OPINION – One of my favorite poems of all time was penned by a man named Dale Wimbrow and it captures somewhat, in my opinion, the essence of character. It reads:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
As I contemplate recent events where a sitting City Council member in St. George has willfully and knowingly violated the very codes he so staunchly took place in supporting and enforcing on the citizens of St. George, this poem comes to mind. What does this man see when he looks in the glass?
City Councilman Gil Almquist used the backyard of a rental property he owns downtown for part of his landscape business operation, storing trees and such there for the better part of 10 years. As recent code enforcement actions by the city against other citizens have brought its codes and enforcement policies under scrutiny, Almquist removed those trees from that property. He was not cited for code violation. And the city has said that he will likely not be charged with any wrongdoing because he, like any citizen cited for code violations, is given the opportunity to resolve the violation within a certain time frame. Since no citation was issued, and Almquist’s violation was discontinued, the city and its code enforcement department is under no compunction to find any wrongdoing.
A third grader could see the problem with this.
But first, as an aside, I maintain that a property owner ought to be able to use his property at his pleasure, obviously provided such use is legal. My rights to use of my property end where your property begins. I am not convinced that storing trees in the backyard of his property infringed on the rights of his neighbors or the city. But, the code as it stands in St. George prohibits the use of his property for business purposes. And there’s the rub. Almquist ignored what may be an over-aggressive ordinance, while holding a governing position in the city that is enforcing that same code restriction against others. Why does he get a pass?
Elected officials hold a position of public trust and are inherently held to a higher standard. It is not only unethical how this man knowingly conducted a business in a manner that would have any other citizen in this town subject to fines and prosecution, but it is also insulting that he simply gets away with it because no one caught him.
But someone did see him. The presumption of innocence and due process is for everybody, but there is a glaring contradiction here for Almquist. There is a maxim that says silence is deemed, or implies, approval. Almquist has not denied his code violation, he has remained silent on the issue. His silence, as well as the City Council’s, is deafening.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this is that it vindicates the notion that there is in fact a group of people in this city who are held to a different standard than the rest of us.
At the end of the day, no matter if you are a longtime resident or a newcomer to this great city, it likely fills you with a measure of contempt to see unequal standards applied to the general populace and those that govern. At least, you might have a desire to see this rectified either by vote in the next election two years from now, or by simply asking that someone who violates the very laws of the city he governs step down. Wait, didn’t we just see an official at the state level do just that? Albeit while maintaining innocence, the reproach on the state as a whole for what was, at the very least, an appearance of impropriety, finally brought sufficient pressure to bear that John Swallow stepped down. Maybe it’s time for other officials to follow suit.
We need people in office who are equitably similar to the citizens they represent – people who can hold office with integrity, not for their own opportunity.
See you out there.
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- It takes more than quoting the rulebook to be above reproach (OPINION)
Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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