Vote for Private Property Rights

I attended the Town Hall Meeting on Saturday night. After hearing the candidates (that were present) unanimously oppose the coal plant on the grounds that it would, at a minimum, visually impact the Lewis and Clark Trail Landmark. Wait, I guess I shouldn't say unanimous. Larry Steele does not oppose the plant on those grounds, although Mr. Steele failed to offer an articulate reason why he did not believe the plant would harm Trial visuals.

As I listened to the others, though, it occurred to me that the coal plant is planned for private property. And, while it might be easier to argue that we should be able to prevent a coal fired generating station on someone else's land, our City Commission potentially makes many decisions impacting one's private property rights. What about the Design Review Board telling a businessman, who is about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new building, that he needs more shrubs? What about making a personal decision about how tall someone else's signs should be?

Notions of private property are very important to me. In this modern era, where people think they should have some say in what you do on your own land because they drive by it every day, we need to be very vigilant to ensure that we do not elect those who would presume to dictate our conduct due to their preferences. This is an extremely serious and important principle in our society. (For more on the history of this issue, see this post.)

Therefore, I asked the candidates about it.

Mary Jolley and Ed McKnight both stood strongly in favor of private property rights.

I'm not sure what Larry Steele really thinks. He discussed the "American History of signs" and "intimate domain."

Stuart Lewin is not a property rights advocate. He correctly noted that we "granted these rights to ourselves in the Constitution," raising the implication that what we have granted we can take away. According to Mr. Lewin, "we have to be willing to adjust how we manage ourselves if we wish to survive...Private property rights are being used and abused to harm the planet."

I am not going to argue Mr. Lewin's point about property rights vis-a-vis environmental issues, although I disagree with him. I am going to argue a more fundamental point. Acknowledging the Constitutional importance of private property, he discussed the need to, perhaps, move past a strict understanding of private property for the greater good. What he did not mention, though, is amending the Constitution. This signals, to me, a predisposition to ignoring...wait, let's be more tactful...interpreting the Constitution in accordance with his own beliefs. Once we presume to do that, though, all bets are off. Is this a sign of how he might govern?

Susan Kahn discussed the more practical side of private property issues in Great Falls, arguing that 10th Avenue South needs more unity among the various players, something akin, maybe, to the Downtown Business Association.

She used a couple terms, though, that lead me to question her commitment to private property rights and property owners' freedom. She talked about planning and directing property uses to the "universal good." In my experience, this is a buzzword used to support the agendas of those who would tell others what to do. Didn't we hear a similar term wielded in favor of the sign code?

She also discussed the need to regulate property owners to "attract the right kind of businesses to Great Falls." I disagree. We need to attract legal businesses to Great Falls. It is not our leaders' decision what is a "good" business and what is a "bad" business.

Ms. Kahn and Mr. Lewin's positions remind me of people who are smarter than you.

As far as the remaining candidates, well, we don't know where they stand on this, do we?

UPDATE: Ed McKnight clarified my paraphrasing of him as follows: "My brief answer was that I read the 213 report by the park service which said the impact can not be mitigated. I did not say that I opposed the plant for that reason.

I oppose the involvement of the city against the will of the public, If the public had voted for it I would not oppose it. I oppose the city spending so much money on something I think will fail for technical reasons."

UPDATE: Susan Kahn states in a comment that I misquoted her. Maybe I did.

My notes reflect that she stated she would accept regulation of property uses for the "universal good" and to attract the "right kind of business." In response she says that she was referring to the expenditure of public dollars, rather than regulation. If my notes were wrong, Susan, I apologize.

Certainly spending public money for the "universal good" and to attract "the right kind of business" is more palatable than regulation to like ends, provided, however, that we assume the money should be spent.

A legitimate private property argument can be made, though, that the government has no business taking away my property (money) in order to give it to someone else in order to entice that someone else to conduct commercial activity in our town.


WolfPack said...

"I disagree. We need to attract legal businesses to Great Falls."

Isn't the proposed coal plant a legal business?

GeeGuy said...

I knew that was coming, and I figured it would come from you, Wolfpack.

Of course the coal plant is a legal business.

The City of Great Falls is doing more than "attracting" this business, though. My objection is not the coal plant per se, but the City's involvement in it and the shenanigans it has produced. A fine distinction, perhaps, but a distinction nonetheless.

WolfPack said...

If we sold our interest to Belt, you'd be OK with it then?

Anonymous said...

I would be happy with the coal plant if the taxpayers had the right to vote on our money being used to support private property enterprises.

GeeGuy said...

I might not "be ok with it," but I would accept it.

Anonymous said...


So you think the people in Belt should pay for a coal plant in the same manner we have has this one shoved down our throats?

You think the people in Belt should be denied the right to vote on whether or not they should pay for the plant?

Anon 2

Anonymous said...

Going back to the sign code issue that seems near and dear to geeguy, I like the idea of business owners working together on reasonable standards vs. government demanding a certain code.

Government only grows when we fail to find our own solutions. Failure to work together is the fertilizer that feeds it, and their solution is never better.

