I like my neighbors

The week started promisingly last Wednesday, when the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers decided to proceed with a spending cap. To be blunt, the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition literally lives for this stuff and would push forward anyway, but APT decided to be the local lead organization at that meeting. So don’t miss the next one, at which the necessary twenty-five registered Portsmouth voters will be selected to sign the affidavit to get the ball rolling.

Monday was another City Council meeting; far more interesting than I had expected from the agenda. It started out badly, though. I apologize in advance for a long post here; there are so many things to rant about from the start of this meeting.

First, I tried to be late to the meeting; the Pledge of Allegiance gives me hives. I’ve already ranted about this elsewhere. I arrived as the Boy Sprouts (who had presented the colors) were reading some letter about their Citizenship Merit Badge. This was followed by two proclamations.

And so, on to the next rant. The culture of proclamations and commendations is extremely distasteful to me. It serves to reinforce the notion that the government is here to give the people stuff. So someone in the community did something good—how nice! I will happily shake their hand and congratulate them; maybe give some money if it’s that kind of good deed. But why does the apparatus of government—already oversized—need to extend itself officially? As a proxy for the community, I suppose, but that’s exactly the problem; the government is force personified, and should not be used frivolously. Even to wish your great-grandma a happy one hundredth birthday; leave that to Willard Scott.

Rant the third: The first proclamation concerned Read Across America, which is in observation of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The Council proclaimed 20 February as Read Across Portsmouth Day; all very well and good. Then a teacher (dressed as the Cat in the Hat) read a poem exhorting Portsmouth residents to participate. It was terrible. Rhymed couplets are close to the lowest form of poetry to start with, but I would have expected a teacher to have a better grasp of meter—or any grasp of it at all, for that matter. This poem was the kind of butchery you might expect to hear one elderly relative declaim in honor of another elderly relative’s birthday or anniversary. I suppose one could make some sort of observation about public education from this, but I would be reluctant as it is only one data point. There may be Portsmouth public school teachers with a grasp of meter—though I am sure the doggerel nauseated them as much as it did me. The ode was followed with a song performed by elementary school students; their voices were good enough, but the song was swill and severely under-rehearsed. I felt bad for the Councilors, briefly; the same culture of proclamations about which I was ranting in the preceding paragraph has come back to bite them in the form of the citizenry performing dog-and-pony shows for them, which they must pretend to enjoy.

The other proclamation declared 11 March as Registered Dietitian Day. Fortunately, no dietitians were inspired to song, dance, or oratory by the declaration.

Now on to actual business! Well, first we have public comment; this is when any resident can have three minutes to ramble about whatever while the Councilors get their paperwork in order. Four took the offer this time.

There were three public hearings; the first two were identical and uncontroversial measures to raise the income limits for elderly people or people with disabilities seeking property tax exemptions.

The third concerned skateboarding, and this is when I realized (again) how much I like living in New Hampshire. Currently, skateboarding on the streets or sidewalks is illegal in all of Portsmouth. Nearly everyone realizes that this is stupid. A proposed ordinance came out of the Traffic & Safety committee to allow skateboarding throughout the city, except the Downtown Business District. So far, so good. But somewhat to the Council’s own surprise and to the consternation of a large number of people, the lifting of the ban came with a giant pile of restrictions: helmets, kneepads, and elbow pads must be worn at all times, and the wheels of the device must not leave the ground. Person after person, from age 12 to 50s or 60s came up to say the same thing: don’t legislate away responsibility. Let people take responsibility for their own actions. Let parents do their job as parents and be responsible for their kids. Don’t give cops more grounds for selective enforcement and harassment of youth. On, and on; I was so very pleased. The parallels were made to New Hampshire’s (current) lack of a seatbelt law for adults in cars, and the lack of a requirement for motorcyclists or bicyclists to wear helmets. Only two crotchety old men (one self-described, the other self-evident) opposed lifting the ban at all, on the grounds that Someone Could Get Hurt.

What was really amazing here was that the City Council agreed! They had not expected the restrictive language; the City Attorney apparently put that in to protect the city from liability issues. That’s his job, but the Council sent it back to Traffic & Safety (rather than attempting to revise it on the fly) to be redrafted without the restrictions. The state motto was invoked several times, and the Assistant Mayor—and he may regret this, as I intend to hold him to it in the future—said, “I’m a Live Free Or Die guy.” Councilor Dwyer continued to reinforce my perception that she is the real-life version of Kyle’s Mom from South Park; she went on at some length about a reconsideration of the city’s entire alternative transportation infrastructure, the use of bike lanes, safety rules for all human-powered transit, etc.

After all that excitement, a few mundane things were covered, the only one of note (to me) is that the Seacoast Growers Association is renewing its use of the City Hall parking lot for the weekly farmers’ markets. This continues to tie them to the city’s whim concerning things like sales of uninspected chicken meat. I wish they could find a private space, as they have in Dover, before the city Health Officer realizes that the eggs and “exotic meat” (such as venison or elk) are not necessarily inspected either.

Well, I do believe that was my longest post yet. I hope to see a few more liberty-minded folks at the APT meeting on the 18th, and I would love suggestions on what else can be done to advance liberty at the local level here in Portsmouth.

2 Responses

  1. Just for clarification – egg sellers at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market do have to apply for a permit to sell the eggs that cost (I believe) about $140 for the season (on top of the fees the SGA collects to run, which are modest). Venison and elk are both considered animals “on the hoof” in NH and have to be processed at USDA facilities, luckily there are a few and that isn’t a problem. Unlike poultry, where there just aren’t facilities to process birds.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, Sara Zoe. My understanding is that the facilities themselves have to be inspected, not every piece of meat coming through, but that the P.H.O.’s concern with the chicken was that the chicken itself is uninspected. As you may have guessed from the overall content of this blog, I would far rather leave it to informed consumers’ choice, backed up by basic liability law. It is far easier for large organizations (like commercial farms) to comply with all of these regulations than it is for small ones (like local, sustainable farms), which means that the regulations have the effect of reducing consumer choice and overall sustainability.

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