City Newspapers and the Big Bird Drug Conspiracy
by Ari Armstrong, September 19, 2003
In doing a little research about Westminster's city budget, I found my tax dollars are spent to subsidize golf, pay for ski trips, subsidize "training" of select business employees, hire lobbyists, throw parties, and participate in an "Annie Oakley Costume Contest." Those are some of the more obviously questionable expenses, and from a libertarian perspective the city is involved in far, far too many activities. Why in the hell does the city own two golf courses that compete with private businesses? Since when does golf fit the framework of the legitimate aims of government? But at least the golf courses are mostly self-funding.
I also discovered the city spends $11,325 per issue to send a newspaper to 55,000 residents and businesses, according to Natalie Wilkins, a Public Information Specialist for the city. According to Westminster's "2003 Operating Budget Executive Summary," the number of issues per year was reduced from eight to seven, at a savings of $14,150. I'm not sure why this figure is higher than the one Wilkins provided, but it indicates a current annual expense of $99,050.
A fundamental rule of good government is that no government body should spend tax dollars to promote its growth. Tax money should never be spent to promote higher taxes or specific government programs. Yes, government entities will from time to time find it necessary to communicate with the citizenry about official business. Beyond that, however, the promotion of tax-funded programs should be done only by private parties, candidates running for office, and public officials who are not spending tax-supported time or resources for the task.
Yet politicking is obviously a central purpose of City Edition, Westminster's tax-funded "informational newsletter." The same is true for The Arvada Report. I have no idea how many other Colorado municipalities spend tax money for government newspapers; I just happen to get those two. (This would be a good project for subsequent research.) Here, I'll review the contents of the July/August City Edition and the August/September Arvada Report.
The first obvious point is that the cities are competing directly against private newspapers. The Arvada Sentinel and the Westminster Window already provide coverage of local events and political issues. The First Amendment recognizes the importance of a free *and independent* press as one of the foundations of a free society. Tax-funded newspapers published by government officials run contrary to the value of a free press.
The frequent, glittery publications go far beyond any legitimate purpose the city governments may have in communicating with citizens. City Edition boasts eight large (about 11x16 inch) pages with a full-color front page and liberal use of color inside. Page 2 features the photographs of the city council members, which is nice "free" publicity for those politicians. The Arvada Report features 24 standard-sized pages, half of which use full-color printing. It too features the photographs of the council members on the second page.
Both government newspapers are flagrantly political in nature. For example, most of Page 3 in City Edition is devoted to the story: "Outcome of Legislative Session a Mixed Bag for Westminster: Local control challenged often this year at the Statehouse."
The article states, "One major defeat for the City this year related to local regulations of firearms. Two bills became law that strip away the City's rights to determine its own firearms laws..." The two bills liberalized concealed carry and eliminated some restrictive municipal gun ordinances. So Westminster used tax money to argue against state-level policy that guarantees the rights of citizens. The city further claims it has "rights" that, its officials apparently believe, trump the natural, individual rights of local citizens.
City Edition also argues against a bill that slightly reduces the power of cities to condemn private property. The tax-funded paper argues against limitations on the city's power to restrict private development. It argues in favor of increased tax funding of transportation. It argues for changes in DUI policy and for letting the police pull you over for a suspected seatbelt violation.
If council members want to take a stand on these issues, lobby the legislature on their own time, and so forth, that's fine. If they want to raise private funds to propagate their views, that's fine. When they forcibly take my money, and the money of other citizens, to fund the propagation of ideas many of us find morally repugnant, that's wrong, and the practice should stop.
The tax-funded Arvada publication promotes various tax-funded projects. For example, one article notes, "In early 2003, the U.S. Congress earmarked $89,415 for the [Arvada] Center as an economic development initiative." The Arvada Report quotes but one person's perspective on this project, and that's Deborah Ellerman, Executive Director of the Arvada Center. She said, "It's an exciting [planning] process... This establishes a footprint that will give us a better idea of what the expansion may look like and how different areas will fit together." Exciting, indeed. I personally am most excited that the City of Arvada is using my tax dollars to promote the blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, given that building a city center is not an authorized federal function.
Arvada city officials also believe they are qualified to teach parenting. One lengthy article is titled, "Why Is Your Teenage Daughter Wearing a Pacifier Necklace?" While the article does contain some reasonable advice, it also contains some ridiculous statements. For instance, the article states, "Marijuana, both in seed form and ready-to-smoke 'joint' form, is easy to identify. (See figure 1 at right.)" However, Figure 1 shows a pile of green particles that look like any of dozens of herbs one can buy in the grocery store, and the "joints" look like home-rolled cigarettes. While it's true that marijuana is fairly easy to identify by somebody knowledgeable (mostly by smell), it's equally true that the tax-funded article offers misleading advice on how to identify the drug.
The article also states, "Many merchants who have added pacifiers to their inventories in ignorance of the drug culture are also surprised when questioned by concerned parents and police as to why they would want to help cultivate such a dangerous image." You see, some people who use the illegal drug Ecstasy suck on pacifiers. But is it really necessary for the city to demonize businesses that dare to sell something (pacifiers) probably all of us have used at some point? This city-sponsored politics of fear and demonization is reminiscent of fascist regimes or the witch trials.
Here's the single most ridiculous quote: "Unfortunately, there are other less peculiar items associated with Ecstasy use, such as small toys or stuffed animals (Officer Wilett states that Sesame Street-related items are especially popular), or hair worn in pigtails." Good grief! What if somebody just likes Burt and Ernie, or Big Bird? What if a girl just likes to wear her hair in pigtails? Are the people who write these (unsigned) articles insane?
OH MY GOD BIG BIRD IS ON THE LOOSE!
The tax-funded article also states, "There is also evidence that Ecstasy use can lead to brain damage and depression." However, at least some of that "evidence" has since been withdrawn. Leslie Iversen, a professor at King's College and Oxford, said of the alleged research in question, "It's another example of a certain breed of scientist who appear to do research on illegal drugs mainly to show what the governments want them to show. They extract large amounts of grant money from the government to do this sort of biased work... I hope the present retraction and embarrassment to the people involved will be some sort of lesson to them." But I'm sure Arvada's city councilors are already planning to print a retraction in the next issue of The Arvada Report. (Yea, when Burt gets a girlfriend.)
Mostly, though, the tax-funded publications are long descriptions of all the ways city government spends our money. Of course, never a word critical of all these government programs is mentioned. That city officials use tax money to propagate one-sided political opinions is despicable. However, given the publications exist (and until they are terminated), city residents should read them to get a better picture of just where our tax money is going. And those who care about economic liberty and basic fairness in government can use the publications as motivation to work for substantial political reform.
On the other hand, Laura Ingalls always did seem a little excitable on that TV show...