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Regulations Regulations

No one likes being told what they can or cannot do.

This is especially true of farmers and other small business owners. A major reason people choose to become business owners is because they don’t want someone leaning over their shoulder and telling them how to do their job.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the folks who enjoy working as part of the bureaucratic machinery. They like things nice and tidy with the requisite forms filled out in triplicate in black ink with documentation attached.

A good example of how these groups think differently is to see how they react to a broken office chair. The independent business person is likely to flip the chair over, pull out some tools and within a few minutes either have the chair repaired or will decide it is time to get a new chair.

Those who live their lives as cogs in the bureaucratic wheels would never think of performing chair surgery. Instead they might file a repair request form and file it with their appropriate supervisor and wait patiently for the building maintenance personnel to get around to responding. If the chair is unable to be repaired they will happily file another request form for a replacement chair.

By this point, while the bureaucrat is filing paperwork, the independent business owner has moved on with their life and is dealing with the next thing on their plate.

There is an inherent hostility between these two groups of people with one focusing entirely on outcomes and the other focusing entirely on the process to get those outcomes.

As with most things in life, we all fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Where we land on the spectrum is reflected in our career choices and every organization needs a mixture of rule followers and risk takers.

The challenge is when the system gets out of whack.

Too many risk takers in an organization resembles a herd of cats. If they could all be pointed in the same direction and coaxed into joint action they could be formidable, but are likely to just do their own thing.

Too many bureaucrat types is like having an army of box turtles invading your home. Yes they will eventually take over, but it will take them a while to get there and you probably have time to binge watch a season worth of Friends reruns on Netflix before they make it to your front porch.

Every organization needs people setting and following rules. Organizations also need those willing to put their necks out. It is best to keep some separation between the two, although often each is the other’s favorite coworker to gripe about.

I was thinking about this concept this week while reading about a plan to change how agriculture rules are set by the state for megafarms. Under the plan, the new nine-member review board would be attached to the agriculture department. Five members would be selected from agricultural groups. The board would advise the department on regulations and the department would be prohibited from drafting any siting or expansion rules without approval from two-thirds of the board.

I can understand how the agriculture community, filled with those independent-minded folks, wouldn’t want the bureaucratic cogs making rules willy nilly.

At the same time, with the legislature already having oversight authority over new administrative codes, giving the people being regulated the power to block regulations they don’t like seems perilously close to putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse.

It makes sense to have those with ties to agriculture, and an understanding of how new rules translate into higher costs for producers, involved in the rule-making process. But their voice is only one of many and other stakeholders such as town officials or groundwater experts should also have a seat at the table to advise, but not control the setting of rules.

For things to work, there needs to be a balance between the rule makers and the doers.

Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.