01/11/06 — An inspiration! Finding reasons to do nothing

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An inspiration! Finding reasons to do nothing

The attorneys and the bureaucracy over in Apex have provided an inspirational and creative example of finding reasons not to do something good.

When Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast in August, the fire department in Waveland, Miss., lost all 12 of its firetrucks.

Up in Apex, the fire department had a 20-year-old tanker truck it wasn’t using and was planning to sell it as surplus.

The Apex firemen decided they should donate the truck to their counterparts in Waveland.

But wait, the Town Council’s attorneys cautioned, a determination would have to be made to see if the town could legally donate the truck.

The attorneys couldn’t find anything in the law that said the town couldn’t do it. But there also was nothing in the law explicitly authorizing such a donation.

That was tantamount to telling the Town Council it might be about to violate a law that wasn’t there.

To strengthen the case against the donation, the town’s attorneys had an observation from “a municipal law specialist” at the Institute of Government. His research had shown that state law “doesn’t say anything about” donating property to other states.

Interpretation: The absence of a law saying specifically that it can be done, is the same as a law saying it can’t be done!

Then there was another potential roadblock.

Apparently state law does allow governments to make some donations that “benefit the public.” But does “public” mean only the people within that particular government’s jurisdiction?

The courts have never spoken specifically to that question.

According to a news story in the Raleigh News & Observer, “Town attorneys spent months searching the books for a loophole the town could use, to no avail.”

Communities in some other states, meanwhile, apparently were not having such legal difficulties. Waveland received donated firetrucks from towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Frustrated but not defeated, the volunteer members of the Apex Fire Department bought the surplus truck — paying $500 from their pockets — and gave it to the Waveland firemen.

There have been no reports of how much Apex has spent in the time of lawyers who “spent months searching for a loophole” to allow giving away a $500 truck.

And one must wonder what kind of penalty might have been imposed upon the Apex Town Board had it just given the truck to Waveland at the outset. A penalty imposed by what jurisdiction — and at whose instigation?

Published in Editorials on January 11, 2006 9:41 AM