The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.
Last week, another narrow Supreme Court decision struck a blow at a fundamental right, the right to own and enjoy one's private property. The majority said that a local government could condemn a piece of property owned by a private individual and then turn it over to a private developer, solely because that government believes the property would generate more economic activity and taxes after development.
What has this decision changed? At one time, the "takings" clause of the 5th Amendment (the Bill of Rights) was understood to allow taking for government purposes only, such as roads, armories, jails, etc. Our most recent experience with eminent domain, as such taking is called, was involved with the failed jail proposal. The bond issue failed in part because voters objected to taking private residences for the jail. Another local taking was the County's acquisition of the old Meda Pine Tax Service building next to the new courts building. Both of these were legitimate uses of eminent domain, even if questionable on other grounds.
The most likely use of eminent domain to take land for economic rather than truly government purposes relates to situations when a few landowners refuse to sell to the developer a major project. That developer then turns to local government to obtain the land. This happened over in Kansas when homes, even some that had survived Quantrill, were taken for use by the Speedway and related commercial developments (all owned by private entities).
Could such abuse happen here? I've looked at some published interviews with successful local candidates from 2002 and 2004, including Rep. Pearce, Councilman Nimmer, and Commissioners Hough and Sader. Each of these individuals stated that he could see cases in which use of eminent domain for economic development would be appropriate (in fairness, none of them were enthusiastic about the possibility).
Taking property from one private individual and giving it to another private individual (or company) "for the greater good" is just another way of saying that individual rights are subordinate to the desires of the government, be it monarchy, dictatorship or republic. Please contact your local government officials and tell them that (along with 98% of those who responded to an MSNBC on-line poll) you want their pledge to never take private property for such purposes. Tell your legislators that you want state laws to deny local governments the right to do so.
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