David Mann: Tax dollars should not be used to fund a projectPublished 9:08am Thursday, July 11, 2013
By David Mann, Niles City Council
As mentioned by the Niles Daily Star this past Tuesday, I gave the city council information relative to funding private functions/operations in the city. It seems clear under Michigan law that councils cannot fund either private cause — such as nonprofit organizations — or events that are not run directly by the City. The reason behind this is clear: Your hard-earned tax dollars should not be used to fund a project. If you want to give money to a project yourself, you have that right to and should do so.
The city attorney mentioned that although the law is somewhat ambiguous if we want to stick to the technical interpretation the opinion listed — derived from a document from the Michigan Municipal League — is correct. Mr. Huff, our city administrator, pointed out correctly that we have never been censured for this action in audits but the city attorney pointed out that this is partly because auditors do not look at every single city donation — this is responsibility of municipalities.
They look for the broad picture of where money is going. Secondly, this does not mean the state will not tag us in the future for violating state law.
Our job as a city council is to adhere to state law as close as we know how; municipalities derive their authority from the state and can be done away with by the state; we should not try to “get away” with actions because we feel are minor.
Furthermore, just because a cause is good does not mean that it should be funded by the city, specifically if that function appears to be in violation of state law. Whether or not we disagree with the law does not matter, we still must follow it. Initiative and referendum are always available if we feel that a law does not serve us well.
I have long been in disagreement with Michigan’s no-fault insurance policy; it creates higher prices and other problems for Michigan residents but that does not stop me from having an insurance policy.
As Theodore Roosevelt said: “No man is above the law and no man is below it: nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.” This does not mean that we should obey laws that are in violation of human rights — such as the segregation laws — but we should obey when it is not an issue of conscience but when we take civil obedience to the lengths that Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau did, we get into trouble. By not funding festivals, the city will comply with the law and set a standard for other communities.
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