The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

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The Illinois Policy Institute and Jackson County Transparency

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I noticed a story in this week’s Carbondale Times reporting that the Illinois Policy Institute had given the Jackson County website a grade of 21.2 out of 100 on transparency. The story isn’t online yet or I would link to it (I think the Times waits a week or so to put their print stories online, which is smart if you don’t want your ad revenue to collapse). I’ve noticed that the Illinois Policy Institute is getting its name into the news more frequently, so I visited their site.

If you check the Illinois Policy Institute’s FAQ page, you’ll find this:

What is the Institute’s political affiliation? 

The Illinois Policy Institute is independent and not affiliated with any political party. People often ask whether the Institute is conservative, libertarian, or whether it falls under some other political label. Labels can sometimes provide helpful shorthand to make it easier for strangers to become better acquainted, but they also can be inaccurate or miss the bigger picture.

The Illinois Policy Institute is dedicated to promoting the principles of liberty in all levels of government. While “liberty” can be interpreted in many ways and applied to many different arenas, we focus specifically on economic liberty and free market principles.

We work with anyone who supports our values on a particular issue, regardless of political or ideological affinity, including Democrats, Republicans and independents.

[Emphasis added.]

Terms like “principles of liberty” and “free market principles” sound great. I believe in liberty. And who wants to particpate in an unfree market? That’s like playing cards with a rigged deck, right?

The truth is, these terms are dog whistles to the right wing. For those unfamiliar with the term “dog whistle,” it refers to a type of political communication – a code, really – in which a message that is generic and pleasant sounding to the general public has a second, more specific meaning recognized by people in a political movement. An example: “culture of life.” Sounds good, right? But to people in the religious conservative movement, it means opposition to abortion rights.

The people at the Illinois Policy Institute aren’t interested in personal liberty as most of us understand it. They’re interested in repealing as much business regulation as possible (especially environmental regulation), lowering taxes on the rich, and putting an end to our already meager social safety net. They want to undermine your faith in government in order to accomplish these goals.

Long time readers will know that I’ve sometimes criticized some of the regulations in our city code. That’s because bad regulations discredit good regulations. If you believe in the value of good regulation, you should be an opponent of bad regulation. As others have pointed out, the right wing has a fanatical opposition to all regulation, but there is no equal and opposite zeal for regulation on the left. We don’t want regulation for regulation’s sake.

On the left, we want regulation because there is some harm we want to prevent or some virtue we want to require. If a given regulation either (1) fails to prevent the harm or require the virtue we favor, or (2) produces unintended consequences that overwhelm the gain produced, the proper left response is to repeal that regulation and (probably) replace it with a better one. It is in that spirit that I have criticized some of the regulations in city code – especially many of our zoning regulations.

I want to point out that I didn’t write this post to criticize the Carbondale Times, which I think does a great job with straight news reporting and which seems to have a generally liberal policy on its editorial page. In fact, the Times checked the Jackson County website and found it more compliant with transparency laws than the Illinois Policy Institute claims.

I wrote this post because it relates to an argument I made recently. In Wednesday’s post on the city council meeting, I decried what I see as unwarranted cynicism and pessimism toward the city government (I think I used the term “pathological paranoia”). I wrote this post to draw attention to folks like the Illinois Policy Institute who want to nurture and feed that suspicion so they can achieve their larger policy goals.

That’s really the point I was getting at in Wednesday’s post, though I may have made the point imperfectly. It’s good to be skeptical, but it is not helpful when otherwise liberal people – the folks who should be pushing for positive change – become so cynical and pessimistic toward their governments that they begin to resist any and all change. A solid majority of Carbondale’s citizens have a basically progressive disposition. We should lead with that part of ourselves and try to temper our cynicism so we can make the changes that will build a better community.

Now that I’ve burned through over 600 words, I’ll briefly address the substance of the article: Jackson County’s webpage. I’ve watched the Jackson County website go through several versions over the years. The current site seems inferior to the one it replaced – at least to me. The previous site was more intuitive and seemed to have more information. I don’t know if it violates our transparency laws, but it doesn’t seem like a great site to me.