Private property rights are not the issue. We have laws in place. What I have a problem is with the courts allowing city eminent domain use to foster private development over public good as originally intended. If no (to steal the line) universal benefit to the public such as a new fire station of water line then eminent domain use must face a much higher level of scrutiny.

The coal plant comes to mind. What is the benefit to citizens of Great Falls again? Rezoning to heavy industrial benefits the public how? How does the other private property around the plant benefit? All because the city wants tax money. Its justified by this alone, Right?

How about we allow 50 new legal-business adult book stores and strip clubs. They will come in handy when we get 500 construction workers bedded down in Great Falls building HGS for 5 years. All 100% legal you know. Heck, put a strip club next door to a church, private property rights trump all, correct?

Along with private property rights comes responsibility. Stuart has painted the big picture we all must acknowledge. Keeping our heads buried in the sand is not a solution.

This is not a Black & White issue by any means. Do you support private property rights yes/no? Does yes mean 100% no matter what? Then a big fat no.

Average Joe

p.s. If you think you have absolute private property rights, stop paying your property tax.

p.p.s Nobody leave this world with any of their private property.

Anonymous said...

Hey Average Joe,

Way to make Gees point for him. Sure, you don't want strip joints next to your church, but the 500 workers do want it. So, who gets to decide? You, or the workers?

Or the guy who bought the land?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anon,

8 men and 2 women lost at sea. The 8 men say lets have our way with the women, the two women say no.

Majority, rules right?

Oh, one of the men owns the boat too so its his property and he sets the rules. Rape at your will.

Back and White, Right? Way to make your point, NOT. You would have fit in well with the majority salve owners - private property rights and all.

Average Joe

GeeGuy said...

Holy non sequitur, Batman!

Did someone say that a property owner has a right to commit crimes on his or her own property? And what's the vote thing?

Sometimes taking an extreme position can make a point; sometimes it merely obscures it.

GeeGuy said...

P.S. What are "majority salve owners?"

Anonymous said...

Liberals have to lie to make a point, at best bait and switch legitmate agruments.

Susan Kahn said...


You are putting words in my mouth. Not sure why you stretch this to mean I am somehow against private property rights, or that I know what is best for others? When government takes money from the people to use in support of private enterprise, then the standard must be what’s in it for the citizens. If the city wants to subsidize new business growth using public money, it better be for the good of the people as criteria number one for the “Universal Good.” I did not suggest we somehow regulate private property owners to attract the “right kind of businesses” either. We do however want to attract business that have positive impact on our community when using public funds. If the people do not want a polluting industry coming to town, then by no means should they be funding it with their tax dollars if the majority says no. Private business is free to develop according to our laws when using their own funds and I fully support this right.

I challenged you as a business owner to join with other business owners to improve the esthetics along 10th Ave. S. This is preferable to the city telling you what to do.

If you would have stayed for the closing comments, you also would have heard me say this election is not about me, or any special interests, it’s about the people of Great Falls and following the process. The city charter and laws are in place so regardless the outcome, when followed, we can all walk away feeling the process was fair. We lack this in our current city government as they constantly twist the rules and violate the process. Now you know my intent of “Universal Good.”


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Property Rights....

October 22, 2007
National Heritage Areas: Costly Economic Development Schemes That Threaten Property Rights
by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. and Cheryl Chumley

WebMemo #1671

The House of Representatives is now considering the Celebrating America's Heritage Act (H.R. 1483), as amended by Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). The bill would expand the cost and scope of federally sanctioned and financed economic development entities known as National Heritage Areas (NHAs).Although there is no specific provision in federal law that defines or authorizes the existence of such entities, Congress has been authorizing their "designation" on a case-by-case basis since 1984. Thirty-seven NHAs now operate throughout the United States.

Anonymous said...


You said: "We do however want to attract business that have positive impact on our community when using public funds."

Why do/should we have to use public funds to attract business?

Anon -

Anonymous said...

Anon-3:34 PM, this is valid question. Not that using public funds should be the first step, attracting business is very competitive among communities, so it’s a fact of life. One example of a win-win situation involving public funds could be tax incentives for a business to takeover and renovate a derelict building. There is a detailed list of these options posted on the Great Falls Development Authority website.

Susan Kahn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan Kahn said...

Let's try this again.

Anon-3:34 PM, this is valid question. Not that using public funds should be the first step, attracting business is very competitive among communities, so it’s a fact of life. One example of a win-win situation involving public funds could be tax incentives for a business to takeover and renovate a derelict building. There is a detailed list of these options posted on the Great Falls Development Authority website.


Anonymous said...

"Universal Good" is a communist catch phrase so I can understand how it sounds disturbing.

Anyone remember why Sonny Bono ran for office?

Political career

Bono entered politics after experiencing great frustration with local government bureaucracy in trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. With conservative talk radio host Marshall Gilbert as his campaign manager (and later as the godfather of his two children by his wife, Mary), Bono placed a successful bid to become the new mayor of Palm Springs. He was instrumental in making the city more business-friendly and in spearheading the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, now held each year in Bono's memory."