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Tyranny of the majority on display in PTC

Terry Garlock's picture

The Peachtree City Council is considering a ban on gas-driven golf carts, granting preference to 95 percent of the people like me who purchased an electric golf cart.

I know the mayor and City Council members are good people, working hard for all of us with the best intentions. But I do hope those leaning toward the gas golf cart ban will consider what may appear at first to be an outrageous observation, that this tiny and local golf cart issue is symptomatic of a national breakdown in what we expect our government to do.

Our founding fathers, fearing the oppression of strong government, designed a system in which federal powers are enumerated in the Constitution – in order to severely limit those powers – and reserved all other powers to the people and the states.

In what I believe is an unforgivable betrayal, we have unchained the beast of an out-of-control federal government that long ago pushed past any Constitutional limitations and now sticks its nose into every crevice of our wallets and our lives.

We have lost the notion that government at all levels should be very limited and that citizens should be both free and responsible to care for themselves.

We have given in to the very enemy that worried our founding fathers most – human nature. While some are self-reliant, we have now raised generations that demand federal and local government solutions to ever more of their problems of daily life. Voter hands are permanently stretched out for ever more goodies from what seems an endless supply of free stuff, never mind every dollar spent by government had to be forcefully taken away from someone else.

What makes this worse is an unwillingness, or inability, of elected officials at all levels to draw boundaries around the limited and essential services they are to perform.

They seem unable to resist stepping over those lines to do more, more, more, with the best intentions to make our lives better even if that is not supposed to be their job, even if the result is digging deeper into our pocket for taxes, even if it means intruding further into our personal lives.

That is why, in government, I fear most those trying to help me, and feel most safe when Congress is in recess.

What should be the limits on local government?

Here’s one real issue on limits in Peachtree City – recreation. Our city spends far more on recreation than cities of comparable size.

In an era of budget crisis, is the recreation priority an essential part of the quality of life in our town, or is it a luxury we cannot afford and need to cut back to the proportion of, say, Riverdale? That’s a tough issue with deep passions on both sides and, unlike gas golf carts, is worthy of City Council focus.

But golf carts do raise their head in our town. A few years ago a golf cart with high lifts was damaged in a Peachtree City tunnel, and city staff’s response was to recommend new regulations to control golf cart height, width, lift height, wheel size, speed and braking ability.

The issue grew to quite an argument on golf cart freedom, and before it died a richly deserved death, I spoke to the city’s consultant who was recommending golf cart braking standards that would have rendered EZ-Go golf carts non-compliant; turns out he had deep Club Car ties. Go figure.

We dodged that regulatory bullet, and we thankfully don’t have to hire city staff to measure golf carts or test their stopping distance at a certain speed on level pavement so they can uncover infractions and penalize us.

But the nanny-city is re-awakened now that some complain gas golf carts are loud and smelly. A response to complainants is easy to me — whether your neighbor buys a gas or electric golf cart is none of the city’s business, and none of yours.

But complaints continue.

Just think of the pollution! Only 5 percent of golf carts in Peachtree City are gas-driven, so what’s the big deal with a ban? Advances in battery technology will make electric golf carts more efficient over time, and a ban on gas golf carts would generously grandfather current owners for 10 years.

Others argue they need the extra power of gas golf carts for climbing steep hills, and later models are pretty quiet. Businesses that rent golf carts to tourists argue the much-extended range of gas golf carts make cross-city jaunts possible, and they can immediately refuel without a charging period. Those businesses also make part of their living repairing and selling gas golf carts.

What about the pollution-creating energy it takes to generate the electricity to charge electric golf carts? What about city staff time administering a ban? Are we to regulate noisy and pollution-causing gas lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed trimmers and edgers as well?

Of all these issues on the pros and cons of gas golf carts, I don’t think a single one of them matters.

I am one who doesn’t care for gas golf carts, but my personal opinion doesn’t matter, either.

What matters is the freedom of my neighbors to make their own decision on what type of golf cart they wish to buy, and what matters is that neighbor’s choice is none of my business and none of the city’s business.

What matters is the City Council should learn to say NO to voters who ask officials to solve their every little problem.

What if a lot of voters want to ban gas golf carts? Being in the minority 5 percent does not diminish my neighbor’s right to be left alone. One of the principles of the founding of our country is protecting the minority from “the tyranny of the majority.”

Sometimes the right response to complaints is to do ... nothing. Some of the City Council members recognize this, and I am hopeful others will rethink the issue. With tight budgets and debates about city overstaffing, spending any more time on this issue is not wise.

[Terry Garlock is a Certified Financial Planner. He lives in Peachtree City and writes columns occasionally for The Citizen. His email is tgarlock@mindspring.com.]

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