EDITORIAL: Government should resist conflicts of interest from those with ‘skin in the game’

In recent months we’ve heard complaints that the City of Liberty Hill is not pro-business enough. This is being said even after the turnover earlier this year that sent a slate of new council members to City Hall. At a recent town hall meeting, there were those who raised their voices loud against ordinances, rules, fees and the overall processes of local government.

This year, the battles over control of the water supply, the purchase of a wastewater treatment plant, the employment of a city manager, planning and zoning issues and economic development have spilled over into city council meetings. The grumbling, complaining and threatening has developed a certain edgy, arrogant and dangerous tone that is outside the mainstream for ordinary citizens.

One recurring statement is that people who should be appointed to serve on city advisory committees should be individuals “with skin in the game.” In fact, that statement has been so oft repeated and defined that even those without “skin in the game” have come to explicitly understand the connotation.

A few of the business owners want to be appointed to positions of authority, oversight and advisement in order to be able to change the rules. By their own admission in public meetings, some may directly benefit from the decisions they help to influence.

As the various committees have begun meeting it has become apparent that those with the courage to stand up to those with “skin in the game” have been ridiculed and run over, politically speaking. This is all very troubling and it goes against the soundness of a good government.

In fact, the very phrase, “skin in the game” is offensive in that it purports to decide in a democracy that some are more important than others. It implies that ownership of the future belongs solely to those with economic means. It’s a nasty, divisive term aimed at claiming more for some and notifying others that their taxes, their voice is somehow inherently less. That’s not only un-American, but it also doesn’t sound very neighborly. It also doesn’t track well with the teachings of our Lord.

If the city is to have true ethics in government, then those appointed to committees should submit sworn affidavits as required by city ordinance identifying possible conflicts of interest. Where the perception of a potential conflict exists, officials — both appointed and elected — have an obligation to recuse themselves from advocating, supporting or voting on an issue.

City staff tell us they have no affidavits of this nature on file.

It’s time for all the good people who truly have the best interest of this community at heart to do some soul searching about the future and what kind of place we want to leave to our children.

Standing up for the right thing is often very difficult, but Liberty Hill is blessed with some good people in positions of leadership. We have hope they will look deep inside themselves and make sure this community stays moored to our collective values.

See, from the beginning, real conservative government has sought to stay out of the business of choosing winners and losers. Government was created to be the benign arbiter, to level the playing field between the high and the low. Sometimes people say they want government off their backs when in reality they seem to be saying they want government to help them make a profit. If they were individuals we’d tell them to go out into the workforce, get a job, work hard, trust capitalism and the free market.

Having “skin in the game” is a dangerous, new conflict of interest that tests the boundaries of government, business ethics, and personal morality. The founding fathers believed government should keep the scales of justice equal by looking out for the interests of those who cannot readily avail themselves of advocacy.

Government’s role is broad based and should seek the higher moral ground of the greater good rather than seeking to modify the rules for the few.

Liberty Hill municipal government cannot be used as a blunt instrument against those who don’t have access to political power. The checks and balances of government are a part of the sacred trust of our democracy.

Our children need to see us struggle to solve our own problems without succumbing to bellowing of bullies. We cannot give up on good government.

Whether national or local, government has to concern itself with achieving justice and liberty for all, not just for those with “skin in the game.”