By Dennis Day
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past week, by now you’ve probably heard the news story about the Tennessee man, Gene Cranick, whose house was allowed to burn to the ground as the town’s local firemen, with their hook and ladder truck in tow, stood by gazing at the inferno but refusing to sprinkle one single drop of water to dowse the flames. “Oh no, never in America,” one might respond. Or “Why would they do such a thing?”, you might ask. Well the poor guy claims he forgot to pay Obion County’s $75 annual fee assessed to defray the costs for fire protection services administered by its governing municipality, South Fulton, because the Cranick family live outside the city limits. So what the media has dubbed the No Pay/No Spray policy kicked in and Mr. Cranick’s entire house, his lifetime of accumulated, irreplaceable personal and family memorabilia, and his three pet dogs and one cat were all cruelly incinerated, even though a neighbor and Mr. Cranick both told the firefighters that they would pay whatever it took if the firefighters would please douse the flames.
This is indeed a tragic incident and many people are rightfully enraged at the specter of a homeless American family caught in the heartless vice of an inhumane, bureaucratic policy that impeded rational people from making reasoned compassionate choices in the broader service of the community.
Is this the type of lean, mean, smaller government and prescribed “value” of “individual responsibility” being touted by the Tea Partiers? Are we headed for a society in which only those who can pay can play, with no other compensatory aids to protect those most vulnerable?
Despite the victim’s inactive account status, would it not have been far more reasonable to extinguish the fire, perhaps with the citizen’s consequence being a hefty surcharge or fine paid ex post facto in addition to the delinquent $75 fee as sufficient penalty to thwart slackers in the future? Mr. Cranick asserts that he offered to pay whatever fee was accessed on the spot but his offer was rejected.
Now Obion County is beset with a dislocated family, a diminished property tax revenue base, one less water and sewage recipient account, and an added homeless-services voucher to fulfill. And there’s that menacing barrage of national negative television and press coverage of their normally placid rural Tennessee community, whose governing board and municipal Fire Chief now seem more like heartless ogres rather than Norman Rockwellian types often depicted as icons of rural life in America. So much for cost-benefit analysis – I guess those factors never figured into the policy-makers’ decision to allow the property and pets of citizens with delinquent accounts to burn down to an ash-heap.
This was an ill-conceived, ineptly crafted law and this case underscores the need for the voting electorate to take seriously the responsibility to vote in an informed way to select the best and brightest candidates available. The No Pay/No Spray policy was no doubt the brainchild of numerous discussions among elected officials with the view that slackers and scofflaws should suffer the gravest consequences and be compelled to be left at risk and outside the locale’s fire safety net. But governments are not meant to function as compassionless machines fixated on budget deficits while mindlessly and without empathy depreciating human beings. This is why every election in a democracy is an important one. In a very real sense, those who govern as our elected officials often exercise the power of life and death. Their decisions affect our lives – from the quality of the foods we consume to the safety of our work places to the air we breathe and the water we drink. So please get out and vote during this Novembers’ mid-term election!
D-Day Media Group (c) 2010