Comments are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

October 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

Posted in Jackson County

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My View: Rigging and Manipulating Electoral Rules is Wrong

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As most readers will know, Geoffrey Ritter reported in this week’s Carbondale Times that the Jackson County Electoral Board will not allow Republican candidates to appear on November’s ballot because their paperwork was fastened with a paperclip rather than with a staple. I posted a letter to the editor on this topic from Republican Jackson County Board member Will Stephens this morning, and now I want to share a few of my own thoughts.

First, based on my understanding of what happened, I agree with Stephens. If it’s true that the Republicans were kicked off the ballot because they paper-clipped their paperwork instead of stapling it, that’s wrong. Attempting to win elections by keeping opponents off the ballot is anti-democratic.

But here’s the thing: when it comes to manipulating electoral rules to win elections, Republicans are by far the worst offenders. Republicans in state legislatures across the country, citing unverified claims of voter fraud, have been passing laws designed to limit the Democratic vote in this fall’s elections.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 22, 2012 at 7:50 am

Letter to the Editor: County Electoral Board Wrong to Disqualify Candidates

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As most of you will already know, Geoffrey Ritter reported in this week’s Carbondale Times that the Jackson County Electoral Board ruled that the Republican candidates for State’s Attorney and Coroner will not appear on the ballot in November because their paperwork was fastened with a paperclip rather than a staple. Republican Jackson County Board member Will Stephens of Murphysboro wrote the following letter to the editor and submitted it to this blog and other area news outlets. I will post my own thoughts on this matter in a separate post, which you can read by clicking here

To the Editor:

In any given election cycle voters in Illinois and across the nation draw the curtains behind them on Election Day only to find one candidate on the ballot for a number of elected positions. This is especially prevalent at the local level. I believe that most of us can agree that voters are better served when they have a choice. Candidates who run unopposed have less motivation to meet the public, and in turn are more likely to lose touch with the people who placed their trust in them to start with. Recently the Jackson County election authority made headlines by ruling that Republican candidates for State’s Attorney and Coroner would not be allowed ballot access because the candidates petitions and other paperwork happened to be fastened with a paper clip instead of a staple.

The election law only states that the paperwork submitted be “securely bound” when turned in to the election authority, which is in this case the Jackson County Clerk’s office. It is unfortunate that the Jackson County election authority, which was comprised of three Jackson County Democratic officials, would issue such a self serving, narrow minded and craven ruling. Even the most passive follower of the body politic can see that this desperate attempt to toss candidates off the ballot by the Jackson County Democratic Party does nothing to serve the public, or enfranchise voters on Election Day.

I hope that the voters of Jackson County will remember this ruling when casting their votes this November. After all, if it were left up to the Jackson County Election Authority, you would be left with only one option on the ballot for Coroner and State’s Attorney…because of a staple. To quote Mike Bost’s recent impassioned speech on the Illinois House floor, “not the American Way!”

Respectfully submitted,

Will Stephens (R) Jackson County Board, District 3, Murphysboro

Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 22, 2012 at 7:45 am

New Blog Covering Murphysboro

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I learned that a new blog began in May covering Murphysboro. I read the archives and I enjoyed them. I’d encourage readers of this blog to check out ApplePanDowdy, which you can do by clicking here. As we likely remember from the Wal-Mart wars a few years ago, what happens in Murphysboro affects Carbondale. It’s worth keeping up with what’s going on in our neighbor to the west.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

June 6, 2012 at 7:45 am

Murphysboro Boundary (dis)Agreement

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The Southern Illinoisan and the Daily Egyptian reported this week on the ongoing boundary negotiations between Carbondale and Murphysboro. It seems that Murphysboro is not happy with the tentative agreement. From the Southern Illinoisan’s Tuesday article :

Saying it could see no benefit to signing a proposed 20-year agreement and with a disagreement between the cities on how the boundary would be drawn just south of Illinois 13, the council decided to take no action on the proposal.

In Carbondale’s proposal, the boundary line would be centered on Country Club Road to the highway before jutting east down the highway and before following Airport Road to the north. Murphysboro’s proposal has the boundary turning east at D. Blaney Miller Road, on which Murphysboro already offers city services, to Airport Road.

