Make no mistake, when it comes time to count the faces that delegates to our state capitals see in hearing after hearing, plain old taxpayers clinging tightly to their checkbooks are vastly outnumbered by bureaucrats on the government pad. (After all, the bureaucrats don’t have to “take time off work” to be there -- that IS their work.)
And so it begins to sound to our elected delegates like an endless and nearly unanimous song -- more money is needed, because the public “demands more services.”
Joey Cadieux of Cromwell, Connecticut got “serviced” by his local government, this month.
For some years, Joey has posted a hand-stenciled, black-and-white sign in his yard each summer. The sign, posted over by the tree, says “NITE CRAWLERS.” Joey journeys outside on damp nights with his flashlight to dig the big wigglers, sells them to local fishermen, and pockets about $7 to $10 per month -- enough to occasionally bicycle down and treat himself at the local pizza place.
But in July, Al Diaz, a member of the town Planning and Zoning Commission, mentioned during a meeting that Joey’s sign does not comply with Cromwell’s zoning regulations, and should come down. A town zoning officer took heed, sending a letter last month ordering Joey’s stepfather, August Reil, to take the sign down.
“In a residential zone, if you want to put up a business and work out of your home, you need a special permit,” Diaz told The Hartford Courant in a story published Aug. 11. “You come before the commission and state your case ... and then a decision is made. Chiropractors do that, lawyers do that, doctors do that. ...”
Joey is 13. If Joey’s stepfather wants to plead his case before the Zoning Board of Appeals, he will have to pay a $130 filing fee -- about five years’ earnings from young Joey’s summer worm business. He has refused.
“I pay thousands and thousands of dollars in taxes, so why should we have to pay to appeal something we didn’t even know we were doing wrong?” he asks.
Cromwell Town Planner Craig Minor admits the lad’s enterprise resembles a farm stand, which doesn’t require a permit, or seasonal activities like a volunteer fireman’s barbecue, which can be advertised without regulation. It may be covered by a clause allowing activities which are “customary and incidental to home ownership,” he further admits.
Cromwell First Selectman Paul Beaulieu has also taken young Joey’s side, commenting “I would hope that reason would prevail, and that both lemonade stands and nightcrawler signs are seen as part of summertime traditions here in central Connecticut.”
Given that Joey’s story has drawn nationwide attention, it’s a safe bet Mr. Diaz -- who now admits “I had no idea there was a 13-year-old kid there” -- will reverse his position, come September.
But for every Joey Cadieux with the contacts and the savvy and the fortuitous timing to garner nationwide media attention, there are thousands more who quietly relent when the letter comes in the mail, hang their heads in defeat, give up their entrepreneurial ambitions, and find something else to do.
Spray-painting graffiti seems a popular alternative.
I know Cromwell. I once played rock ’n roll with some lads from Cromwell. I spent a year or two as a night clerk at the Lord Cromwell Motor Inn. The town of Cromwell, a pleasant and modestly upscale Connecticut River backwater with a population of about 13,000, has been there for two-and-a-half centuries. If a “planner” were needed, he should have been employed sometime before the Civil War. Believe me, Cromwell has no current need of a “town planner” -- an office unheard of in the small towns of that region as little as 40 years ago -- let alone a staff of subsidiary “zoning officers” with enough time on their hands to send letters to 13-year-old boys.
Once hired, such regulators must be kept busy. Next year, do not fear, more will be hired in the central Connecticut region -- along with some graffiti abatement workers, and numerous additional social workers and probation officers and juvenile court functionaries to deal with kids who get into trouble because they have too much time on their hands, and no lawful means to earn a few bucks.
And what reason will be given? Why, “increased demand for their services,” of course.