Madison County Opinion...

MARCH 3, 2004


Column
By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
March 3, 2004

Frankly Speaking

BOC makes zoning board look like a waste of time
“The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.”
— Thomas Jefferson

Have you noticed how frequently the Madison County Board of Commissioners rejects the recommendation of the planning and zoning board?
The most recent was their vote to reject a rezoning request for the golf course near Colbert.
The owner wishes to convert the area to a housing subdivision. The privately-owned golf course has never been profitable and he simply wants to obtain the best value for his investment.
The number of hoops any landowner has to jump through to get permission to do with his private property whatever he wishes is astounding. In my opinion, it needs to be simplified.
Because the land is zoned as recreational, it has to be rezoned to residential before construction can begin. In order to gain a change in zoning, the owner has to file an application with the planning and zoning board. Along with the application, he has to present a detailed blueprint of the planned development and erect signs informing the public that he is seeking a rezone. All property owners surrounding the site must be notified by mail of the plan.
Advertisements must be published in local newspapers listing the dates of two public hearings, one before the planning and zoning board, and another for the board of commissioners.
After checking the county’s development plan, receiving written statements from local property owners and conducting their public hearing, the planning and zoning board votes to recommend either approval or rejection of the request. They forward it to the Board of Commissioners who holds their own hearing, reviews the maps, charts, written comments, questions the owner about his intentions, and finally votes to approve or reject the request.
It appears to me that the planning and zoning board hearings are a waste of time and add an unnecessary layer of hassle to the lives of property owners in Madison County. The board provides a valuable service by keeping an eye on the county’s growth, suggesting changes in the county’s development plan and subdivision rules as necessary. They take some of the work off the board of commissioners by assembling information about a zoning request to see if it complies with current law and fits reasonably well into the county’s development plan and is compatible with surrounding land use.
But they can collect and forward needed information on zoning requests without conducting the duplication of hearings and a formal vote on each case. One hearing before the board of commissioners, with an opportunity to appeal if necessary, should be enough.
I am a strong believer in Thomas Jefferson’s theory that less government is always best. As much as possible, we should be left alone and allowed to do with our property as we wish.
Unfortunately, as we grow in population and crowd closer together, we have to have procedures to keep us from unnecessarily damaging each other or the environment. That is what land use and zoning plans are for. They are a necessary evil, but we don’t have to make them more complicated than necessary.
Let’s do what we have to do, but do it with the least possible amount of hassle.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is frankgillispie@charter.net.

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Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
March 3, 2004

In the Meantime

Health care, a truly important moral issue
for our nation
For many, the argument over gay marriage has come to represent the issue of the soul in this election year.
But there are other tests of our collective morality that get lost in this emotionally-charged environment of hype and hate spewed left and right.
For instance, here’s a notable moral issue: do we care whether drug companies keep up their profit lines at the expense of dying patients?
Our nation prides itself on free enterprise and the supply-demand tenet of capitalism. If you can get it cheaper elsewhere, well, that’s the economy at work. Go for it, right? We have a right to the best deal, don’t we? That’s America.
Wait a minute there.
No you don’t, not in medicine, not even if your mom or dad or son or daughter needs it to live. Sure, you might be able to get the medicine, but getting it at the lowest possible cost, that’s not a guarantee, even if you find it cheaper elsewhere.
I read about one appalling example of this in an article by Julia Whitty called “Smuggling Hope” in the April issue of Mother Jones magazine.
Whitty detailed her father’s fight to stay alive when faced with a rare form of cancer and a medicine that costs $47,000 a year (a price that truly shows a lack of common decency toward those who are suffering).
Like most of us, the ailing man simply couldn’t afford to spend that much. Nor could his family.
So Whitty began searching for a better deal on the medicine for her father.
After a lengthy search, she found a similar medicine sold abroad for $1,200 a year. So she went overseas, felt her heart race as she illegally smuggled the medicine through customs, then took the drug home to her father.
It worked. His health improved.
So his doctor wrote a prescription for the drug to save the daughter the expense of the trip abroad and the risk of getting busted for drug smuggling to save her dad’s life.
They waited and waited for the medicine to arrive, finally learning that it had been seized by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which was not convinced of the legality of the import.
The fact that a doctor could vouch for the effectiveness of the drug in treating the man was of no consequence. Whitty appealed to three congressmen and eventually got the medicine released from the FDA and delivered to her father. However, a later package of the drug was seized by the FDA and not even a member of congress could wrestle it free for her dad, who has since passed away.
Such is the system. We all sigh and agree that it stinks.
But we turn toward other issues when faced with complexities that accompany real health care talk. Yeah, there may be something horribly wrong, but it makes our heads hurt to think about moving a mountain of a system. Such arguments require logical precision aimed at the right people. They are not emotional issues of symbol that we can rally around and easily understand.
So we don’t really pay attention to see whether our legislators are more concerned with public protection or profit protection when it comes to health care.
It troubles us to even try.
So we just have faith that we’ll be treated right when we’re in need.
Unfortunately, the system does not reward such faith. The system is geared toward maintaining profits at the expense of patients. We all know this. We can read the bills we get in the mail.
Whitty points out that “the best selling prescription drugs in America are 77 percent higher than in Canada and Europe (where prices are tightly regulated).” She points out that “drug companies milk 66 to 75 percent of their profits from American consumers, who in essence subsidize cheap pills for Canadians and Europeans.”
“Yet despite this unwitting generosity, I cannot legally visit those countries and reimport what my subsidy sold them on the cheap in the first place,” she said.
The drug companies may say that the high costs are needed to fund research. However, Whitty points out that in 2002, the nine top publicly-traded U.S. companies that market drugs to seniors spent $45.4 billion on advertising, compared to $19.1 billion on research.
Is this not evident on the tube, where erectile dysfunction ads target men at every commercial break?
Think about it, the recently passed Medicare bill forbids Americans from importing U.S.-made drugs more cheaply from overseas.
Why?
Is restricting your options in your best interest or in the interest of powerful prescription drug companies? If our government doesn’t fix prices on medicine at a reasonable level, couldn’t it at least let patients have a choice in where they shop, letting basic supply-demand capitalism work for the sick, too? Why cripple patients by denying them the right to seek the best deal available? Companies can get their raw materials elsewhere — why not a patient seeking a life-saving medicine?
Isn’t this morally despicable?
I hope for the sake of all the ailing — and their loved ones who suffer too — that we can muster the moral backbone and the energy to keep our attention on life and death matters this election year.
The war, our care for the ill, for the elderly.
Let’s not allow sexual hype and divisiveness concerning gay marriage to cloud our view of all the silently-suffering individuals who feel abandoned by our health care system, by our general public.
Of course, the prescription drug debate is difficult and doesn’t make for titillating controversy where teams are easily drawn.
But if we want to talk about morality issues, let’s focus on the moral imperative of improving our health care system.
And recognize that losing focus of that important objective is morally wrong.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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