funds by requiring all sorts of legal briefs, etc. We think that this is his plan to end the school...to drain our money.

The parents met last night and learned all of these wonderful things. We are trying to form some sort of political action to fix this. We all want to fight. This school has outstanding standardized test scores. The director thinks that this idiot, Jeff Murphy, might be bluffing because if we took him to court, he'd surely lose because the law is on our side…. We will be going to the press soon, getting on some talk radio shows, and trying to be picked up by "big" newspapers, etc.

But we have limited time here—our director was given a Compromise by the DPLU that is supposed to be signed by Monday if we are going to sign it at all. It allows us to stay where we are until the end of the year as long as we then dissolve. She (director) isn't going to sign it, and we are expecting to be locked out of the facility on Tuesday. If that happens, we will file an injunction that will at least let us exist until it's all sorted out. As a charter school, we don't have to meet there, and have resolved to be on permanent field trips until it's settled. We'd rather not have to do that, of course.
The official in question is subordinate to Supervisor Bill Horn, who has acknowledged that Murphy has exceeded his legal authority, but refuses to stop him.

There are at least three issues here. First, obviously, is that a government official is waging a vendetta against a legal charter school, without any justification or legal standing. I would like to ask my readers to help spread the word about this gross abuse of power, and help fight back. Bill Horn needs to hear from people, and the DPLU needs to be swamped with calls and emails. This is about more than a single school; the charter school in question is one of the most successful schools in the state of California, in a relatively affluent area—i.e. full of parents who can be expected to seek out educational opportunities beyond the traditional public school. This makes the New School dangerous to the established educational bureaucracy. If government officials can shut it down without any opposition, the entire school choice movement could be set back years.

Second is the broader issue: here we have a government bureaucrat who is acting in ways which are universally acknowledged to be illegal; yet he can still wield the power of government machinery in order to coerce his victims to submit. And the burden is on his victims to prove that what he is doing is illegal! (On their own nickel, of course.) I find it disturbing that none of Murphy's subordinates (the ones who actually will carry out his dictat) are able to judge the legality of his behavior, and refuse to take part in it. I find it even more disturbing that Murphy's boss, Supervisor Horn, can admit that his subordinate is acting illegally, yet still refuse to curb him without consequence.

If this were the military, Murphy and Horn would both be facing courts-martial (assuming, of course, that Murphy's actions are indeed illegal); consider that the officers in charge of Abu Ghraib were punished for the infractions of soldiers many steps below them in the chain of command. The larger point is that you have an obligation to control the behavior of your subordinates. Horn seems to be abrogating that obligation.

Third, this episode displays the ease with which zoning regulations can be exploited for malicious ends by government officials. There is a proposition on the California ballot that could mitigate this problem, Prop. 90; it would allow property-owners who are penalized by changes in zoning, building codes, etc. to sue for damages. Please vote for this proposition; it is without a doubt the most important piece of legislation on the ballot.