Roger Barbee: Freedom and responsibility

Roger Barbee

In his first inaugural address on March 04, 1801, Thomas Jefferson said: “Still one thing more, fellow citizens — a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government … .”

These words of President Jefferson are a comfort to me because I understand them to mean that I am, as a citizen of Shenandoah County, free to regulate my own affairs as long as I don’t cause injury to another citizen. And, my earnings will not be unfairly taken. It all sounds good, especially since it was spoken by one of our Founding Fathers. Jefferson’s words free me, but in that freedom comes a large responsibility. Here’s how.

Since we, like most citizens of Shenandoah County, do not have refuse collection, we haul our refuse to the landfill which is like the other conveniently placed dumpsters all about the county by our government. So, any citizen who takes refuse to a provided site is free to haul said refuse in any manner he or she sees fit — throw it in the trunk of a car, the back of an SUV, or toss it into the pickup bed. As the fellow said, “It’s my garbage, my truck, and I’ll do as I please. I have rights.”

That unknown citizen is right — he has rights, but with those rights come responsibilities. He has the responsibility to make sure that none of his refuse is blown out of his truck bed, and if he does he should stop and pick it up. However, any drive along the Pike, especially around Passage Creek, will show that citizens like the freedom of regulating their pursuits, but not the responsibility that comes with that freedom. The only place I do not see bags of trash, boxes, even discarded furniture along the Pike is next to Skip’s. He picks it up, cleaning up after indifferent, selfish citizens who are interested only in their rights.

Is the litter along the Pike an injury? I suggest that it is because it harms all citizens of Shenandoah County, even the ones who place it along the roadside. It harms us because it is a statement of our citizenship and values. Plastic bags full of garbage that have fallen off trucks tell a visitor to our otherwise beautiful area, that we do not value it. It speaks of our lack of respect. Why would a business invest in an area where the citizens demonstrate such a lack of pride that they will not take proper care of their garbage?

I have lived here since 2001, and the amount of litter seems to have gotten worse. One way to prevent more litter would be for the county government to pass a regulation that all open loads of refuse must be covered with a tarp, much like what is required of commercial trucks. However, I understand that some citizens will complain about their rights being violated. Recently when I inquired of a county employee how a business could operate for 20 years in Toms Brook with large tanks of propane being stored, I was told, “We don’t scour the county looking for violators because that is not the will of the citizens nor the governing body.”

Any experienced parent or teacher will tell you that to have a rule and not enforce it is worse than no rule at all. When existing rules are ignored, it makes for confusion and gives the sense of playing a game. The same applies, I think, to the logic of the county employee who uses “the will of the citizens nor the governing body” for non-vigorous enforcement of existing codes and the possible need for more codes — ones to curb litter, for instance. To not be vigorous in enforcement is to say that it is okay as long as you are not caught. This attitude of the senior county employee breeds contempt and mistrust of government.

I have heard many leaders talk about the need for businesses in Shenandoah County. Well, imagine a group of investors being taken around the county to see possible sites. As they are driven along the Pike, ripped black, plastic bags spew garbage in-between tree limbs and old chairs lie beside or in the roadway. Imagine the investors asking to be shown the scene around a small, side road, and they see chained dogs and many yards that overflow with junk of all descriptions. Imagine why they would want to invest in a community that does not invest in itself.

Yes, we need to attract businesses. But to do that we need to be attractive, and that is more than low taxes. It is services, a sound work force, and “a wise and frugal government.” We all have our rights. But most of all, we have responsibilities. Even our county government.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at red-hill@shentel.net.