As a Matter of Justice, It Must be Said
By Evelyn Pyburn
It all comes down to the conclusion that “we know better.” We know better than the general run-of-the-mill taxpayer rube.
That attitude by public officials at every level of government is one with which we have all become far too familiar. Such has been the attitude of many city officials over the years, as they pursued what they absolutely knew was illegal, and was an act hugely disrespectful of the citizens they were supposed to serve and represent. And, most amazingly, which some still continue to hold as they drag out a costly legal battle over the illegal franchise fee, to absolutely no worthy end.
That the city lost the suit filed against them is totally just. It’s a shame more individuals couldn’t be held personally responsible for what they perpetrated upon the community. Again, we see what happens when individuals are not held accountable for their actions and choices.
It is indeed a no-win situation that the taxpayers must pay, no matter the outcome of the case, so let’s make sure that there is at least a “win” in demonstrating what justice looks like and underscoring the honest role of government. Since it is going to “cost” no matter what, the court should make the city responsible to reimburse ratepayers as a statement of culpability of all those involved.
Perhaps they thought there was a great need for revenues for the city and believed that taxpayers would reject a mill levy. It is true that a majority of the public can be wrong, but sooner or later they get it right. True statesmen know that, accept it, and have respect for the process and the public.
It is not the role of leadership to find ways to sidestep the people and to attempt to dupe them. It is to try to lead them to what one believes is the right answers and to accept the electorate’s conclusion at the polls.
The average citizen may indeed lag behind issues and may not be fully informed and unaware of political gamesmanship, but in the long run they have a better track record of understanding than do the dictates of the politicians and power seekers. It is often, in fact, that understanding that the elitists most abhor.
Given the opportunities the city had to lessen the harm to the taxpayers, which they rejected, and the fact that the farce continues still, demands loud and clear condemnation from the court. There were good people inside and outside of city government, from the very beginning, who said that this was an illegal tax. Over the years, the plaintiffs voiced many times their concerns, before being forced to file suit. And, even after filing suit, understanding the imposition to taxpayers, they offered to drop it for $20,000 and a statement from City officials to never do it again. Arrogance again prevailed, and city officials and their attorneys rejected that offer, as well as similar opportunities to minimize harm to taxpayers. And, so the case continues, today, mounting millions of dollars in greater attorney fees.
The court has already decreed that which the city would not affirm: that they won’t do it again, but for the court to require some degree of restitution will say loudly and clearly that which MUST be said, that this kind of government cannot be allowed to stand. It will say that city officials SERVE THE PEOPLE, and that even when administrators, bureaucrats and elected politicians believe they are smarter than the general public, they must still bow to the public. It’s called the democratic process.
This is a moment in time, that justice and the rule of law demands that those who believe themselves to be above the law to be totally castigated for their deceit and for their disdain of the citizens of Billings.