Hoping to break the law
Dec 05, 2013 | 3563 views | 0 0 comments | 274 274 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.” Author Rob Norton 

When the Wilmington Selectboard approved changes to the town’s zoning bylaws two weeks ago, the board chose to approve something that many thought was at best an incomplete document. In approving the new bylaws, which replace ones written in 1968, selectboard and planning commission members acknowledged that changes may still have to be made to the statutes. While we understand the selectboard’s decision to make the approval now, we do hope that there won’t be too many unintended consequences as a result. Unintended consequences happen all the time. It’s just a reality. There are countless examples seen every day. Everything from saying the wrong thing to someone to a major piece of legislation to a wrong response to a stressful situation can result in unintended consequences, often dramatic ones. What we hope is that in the case of the new Wilmington zoning bylaws there are few, if any, unintended consequences. There were many residents at the approval hearing who pointed out areas of the bylaws that could be problematic. Some even suggested holding off on approval until those points could be worked through. It’s obvious that the need for change is still there, and many officials said as much. They just put it back in the laps of the planning commission to make those changes. Here’s hoping that someone who is in need of a permit in Wilmington during the next few months isn’t forced to jump through a number of hoops, only to have the bylaws change shortly after the hypothetical project is complete. But that’s exactly the scenario that could happen, given the decision to approve the bylaws as essentially a work in progress. Is that the best way to legislate? Probably not, but it’s how things get done all the time. Consider the ongoing health care exchange problems. Even the president has said it’s a work in progress. Now that the exchanges are a reality, we’re finding out just how much of a work in progress the whole process really is. In Vermont, it seems the program has changed almost daily. Those changes have led to much uncertainty about how the new insurance exchanges will work, even as many are bing forced to participate in them. As Norton says, government is often the biggest driver of unintended consequences. In Wilmington, let’s hope that’s not the case.
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