The matter of commercial and residential zoning in one precinct was on the agenda of a meeting of the Wayne, Nebraska City Council a couple of years ago. The gathered crowd overflowed beyond the council chambers and stood restlessly in the hallway. A few weeks prior to the meeting, the City of Wayne had annexed several sections of land east of the town.
I was present because the acreage that belonged to my late father’s estate was a new part of the affected precinct. As executor of my father’s estate, I wanted to understand the legal implications of land becoming part of the City of Wayne, as opposed to simply being part of Wayne County.
The changes were considerable. The acreage would be subject to the town’s ordinances and enforceable by the City Police Department. Property tax would increase slightly. The houses on the land would be required to eventually connect to a future water and sewer system. Land maintenance such as mowing and other appearance upkeep would be enforced under much stricter rules. All things considered, there would be a redefinition of the acreage as it came under city jurisdiction.
These changes caused me to seriously consider liquidating the property in order to satisfy dad’s intent to distribute his assets. After a very lengthy process to sell the property, the owner of the adjacent farm purchased dad’s acreage. Shortly thereafter, he had the buildings relocated to another parcel of land he owned. With the acreage land becoming part of a farm, the city had less restrictive rules for crop land that remained within city limits.
The change in status of the acreage from residential property situated within the jurisdiction of the county to farm land within the jurisdiction of the city was ironic. It was a display of the power of legal overlap of governmental structures.
The county and city structures are systems bound by regulations and rules. They apply state and federal principles, guidelines, and statutes in order to create law and order within their particular jurisdictions. The overall structure of governance in the United States is highly organized and specifically strategic. I can understand why some people are so fascinated by the legal structure that they study law and become attorneys and elected officials.
The city council meeting and the subsequent consultations with dad’s lawyer were the interfaces between me, as an individual, and the structure of hierarchical jurisdiction. It educated me about authority, control, discipline, power, and responsibility. I learned more about how these elements are useful in maintaining an orderly society and how much or how little is necessary to determine whether the structures work against or for individuals’ self-interests.
The structure is frequently frustrating but it has proven its value. It has an organized approach that enables the enmeshed operation of the nation, the states, counties and other jurisdictions. Despite its weaknesses, the structure is quite elegant.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes U.S. Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson, Bainbridge Colby. “The social and industrial structure of America is founded upon an enlightened citizenship.”