There is a public debate happening in our community right now. That’s a good thing. Some say that the Salina City Commission abused its authority in July of 2020 when it mandated things like face masks, and occupancy requirements for businesses. Their argument is that emergency management, by state law, is a function of county government. Some say that the ability of the Salina City Commission to do such things, in a declared emergency, is important for the health and safety of the community. This debate is about much more than that.
Politically speaking, America has been in a tug-of-war with political power for quite some time. Salina is no different. One element seizes power and attempts to force it’s will on the other. This back-and-forth battle has taken our eyes off the more fundamental question. What is the purpose of government power to begin with? Is it for an elected majority to rule over the minority? Is it for a few connected elites to use as way to control their own interests and keep the rest in check?
In the case of the proposed ordinance, imagine a group of people at the opposite of the political spectrum as yourself. How much political power would you want them to have? Not much I would hope. And that is the fundamental issue here. If we continue to have this contest over political power, this tug-of-war, how soon will it be before turnabout becomes fair play. It’s already happening, right before our eyes, in a historic place where political power is the preferred intoxicant. This is unproductive and unhealthy for our future.
In a real sense, there are some in our community who want to make sure that political power is available to them to wield against those who dare to think differently than they. Government’s purpose is to protect us from this very thing. The one check and balance, the court, has become financially inaccessible for most. So, the best option available for us, the citizens of Salina, is to decide what kind of city government we want to have? Do we want our City Commissioners to be able to mandate anything they see fit under the cover of a ‘declared emergency’? Remember, if the people you trust the least were in that position would you want them to have that much power?
The City of Salina already has cooperation agreements with Saline County for emergency management, so it’s not like the Salina City Commission will have no role to play. The intent of the proposed ordinance is to keep future City Commissions from dictating how individuals and businesses react in a time of emergency. Rejecting this ordinance, voting ‘No’, means you believe that political power in the hands of the few is for the purpose of making others do what you deem is best. Approving of this ordinance, voting ‘Yes’, means that you want to ensure that future generations are not abused by those entrusted with political power. That is the fundamental question and it is the most important one to ask.
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Opinion written by Rodney Penn of Salina.
Rodney Penn is a graduate of Salina South High School, and Fort Hays State University. He has spent the last 5 years working with the homeless and those with severe and persistent mental illness in Salina. He has a special interest in psychological trauma and it’s effects on behavior and emotion regulation.