The last boundary agreement between Carbondale and Murphysboro, which was in place formally from 1982 to 2002 and informally since then, followed Country Club Road to the south of Route 13, and followed an imaginary line extending north from Country Club Road to the north of Route 13. Carbondale’s proposal would move the boundary line on the north side of Route 13 nearly a mile east, where it would follow Airport Road. Here is a map of the boundary Carbondale proposed (click image for larger version):

Source: City of Carbondale.

Murphysboro clearly benefits from this new boundary, as it gains developed property north of Route 13 – property that would have belonged to Carbondale under the old agreement. In fact, Carbondale already has an annexation agreement for property west of the proposed new boundary. This agreement would be terminated if the new boundary agreement was approved by both cities. But Murphysboro isn’t satisfied. Murphysboro wants more.

Here’s a map derived from the one above roughly showing the area Murphysboro wants outlined in black:

Derived from a map created by the City of Carbondale.

I  can understand why Murphysboro would want this additional land – they want the sales tax from any future retail development opposite the Wal-Mart – but I don’t understand how they can justify demanding it. The Daily Egyptian, citing Carbondale City Manager Alan Gill offers one explanation:

City Manager Allen Gill said the proposed agreement between Carbondale and Murphysboro would establish a dividing line between two growing communities. Within the proposed agreement, both parties have agreed not to annex properties across the designated line and not to exercise extra-territorial zoning powers across the line, he said.

[Emphasis Added.]

Read more:

The problem with that explanation is that it isn’t factually correct. There aren’t two growing cities, there is one slowly growing city and one rapidly shrinking city. Using the corrected data (pdf), Murphysboro’s population in 2000 was 8,694. According to preliminary census data, Murphysboro’s 2010 population is 7,970 – an 8% decline during the last ten years. Carbondale’s corrected 2000 population was 25,597, while our 2010 population was 25,902 – a 1% increase.

Despite losing 8% of its population since the 2000 census, the Murphysboro city council seems to think it is entitled to extend its boundaries toward Carbondale. That doesn’t make much sense, and I don’t think it is going to work. From the Southern Illinoisan’s Wednesday article:

Saying he could not see a light at the end of the tunnel, Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole said his city will start enforcing its jurisdictional zoning and planning rights to protect Carbondale residents along the disputed border.

“It would be in our best interest to do that, post-haste,” Cole said.

People who live up to 1 1/2 miles west of zoned Carbondale property could be affected by stricter enforcement, but Cole said he’s not looking to start a border war.

Since Carbondale had zoning jurisdiction in the area earlier than Murphysboro, Carbondale’s jurisdiction would preempt Murphysboro, even in some areas west of the old boundary at Country Club Road.

I think Carbondale should play tough with Murphysboro on the boundary issue. In my view, we offered them too generous a deal by considering the option of moving the boundary to Airport Road. Now that Murphysboro has rejected that offer, we should withdraw it. Carbondale should exercise it’s full zoning and planning rights, even west of Country Club Road, and we shouldn’t approve any permits unless the applicant signs an annexation agreement.

If Murphysboro doesn’t like that, then Murphysboro should accept a new boundary agreement following the old line – both north and south of Route 13. We have had boundary problems in the past when our neighbor to the east annexed desirable land that clearly should have belonged to Carbondale. We should avoid similar problems on our western border, especially considering that Murphysboro’s population is declining. I hope that our next mayor and city council will take a hard line on this issue.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 11, 2011 at 7:45 am

Carbondale Census Data

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The Census Bureau released some 2010 census data for Illinois on Tuesday. Carbondale’s official city population was 25,902. The population of Carbondale township was 29,544.

I also checked the populations of some neighboring towns. Marion’s population was 17,193. Murphysboro had 7,970 people – quite a decrease from the 2000 census. Herrin’s population was 12,501, and Carterville’s was 5,496.

Jackson County’s population was 60,218. Williamson County’s population was 66,357 – a big increase from the 2000 census.

You can search the 2010 census data here.

Comments are welcome.

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